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Highwing's Redwall Fanfiction Review: Mitya's Ryhnnsylvania
Lurking throughout the Redwall Online Community are a great many fanfics that stand unfinished, and seem destined to remain that way. They lie in wait, beckoning to unwary readers with enticing titles and sometimes even capturing them with promising starts, leading them on with quality writing, intriguing characters and captivating plot. Then, when the end is reached - BAM! There's no ending at all; the story just stops, its conflicts unresolved, the characters left hanging in mid-air. It's almost enough to make a frustrated Redwall fan want to skip right to the last line of every story before starting it, just to make sure a proper conclusion awaits at the end of all that effort, but who wants to spoil a story before reading the first word of it? Sometimes it's possible to speak with the author beforehand to find out the status of a particular story, but more often than not it's all a matter of blind faith.
I've long made it a policy not to review unfinished fanfics in this column, in spite of some very good ones out there, such as Anna's Bellmaker Sequel, YesTheater's Dradd Corenda and Amberdulen's Luther of Redwall. This month I am breaking my own rule, inspired not only by the merits of the featured story but also by the fact that it ends at a point that feels almost like a natural conclusion of its own, even if many of the larger plot threads remain unresolved.
Mitya's Rhynnsylvania belongs to the historical allegory genre of Redwall fanfiction. Mitya, long a student of the American Civil War, starts this tale with a powerful earthquake that devastates the lands, splitting them from the vermin-ruled Northlands all the way down to the peaceful woodlands of Mossflower. This is a later age than any seen in the official books, an age of towns and factories and railroads and gunpowder, but now those towns lie in ruins and the factories are rubble. The only major structure left standing is the venerable medieval Abbey of Redwall, where the many survivors congregate to decide what to do next. The presiding badger Ruta decrees that they dare not rebuild in Mossflower lest such calamity strike again - after all, it was such a massive earthquake that laid low the legendary Abbey of Loamhedge - and that everybeast among them, vermin and woodlander alike, must sail to the Land Across the Water to establish a new realm of peace and plenty where all creatures might set aside their old ways and live in harmony.
The silver ferret Rhynn, current leader of the Northlands, agrees with this plan, and extends the paw of friendship and cooperation to the Mossflowerians. Soon after, all the refugees from the shattered lands are aboard a fleet bearing them across the Western Sea toward the new lands of promise. But all is not well; the dour rat Stonepaw, discontent with this pact between old enemies, is grousing about this state of affairs even before the ships reach their destination. Within no time, while most of the refugees are busy establishing the republic of Sylvania, Stonepaw and his followers secretly build their own stronghold to the south: Fort Rasconza. Even as the goodbeasts gather to celebrate the completion of Sylvania's capital Abbeytown, Stonepaw's forces fire on Port Germaine, and the civil war is on ...
Rhynnsylvania is certainly an ambitious tale, originally intended to parallel the U.S. Civil War in its entirety, complete with places, figures, events and strategies meant to represent real historical counterparts. However, in its present unfinished state, what should have been a sprawling epic instead shifts focus, resolving into a story of two characters on opposing sides. Just two among many combatants, but it is their arc that defines Rhynnsylvania as it now stands.
The fox brigadier Rakarde, a Mossflower veteran loyal to the cause of unity, is on paw during the first major clash between north and south, during which Stonepaw's forces launch a catastrophic sneak attack on the northerners. Rakarde takes charge amidst the ensuing chaos and turns the tide of battle enough so that the Sylvanian army is not totally routed, thus earning himself the position of supreme military commander for Sylvania, replacing the old badger Winfield. Meanwhile, another fox working for the south - a mysterious raider known variously as Grey Bandit, Dusk Raider or simply Ghost, but most commonly called Tanner - becomes the bane of Sylvania, effortlessly hitting and running like a phantom, killing and kidnapping and stealing. It is the entwined fates of these two creatures that most resonates and holds together this incomplete Rhynnsylvania.
But there is much more to this tale than Rakarde and Tanner. In fact, Rhynnsylvania is positively packed with delights for Redwall fans, from the amusing place names - in addition to Port Germaine and Fort Rasconza, we have the rivers Romsca, Gingivere and Klitch, the towns of Martinsville, Rosedale, Grathton, Matthiasville, Brocktown and Point Mariel, the Veil Mountains and Blaggut Harbor - to the appearance of Stonepaw's secret weapon, the monitor lizard-built ironclad called the Frildur, standing in for the historical armored vessels the Merrimack and Monitor. Not to be outdone, the Sylvanians float ships called the Ruddaring, the Columbine and the MacTalon, although Stonepaw's navy answers with the ship the Sixclaw. Another priceless touch is the ferret songstress Eatantim, who serenades the departing Sylvanian battle fleet with a composition sung to the obvious tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic; to see the lyric Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! substituted with Redwall, Mossflower, Eulalia! is almost guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of any Redwall fan. And when Stonepaw is informed that his rebel territory has been christened the CVS - Confederacy of Vermin in Sylvania - he responds with a laconic, "Can't you think of a better name for a country?"
Many of the characters are amusing too. Stonepaw seems addicted to sucking on lemons, while his underlings Wrink the stoat and Ewel the ferret come across as typically verminish dimwits. At the start of the first battle, a bird fleeing the southerners lying in ambush tries to warn Brigadier Rakarde with cries of "Wattchaflank! Wattchaflank!" adding a nice Redwallian feel to the scene. And the mental picture of Walden, the boisterous hare commander of the Sylvanian cavalry, charging about on the back of a deer with his ears and feather-plumed hat flopping in the breeze, is most entertaining. (Mitya solves the problem of mounted cavalry in Rhynnsylvania by using deer instead of horses, which helps to keep the story removed from the human world.)
One of Rhynnsylvania's greatest strengths as an historical allegory is in underlining the fortunes of war in general, and the Civil War in particular. Heroes become scapegoats and vice versa as the tides of conflict shift back and forth, accusations of incompetence and treachery fly, and careers are made and lost while the death toll on both sides mounts. While one of the central issues of that conflict - slavery - is glossed over, enough parallels remain for the story to work effectively as allegory. It would have been interesting to see what the entire work would have been like if Mitya had finished the fanfic according to its original vision and covered the entire Civil War, but what we have is still a very good entertainment indeed. Dedicated readers should be able to get through Rhynnsylvania's fifteen chapters in one afternoon, or one evening. For most Redwall fans, it will be time well spent.
Mitya's Rhynnsylvania can be found here: