You may be wondering what a Greatest Living Author reads when he’s not writing. Well, how about the most brutal and emotionally devastating series about small, cute woodland animals you will ever read?
I refer, of course, to Redwall.
Not, in fact, that literal. Though the titular abbey is, in fact, made of red sandstone.
In fiction, animals acting like people is nothing new, whether it be in famous cartoons, comic books, or even Medieval European folklore.
Redwall was by no means the first story to have its animals go Medieval (as evidenced by the fact that people were literally writing stories about it during the actual Middle Ages; see above).
Centred around and named for Redwall abbey,, Redwall, authored by the late Brian Jacques, was going Medieval with enough aptitude and success to get 22 books and nearly 30 years of mileage out of the concept. The series itself spans generations and traces the history of Redwall and its inhabitants at various points in time.
Some the books are immediately related —the first (ninth in terms of in-universe chronology and third (tenth chronologically) are focused on a father and son. While others jump around the timeline to flesh out the details of the history.
Obviously, there are call-backs, call-forwards, and references to figures throughout the series. Martin the Warrior is established as the founder of the abbey and posthumously basically venerated as its tutelary deity. He eventually got his own book to fill out the details of his actual life story.
Now, Redwall, strictly speaking, is a Fantasy series, what with being set in a world of talking animals and all. But once you get past the fact that everyone is animals, there’s not really that many Fantastical elements to books.
It’s less like the obvious, overt Fantasy of something like Lord of the Rings (which itself admittedly does have a fairly specific, understated nature and subtly to its magic) or the Dungeons & Dragons books (which do not), and closer to a straightforward historical fiction where everyone just happens to be animals.
Any Fantastical elements that do exist are never really made explicit, and anything that could be the result of supernatural influence could just as easily be a happy coincidence.
And all of the Fantastical elements that are present in the books are more or less consistent with real-life Medieval beliefs and superstitions about things like ghosts, and prophecies, and destiny.
For example, throughout the series, like I said, Martin the Warrior has basically graduated to the status of protector-god and seems to be actively intervening on behalf of the abbey, his sword might be magic, there’s a big, evil snake who is probably just a big, evil snake, but is presented as some kind of fairytale monster or demon.
The short answer is that none of the Fantastical elements necessarily are supernatural, but are happening in a world inhabited by characters that definitely believe in the possibility of them being supernatural.
Like I mentioned, there’s 22 Redwall books. I think I’ve only read three or four of them, but that’s still enough to recognize certain patterns, which in turn is enough for me to leave you with a helpful warning.
Redwall will emotionally destroy you.
Technically, they’re kids’ books, but they are brutal.
The books are full of battles full of characters getting killed and horribly wounded, the aforementioned big, evil snake eats people alive, the villains tend to ludicrously evil — and not usually in a cartoonish, over-the-top way.
The villains are not only irredeemably, stupendously evil, but also frighteningly plausible in the nature of their villainy.
Also, at least one major character gets brutally and/or unceremoniously murdered per book. On the plus side, a lot of the villains also get brutally murdered, which can be pretty cathartic.
Yeah, it’s pretty grim of a series full of talking mice and weasels.
There’s also a Redwall cartoon from circa the Turn of the Millennium that adapted the original Redwall, Mattemeo, and Martin the Warrior across three seasons.
And, of course, by dint of being a Nelvana production, it’s CanCon.
It is, incidentally also available legitimately on Youtube. Bizarrely, it’s available on the Treehouse TV channel. Now, both Nelvana and Treehouse are owned by Corus, so the corporate synergy makes sense.
But Treehouse is Canada’s preschool-age channel, which is pretty much exactly the wrong audience for Redwall.
Like I said, Redwall will emotionally destroy you.
For more recommendations, go here.
Also, a reminder to catch up on the latest chapter of Fryte’s Gold:
And, also, I’m involved in a Lord of the Rings giveaway via Fiction-Atlas until the end of the month:
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