Review of Redwall by Brian Jacques
I had mentioned in a previous post that we were thinking of including Redwall by Brian Jacques in our free-reading list for the boys this year for school. I always like to pre-read anything that we are going let the boys read, just to make sure that it is appropriate for where they are in their development and also to see if the book agrees with what we want to teach the boys, so that if it doesn’t, we can be prepared to discuss it with the boys or hold off until they are mature enough to be able to discuss it.
I wanted to start this review by saying that Redwall is a very well written book. I read in the author bio in the back that Brian Jacques originally penned this for the children of the Royal School for the Blind in Liverpool. It really shows in the descriptiveness of the tale. You almost feel as if you can jump right into the story with the characters. It is a great tale of bravery and honor.
With that being said I am now going to share the main reasons why the boys will not be reading Redwall as part of their free reading this school year. Or for many school years to come. I would like them to read it eventually, but I want to be able to discuss it with them and I think we will just have to see where each one of them is maturity-wise to be able to judge when they are ready for it.
To give the basic background of the story (look out for spoilers!) there is an Abbey inhabited by mice who look after all of their fellow woodland creatures and help them out in any way they can. They lead a peaceful existence because of battles fought long ago by their hero Martin the Warrior (think along the lines of how St. George is revered in most King Arthur tales). Their existence is peaceful, that is, until Cluny the Scourge and his rat (and other rodent type animals) horde shows up and starts making trouble for the creatures of the Abbey and the surrounding Mossflower Wood. A small novice in the Abbey, Matthias is determined to help the Abbey and bring back the bravery and protection of Martin the Warrior. That about sums it up so you can follow along if you haven’t read the book.
I have several issues with allowing my boys to read this book at this point in their young lives. The main ones that I will break down for you are:
- The use of abhorrent violence by both parties in a tale obviously geared for children.
- The lack of mercy towards enemies, even when opportunities could have been written into the story very easily.
- The propagation of the errant view that all pacifists are foolish pushovers who must be saved by those who are willing to fight.
The Use of Violence
There were numerous instances throughout the book where violence was used without a second thought for the death and destruction it would cause. If it had just been the enemies who were using violence, I think it would be understandable because they are, after all, a merciless horde of rats. The violence that I found abhorrent was that which was perpetrated by the defenders of the Abbey. To name a few:
- Throwing rats to their death when they tried to breech the Abbey by climbing over the wall from a plank leaned out from a tree.
- The killing, or more appropriately, the murder of a rat “enemy” by one of the main characters of the book, Constance the badger, with her bare hands.
- The pouring of boiling hot water down into the face of one of the lead rats and down a tunnel which was then collapsed on top of the conquering horde, killing multitudes in what had to be a very painful, tortuous death.
I feel that in this culture my kids get enough exposure to excessive violence on their own without me introducing it straight into their lives at such a tender age.
Lack of Mercy
I was disappointed that in a tale about an abbey there were not more instances of mercy. The only instance that really stood out to me was when Cluny attempted the murder of Chickenhound Fox and failed, then the fox came to the abbey and was accepted in by Abbot Mortimer even if the fox wasn’t willing to give up secrets he held. This was a true act of mercy on the Abbot’s part. There were several more opportunities for mercy that the author could have written into the story but didn’t. They are as follows:
- When the rat Shadow climbed over the Abbey wall and stole the portion of the tapestry that had Martin the Warriors picture on it, he then fell over the wall very far and survived for a bit. Cluny approached and did not show mercy, but took the tapestry and left Shadow to die. At this point in the story, Shadow obviously realizes that he has done wrong, as is evidenced by his exchange with Matthias right before Shadow’s death. It would have been a perfect opportunity for the Abbot to extend mercy and healing to this rat in order for him to turn over a new leaf, but alas, the character dies and the opportunity for mercy is lost.
- During the time that the rats and rodents are thrown down from the elm tree, Cluny is injured and taken away by his rat cohorts to recover. The ferret Scragg, was injured in the fall and left behind. As Matthias and a baby squirrel watch, one of the rat horde, Cheesethief, comes back to finish off Scragg by stepping on his throat until he dies. Matthias does nothing and goes about his business when the coast is clear.
- At the end of the last battle with the rats no rats are given quarter or taken prisoner. They are killed to the last animal.
The opportunity for mercy is important in a child’s life. It is important in how our family feels convicted to live out our faith.
Pacifists are Fools and Victims
This is a view that we as a family come across quite often when we discuss pacifism and non-resistance with other people, including other believers. The course of the conversation seems to fixate on the fact that the world in inherently bad and nothing will ever change that and we are naive to think that peace can ever overcome violence. A great example of this thinking is evidenced in how the different characters in the story are seen as viewing the Abbot. At first he is a venerable figure who looks after the peace and goodwill of the Abbey. As the story progresses it becomes more and more clear how naive the Abbot actually is. After giving aid to Chickenhound the Fox, Chickenhound then proceeds to steal all of their valuables and while making his escape, kills the oldest and wisest member of the Order, Methuselah. Time and again the Abbot assumes that Cluny will give up his fight and leave them in peace, and time and again the defenders who know better are proven correct as Cluny attacks yet again. In the end, as Cluny attacks the Abbots friends, the Abbot finally snaps, all vestiges of peacefulness cast aside he attacks Cluny and is delivered a death blow by the poison tip of Cluny’s tail. As he dies he appoints Matthias and his family to forever be in charge of the defence of the Abbey, because obviously, peace cannot survive without some form of human defensive strategy.
As I have said before, I believe this book will generate some great discussion for our family as the boys grow and mature. I look forward to the time when they have the discernment to pull these things out of books for themselves. At this point and time, it is still up to Eddie and I to train them in the way they should go, so to speak. For the time being, Redwall will sit on our shelf (or maybe be recycled back into Paperback Swap to await a future re-swapping) and I will not be ordering any more in the series at this point. If the author Brian Jacques were to read this review that I have written of his book, I would hope that he would check out some of John Howard Yoder’s books to find out what Christian pacifists actually believe, especially the book What Would You Do.