Monday, February 7, 2011

RIP Brian Jacques

If your childhood was anything like mine then Brian Jacques had a big hand in making it better.

Before the current wave of Young Adult Literature, Jacques strode across a much less crowded field. Telling his story of Redwall Abbey and those who fought to protect it.

Just recently on something of a lark I revisited a few of Jacques's books. Let us not mince words, at the time of his death Jacques was not an author terribly in vogue. Overshadowed by the competition many criticized him for his formulaic plots and overwriting, which certainly may be his sins, but as a children’s writer do not belong to him alone. What seems to trouble most people nowadays are the supposed racial aspects of his books, with entire species being inherently bad. While I can see how some might read this into his books, it seems at the end to be exactly that, the effect of reading too much into it. He is after all not writing about different races of animals but different species. And an evil species is certainly not something that is unique to Jacques in fantasy or adventure fiction. Again, it just seems unfair to single him out for this accusation.

The formula in itself is a bit harder to defend. Jacques had about three different story patterns and he got his full use out of each of them. Once one has read about half a dozen Jacques, or reached Highschool, the use for his work diminishes. It’d probably been about five years since I’d read one of his books.

But all of these criticisms seem to miss the point. There is no denying that I returned to Redwall with great pleasure. At its heart I contend that Jacques’ formula is a good one and its message sound. Evil destroys itself leaving a husk for the heroes to knock down. Friendship, loyalty, and community are noble things worth protecting. And hope should not be lost. The message of Jacques is the same as that famous sentence of Hemingway, "The world is a fine place. And worth fighting for." Only Jacques told it to me first.

At his best, as with Marlfox, Mossflower, and Martin The Warrior, Jacques mixes these elements and themes into fables of high adventure that are always highly entertaining, and often surprisingly and gratifyingly operatically dark.

And at the core of all these things are the endless descriptions of feasts, roaring hearths, and warm beds that Jacques fills his books with. Perhaps only an Englishman would write such varying epics that are all at their heart, a defense of coziness.

Brian Jacques spent his life telling the stories he loved and making the lives of millions of children better. While I am saddened by his loss and my thoughts and prayers go out to his friends and family it is difficult to imagine a happier or better spent life.


Budd said...

I didn't hear that he had died. I read Redwall out loud to my girls. We all enjoyed it immensely. As I have only read Redwall, I was unaware of the formula, but the message is a great one for younger readers.

M. Hufstader said...

NO!! This is so sad! He was definitely one of my favorite childhood writers, and he held up well over the years. He had an amazing imagination and was definitely an inspiration to young people out there--RIP indeed!

David Cartoon said...

Well put.

Matt Keeley said...

Disheartening news. Haven't read him for years, but I loved his books as a kid.

Bryce Wilson said...

@ Budd: Nice to know he's being passed down to a new generation.

BTW: My review of The Evening Sun should be going up soon. Thanks for the recommend.

@ M. Hufstatder: Well said.

@ David Cartoon: Thank you.

@ Matt Keeley: Same here. I need to revisit Martin The Warrior, book had a big effect on me when I was young.

StephenM said...

This was a good write-up of a very sad passing. I loved that phrase "a defense of coziness"--perfectly put, and something he shared with Tolkien.

I also grew tired of the formulas once I got to high school, but he had quite a few good ones before the formula became too obvious, I think. I'd say the best ones were Mossflower, The Long Patrol, Marlfox, and Lord Brocktree. The original Redwall is of course a classic, but in his later books he seems to understand the world and the characters better, moving things along more deftly. But there is something to be said for the sense of wonder and newness in the original--a sense that Jacques was exploring this new world at the same time as the reader.

Bryce Wilson said...

Very true, It's interesting to watch Jacques fine tune. In the original there are clearly humans in the world, while in the sequels they are nowhere to be seen.

I'm in the midst of Marlfox at the moment and it's been a very rewarding reread.