Well, I was going to write a review about Dead Space today, but the last act of the game is literally dismembering me like an overzealous inquisitor so, instead you’ll have to make do with this little post about a bit of sad news. Today, I was distressed to discover that beloved children’s book author Brian Jacques has died.
Brian Jacques has nothing to do with video games. He’s never made one and I doubt he’s ever even played one. Brian Jacques wrote books, a whole lot of books, books about an idyllic little wood called Mossflower and a sturdy, aged abbey called Redwall. And these books changed my life. I was first introduced to the Redwall series by one of my earliest, bestest teachers, a woman by the name of Bickford, who was at the time the head of my elementary school’s Talented and Gifted Program. She showed me the cover of the book, I said it looked really boring, and she insisted that I would really like it. I snorted and rolled my eyes. Whatever–a book with a mouse on the cover? What do I care about the adventures of mice, besides An American Tale? Nevertheless, at some point I did pick up the book and open it with a reserved sigh…and everything changed.
Brian Jacques wrote stories of high adventure, of song and dance and food and revelry, of friendship and bravery, sadness and fear, wars and warriors. Collected in each and every book in the ever-expanding Redwall series was a saga that sucked me in and refused to let go. He crafted a world vivid, yet simple, a fantastical yet instantly relate-able landscape that you recognized immediately, despite it being populated by questionably talking woodland creatures. It had the simple black/white morality of Star Wars combined with the elegance and sophistication of any great folk tale, of any work by Chaucer or Spenser. These books introduced me to things I’d never thought existed. Boooks could be…not just good. Good books are plentiful enough, and I understood quite well what a good book was. But these books were more than good. To my young mind, still supple and naive, these books were captivating. They blossomed in my imagination, the characters and locations taking root like some magical tree, growing and growing and growing until the branches threatened to break out of my skull.
Jacques fed my love of reading and not only that, he also gave me a lust for storytelling. I never felt more convinced that I wanted to tell stories until I put down perhaps my fifth Redwall book and thought “I want to write a book that Brian Jacques would like”. I was enthralled by his love for the craft and though the more modern books in the series lacked some of the charm and sophistication of earlier entries, Jacques passion for the story and the world never seemed to flicker. He showed me that a children’s story didn’t have to be childish or immature, that death and sadness go hand-in-hand with joy and triumph, and that even the littlest, meekest of mice can rise to be a true hero.
His stories had everything I can to want from a book–intrigue, mystery, romance, adventure, action–and these stories were almost interactive in the way the narrative fit your brain. There were riddles to solve, songs to learn, mysteries to ponder, and with an endless stream of colorful characters and amazing vistas, my imagination wanted for nothing, yet longed for everything.
I wonder what Jacques legacy will be. To me, he will always be one of the first authors who really inspired me, who really made me yearn to write and read. He showed me just how real fiction can be, how meaningful it can be. I don’t know what I’d be doing had I never opened that first book. I certainly learned that there’s more to a book than a cover, and I learned that even as stubborn as I am, my mind can always be changed. These are timeless stories–modern classics that I hope will be passed down from generation to generation. I can think of no finer series of books to whet a young child’s literary teeth on, no more fantastic and wonderful tales to be told to audiences young and old. There’s something in these books for everyone, and Jacques illuminated the world in a way only he could. His death has left my world a little more empty, and we’ve lost a visionary and gained a legacy.
I’ll miss you Brian. I’ll miss Redwall and Mossflower and the towering mountain of Salamandastrom, the hares of the Long Patrol, the wild and tribal shrews, the incomprehensible moles and voles and the seasonal feasts at the great table in the main hall. I’ll miss the tapestry of Martin the Warrior and all the tales its tattered fibers held, the rich songs and wonderful verses. I’ll miss the coarse sea rats, the vile serpents and scheming foxes, the titanic badgers who carved through battlefields like furry tanks. I’ll miss the quarry, the rivers, the patches of ruin and wonder hidden deep in the many forests of Mossflower. I’ll miss the maps that I’d pore over for hours, following the journies of the many characters with my finger late into the night when I should’ve been sleeping. But that’s the wonderful thing about books, isn’t it? They remain, long after the author has passed on, and I know that no matter how sad it is, Redwall hasn’t died with its creator. It lives on in the memories and hearts of all those who read and loved these books as I did. I know that it isn’t the end of these adventures–they’re just a page away, and they’ll be there forever.
Now, if you excuse me, I need to comfort my weeping inner child. I think a nice book will help him–and I think I know just the one…