Brian Jacques, author of Redwall (1987) and some 20 sequels, died at the age of 71 on Sat., Feb. 5, 2011. His books have sold in the tens of millions and have touched adventure-loving kids all over the world. His formula—a quasi-medieval fantasy setting in which peace-loving mice and other small animals seek adventure and fend off endless attacks by evil foxes, rats and weasels—grabbed generations of readers. I have known many of them.
For the sake of one in particular, though, I am especially saddened to hear of Mr. Jacques’ passing.
READ OUR REVIEWS OF REDWALL BOOKS AND OTHERS THEY'VE INSPIRED.
Andy (not his real name) was the quintessential wrong-side-of-the-tracks kid. Always in trouble at school, frequently in trouble at the library where I worked, he had a knack for doing the wrong thing. But even though we spoke to him sternly on many, many occasions, he kept coming back to the library. On the face of it, it was hard to see why. He’d be the first to tell you he hated reading.
Except for Brian Jacques and the Redwall books. Andy had long ago lost borrowing privileges because of unreturned books, but that didn’t stop him from coming into the children’s room long after his peers felt they’d outgrown it, taking a Redwall book (any one of them, after a while) off the shelf and sitting and reading it for hours before slouching off when the library closed. Whenever we got a new one in, I’d hold it aside and hand it to him. “Thanks!” he’d say. “I really love these books. I’ve never read anything else. I hate reading.”
I don’t know what specifically appealed to him about the Redwall books. They were awfully thick for a kid who didn’t like reading, and the print is pretty small, too. But they were chock-full of action, and those little mice always carried the day in the end. Maybe they gave him a chance to win a few battles in his own head, if not in his real life. Maybe it was the clear lines between good and evil in a world where everything was confusing.
As Andy got bigger, he got into bigger trouble. In and out of juvie and then prison, whenever he was at liberty, he’d come in and read a Redwall book. I started collecting advance reader’s copies when I went to American Library Association conferences so he’d be able to take them home.
Eventually he didn’t have a home. I don’t know what he did all night, but during the day he’d come into the library, grab a Redwall book off the shelf and find a couch, where he’d do more sleeping than reading.
I moved on, and I don’t know where Andy is now. He probably has no idea the author of his beloved Redwall books has died. I’m pretty sure if he does know, he’s feeling the loss.
Thank you, Brian Jacques. For being there for Andy and all the other kids like him for all those years. Eeulaliaaaaaaa!