Some may think that the Redwall Abbey books by Brian Jacques are only for children, but many adults read this series - as do I, having read everything in the series and finding them very entertaining (it is interesting to me, too, as a monk and a librarian). Although the story is set at a monastery and the superior of the monastery is called an abbot, Jacques mixes traditions of Benedictine monasticism (monks, black robes) and Franciscans (friars, brown robes). The cast of characters are all animals - mice, hedgehogs, moles, badgers, hares, wolverines, wolves, foxes, squirrels, voles, and others - in the style of Richard Adams’ classic Watership Down.
The wolverine Gulo the Savage has killed his father and taken over his kingdom. His brother Askor escapes, taking along the talisman called the Walking Stone which he needs to be the ruler. Askor flees to Mossflower country but is killed by a falling tree. Gulo and his army of foxes and ermine travel to Mossflower in search of Askor. Two creatures bury Askor and continue onto their destination, Redwall Abbey. When they arrive at Redwall a huge dinner is given in their honor, and They tell the creatures of Redwall about Askor.
At a volcano named Salamandastron, the Lady Badger of Salamandastron lives with her army of hares, and she sends some to take a drum to Redwall. The hares are attacked by Gulo and his gang. When the Lady Badger finds out about the massacre of her hares and that Gulo plans to raid Redwall, she sends most of her hare army to help Redwall. Redwall’s inhabitants are peaceful animals, both adults and children. Rakkety Tam MacBurl, a Borderer squirrel, and his friend Doogy Plumm, a Highlander squirrel (both of whom speak like real-life Scots), come to the aid of Redwall Abbey.
The most horrible thing about Gulo and his gang is that they not only kill their enemies; they eat them. Gulo attacks Redwall, but the hare army arrives in time to chase the wolverine and his minions off. Yet Gulo will not give up his insane search for his brother, whom he does not know is dead; he is also looking for the Walking Stone, a surprise to the reader when its nature is revealed.
This is a great adventure story about life and death and evil versus good. Jacques incorporates riddles and poems and songs, as well as the animals at the Abbey consuming great meals – he tells of the various foods the creatures fix and eat, like cordials, ales, salads, pies, and many other dishes transported on trolleys and such. At my own monastery, the monks have special party snacks on festive occasions called a haustus. The monk in charge of bringing in food from the kitchen uses carts or trolleys, too, to bring the snacks to another room in the monastery where the monks will have their special get-together. This always reminds me of the Redwall creatures. Many readers (including myself) have not been able to understand properly the moles when they speak; Jacques’ writes their speech as he imagines they might sound if they could indeed talk.
Redwall Abbey is headed by an abbot or, at times, an abbess. In this particular Redwall tale, the abbot’s is a hedgehog named Humble. The monastery has male and female animals, and there are children, too. Some of the female creatures are called “sister”, while some of the male creatures are called “friar” or “brother”; the young creatures are called “dibbuns.” This community of animals is not what a real monastery would be like, at least not in the Benedictine or Cistercian style, although there is a Franciscan third order that is somewhat similar to Jacques imagined abbey. This group is headed by the singer John Michael Talbot, whose monastery is located near Eureka Springs, Arkansas.
David Elliot’s wonderful black and white illustrations grace the beginning of each chapter. There is a map of the fantasy land of Mossflower and its region at the front of the book.
October 2007 marks the 20th anniversary of this series, begun in Redwall (1987). Jacques’ forthcoming Eulalia! is due that same month. Rakkety Tam is highly recommended to those looking for an animal fantasy story.