Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book Review: Mariel of Redwall by Brian Jacques

"Old stories told by travelers / Great songs that bards have sung / Of Mossflower summers, faded, gone / When Redwall stones were young / Great hall fires on winter nights / The legends who remembers / Battles, banquets, comrades, quests! / - Recalled 'midst glowing embers / Draw close now, little woodlander, / Take this to sleep with you / My tale of dusty, far-off times / When warrior hearts were true / Then store it in your memory / And be the sage who says / To young ones in the years to come / Ah yes, those were the days...." - From the introduction


I probably mentioned earlier that I love Brian Jacques as a writer. His prose is beautiful. The first book in the Redwall series, called - wait for it - Redwall - was the best one so far for me: I gave it one of my rare "A" rating, also known as five stars (out of five). The second book (Mossflower) was good on its own but received a "B" due to similarities to its predecessor, and book three (Mattimeo) got a "C" for further formula. Alas, I must say about this was different. I was impressed. Granted, there was a poem-riddle, but something I can't quite pin about it made it different. Please don't ask me unless in jest; it just seemed original. The second book takes place many,  many seasons prior to the first, and this one is somewhere between those eras.

PLOT: Mariel, a mouse maid and a slave to the wicked sea-rat captain Gabool the Wild, is lost overboard during a violent storm. After a bit of finding shore and surviving there, she comes across three hares who place her in the care of a squirrel named Pakatugg, who [sort of] leads her to the currently incomplete abbey of Redwall. She remembers nothing of her previous life until, as I recall, the animals at Redwall give her some sort of sleep-inducing medicine which causes her to unconsciously recount her forgotten tale. There are at least two or three different sides among the sea rats, ever-quarreling creatures with awesome names for both the rats themselves (Saltar, Grimtooth, Riptung, Graypatch, Kybo, Lardgutt, etc.) and their ships (Darkqueen, Seatalon, Greenfang, etc.). Plenty of awesome scenes and such, and overall the best installment so far besides the original.

The problem I've noticed with the series overall is, as much as I hate to say it, hints of racism. There are some exceptions, such as wildcats, sparrows, and shrews; but mostly animals are considered good or evil based on their species. Among the benevolent creatures of Mossflower Wood are mice, badgers, hedgehogs, squirrels, moles, voles, otters, and hares, whereas foxes, rats, ferrets, weasels, stoats, and adders are considered to be horrible vermin simply for being born into their respective races. Earlier this month I made a post about the first villain, a rat named Cluny the Scourge (just happens to be a Redwall baddie, as the point would remain for any story), and how he didn't strike me as evil. An honest opponent is not wicked, in my view, simply for fighting for his or her rights. A backstabbing liar who harms totally innocent people for a selfish purpose? Now there's a problem. A real villain (sorry, Cluny, old pal, you're still awesome, particularly when you fight Matthias) needs to be unethical, I should say. And truth be told, a lot of the other villains (Gabool, Tsarmina, Slagar) are downright heartless. But saying that being a species of aggressive or predatory nature plays dirty simply by being a rat or fox seems rather unfair to me. That's why I disagree with people who hate spiders or snakes or what-have-you: I don't mind if you have a fear or phobia; just don't regard them as evil beings simply because of their birth...or, er, hatching, or whatever. I take it back, in fact - don't let me tell you how or what to think, as long as you don't expect me to understand or agree with it.

Final grade: B

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