May 2nd, 2002
Whenever you get a vague feeling about something, it's often a good idea to follow it up. Well, this editorial is about something which I've been thinking about for some time and I have previously mentioned it. But, I must admit, I don't think it's just me, I get this impression from others, too. I'm writing this, basically, so that this can be talked about quite openly. It seems to me that mice are quickly disappearing from the new tales of Redwall. I'm not just going to make this statement without any back-up evidence. Below I'm going to show some information which, I believe, is quite conclusive for this argument.
As a way of illustrating this, I'm going to colour code the various 'Tales of Redwall' according the number of squirrels and mice in the key five heroic characters and put them in the order they were written. The key is as follows: More Squirrels than Mice. Two Squirrels in the key five characters.
Three or more Squirrels in the key five characters.
More Mice than Squirrels. Two Mice in the key five characters.
Three or more Mice in the key five characters.
A real mixture, no more than one Mouse or Squirrel.
Two Mice, two Squirrels.
[Ed. Note - No color formatting was recognized by my e-mail program, so I'm unable to format this section in the way it was intended. My apologies.]
Redwall (Matthias, Constance, Cornflower, Basil, Abbot)
Mossflower (Martin, Gonff, Bella, Abbess, Dinny)
Mattimeo (Mattimeo, Matthias, Constance, Orlando, Auma)
Mariel of Redwall (Mariel, Dandin, Saxtus, Rawnblade, Bernard)
Salamandastrom (Mara, Samkin, Urthstripe, Thrugg, Arula)
Martin the Warrior (Martin, Rose, Brome, Felldoh, Grumm)
The Bellmaker (Joseph, Mariel, Dandin, Finnbar, Saxtus)
Outcast of Redwall (Sunflash, Bryony, Bella, Abbess Meriam, Skarlath)
The Pearls of Lutra (Grath, Martin II, Tansy, Durral, Rollo)
The Long Patrol (Tammo, Cregga, Tansy, Major Perigord, Pasque)
Marlfox (Dann[flo[we]r], Song[breeze], Dippler, Cregga, Jangular)
The Legend of Luke (Martin, Luke, Gonff, Beau, Folgrim)
Lord Brocktree (Brocktree, Stonepaw, Dotti, Bucko, Stiffener)
The Taggerung (Deyna/Tagg, Nimbalo, Mhera, Cregga, Russano)
It does seem slightly vague from this, but it is very easy to pick out the mouse abundant era of the first books and it is quite easy to see the number of mice decrease. It is quite hard to see a real era of squirrels, though, the only squirrelful book being 'Marlfox'. But, it is possible when ready the books to get a feeling of an increase in squirrels. But, there is a slight 'blemish' in my pattern, and that is 'The Legend of Luke': it is full of mice. But, think for a moment. All the mice in there had to be mice because of what has gone before in previously written books. You may fight back by saying that Nimbalo is a mouse in the newest book and is more prominent than any squirrel in that book, but I consider him as a one off.
Now, this chart shows the decline in mice well, but not really the increase in squirrels. To show this, you could pick the top ten most important heroes/heroines in each book and I believe this would give you a better picture. The reason I have not done this is that my choices so far are debatable enough and if I was to do it with ten instead of five, then it would be even easier for someone to say I was choosing my information to suit my thesis.
Please do not take the view that I am trying to scaremonger you into the view that mice are disappearing altogether from the newer books, for that is not the case. Take, for example, the newest edition to the series, 'The Taggerung' (brilliant, absoballylutely brilliant book). There are several mice in there, such as Sister Alkanet, Old Hoarg and, of course, Nimbalo. But, Nimbalo aside, these characters are, by no means, in any way the focus of the book and are just Abbey dwellers. I am not saying there are no mice, just not as the heroes and heroines.
I find the point quite hard to illustrate, but I hope you catch my drift.
But, which are preferable: mice or squirrels?
If someone was to ask me this just as I finished 'The Pearls of Lutra' for the first time, before I had read 'The Long Patrol', 'Marlfox', 'The Legend of Luke', 'Lord Brocktree' and 'The Taggerung', the later three being because they were not yet published, I would have said squirrels, because of the lack of them and the abundance of mice in the books I had already read. But, now I am not so sure, so I will try to evaluate my thoughts on the two species by comparing what they have over each other and then by looking at case studies of characters and how I enjoyed reading about them in relation to their species.
What do mice have over squirrels?
a.. Mice are the classic heroes of the 'Tales of Redwall', in the first few books squirrels hardly get a look in.
b.. Martin, the key hero, was a mouse.
c.. Mariel, the first heroine to be the centre of a tale, was a mouse.
d.. Brian Jacques has stated before why he chose mice, and I guess that would mean that he prefers mice.
e.. To me, they seem to be more versatile, their roles ranging from warriors to Abbots/Abbesses much more easily.
What do squirrels have over mice?
a.. To put it simply: mice just can't climb trees well.
b.. Squirrels seem to go hand in hand with feminism in Redwall. The early squirrels all seemed to be female characters and Triss looks set to follow this tradition. This point may be treated as a bad point by some, depending on their views on the subject. Personally, I feel that gender should be quite even and that many of the best characters are female.
c.. There is something that seems slightly wild about squirrels to me. I can't quite put my finger on it, but there is definitely something.
d.. Brian Jacques' increased use of them might suggest his preference now falls on them more.
Case Studies: Mice
I am not going to use Martin here, because I feel that would be an unfair handicap to the squirrels and I find it hard to evaluate him because, for the majority of the time where he is influential in the story, he is not a character as such.
The first case study I will use is that of Matthias. He is the classic mouse hero. In fact, he is the classic Redwall hero. His species makes him seem very humble and insignificant, when in fact it is he who saves the entire Abbey. He is seen as quite bumbling, almost childlike. I think this quality has been picked up later on, such as in Samkim.
My second example is that of Mariel. She proves that squirrels aren't the only feminists in Mossflower. She is certainly not bumbling. However, despite her attitude and toughness, her tears prove her to be a vulnerable and deep character. Her species allows speculation about her, Dandin, and their platonaccy, or not as some suggest.
Case Studies: Squirrels
My first case for squirrels is going to be that of Samkim. He highlights one of the reasons people often hope for a squirrel: he is alternative. Up till then in the history of Tales of Redwall, the squirrels had never really taken centre stage. They had always been almost a side salad, if you get what I mean. They never won the day, but they helped. But, most importantly, they never wielded the sword of Martin. Samkim changed all that. He lead the way for Arven and Dannflo(we)r. When my friend first read 'Salamandastron', he was quite put out that a squirrel wielded the sword of Martin. I was actually quite happy he did. When I first started reading Redwall, I knew I had hit a jackpot. But, as always, I began to worry. The main two things I worried about was that, either Redwall was sexist or, and I'm not sure if this is a proper word, specist. Because I read it in chronological order, I had, before I read Salamandastron, no evidence that anything but a mouse would ever wield the sword of Martin. To put it simply, the main reason I like Samkim is because he was a break from the norm.
My second is that of Ranguvar Foeseeker. Initially, when I first read 'The Legend of Luke', I was unsure whether she was male or female. This may sound stupid, but I wasn't. This is simply because, most of the time, she was referred to as 'Ranguvar'. Anyway, she is probably the coolest squirrel ever. Black and beserk is such a great combination! Aside from that, she most definately sings a song of feminism in Redwall. What I like about her most is that she could have easily been a male character, there is nothing about her which would suggest that she is particually femenine, but Brian Jacques chose for her to be female over her being male. This, to me, proves that Redwall is not sexist in the choosing of the gender of the characters. Thus illustrating that the link between squirrels and femenism in Redwall is still strong.
I find it hard to say which I prefer. Instead, I would rather have it so that there is variety, and not just with squirrels and mice, but with otters, hares and the others. Though, for me, I cannot see a hedgehog or a mole wielding the sword of Martin. I don't know why, it's just a gut feeling. Maybe I'm just too used to them not doing so that it prevents me from imagining them doing so.
I hope this editorial has not only guided you through my thinking, but that it has also encouraged you to think about yours.