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It's All About Style!
September 29th, 2002

When I first read Redwall I read in chronological order. Starting at 'Martin the Warrior' (it was before 'Lord Brocktree' was released) I worked my way through the books following the history. Stupid as it may sound I assumed, as I never looked at the copyright dates, that I was also reading them in the order that they were written. I know now that this is most certainly not the case. But at the time, because of this stumbling block I failed to see the development of style that has happened in Brian Jacques' writing.

If I was to section Redwall into periods of development I would do so as follows: Old Redwall, Middle Redwall, Modern Redwall and Post-Modern Redwall. Each of those sections needs to be defined, so here are my definitions:

Old Redwall:
Reading the original 'Redwall' you get a very stark difference shown to some the later ones. The storyline seems to move far more slowly than in the rest of the series. It seems to be quite domestic and very strict in the sense of an abbey. I believe that it is the only time the term 'cloisters' is mentioned in the series. They seem to have a Almoner in the abbey, something we have no evidence of later in the series. There are, also, no families in Redwall, where almost everyone seems to be some kind of brother, sister, friar, novice or abbot. In addition to this, characters and prop-characters(characters there as props to allow events to take place, real characters to do something, scenes to be set) are noticeably different. Most noticeable is the inclusion of a beaver and a horse, two characters never used again in the series. Otters are featured, but not really as proper characters, more as prop characters. There is very little about them as a group and there is no Skipper mentioned. For me it is important to note that a sizable amount of characters, especially those in families are referred to as Mr or Mrs whatever their species, something I do not like and I think it detracts slightly from the book. Also, the book is considerably more male dominated when compared with the more recent tales. In addition to the male dominance, there is a distinct mouse dominance. It is also important to not that the storyline moves incredibly slowly, particularly at the beginning. Many of these points would count as being negative for me, and contribute to making 'Redwall' one of my least favourite tales.

For me the period of 'Old Redwall' runs from 'Redwall'( first published in 1986) to 'Mariel of Redwall'(1991). Below is my list of how I define the style of the 'Old Redwall' books:

a.. High proportion of male characters. Even with Mariel her three travelling companions are male.
b.. Great dominance of mice.
c.. The abbey is very much closer to a real medieval abbey.
d.. Less otters and squirrels.
e.. Excluding 'Mossflower', the abbey has quite a good deal of attention surrounding it.

To me this is my least favourite period. If I was to choose my favourite book of this period I would say 'Mossflower' as it moves away from what are, in my view, the less positive points of this period.

Middle Redwall:
For me this period runs from 'Salamandastron'(1992) to 'The Bellmaker'(1994). The key development most noticeable in 'Salamandastron' after 'Old Redwall' is the species variation. Squirrels particularly become more important, and the badgers rise to become the centre of the book. A greater balance of gender also becomes apparent; characters such as Mara and Abbess Vale reset the scales. Also, the centre of the story seems to swing away from the abbey, featuring Salamandastron.

Here is my definition of this period:

a.. Still a relatively high proportion of male characters, though the unbalance is less pronounced.
b.. Mice are still the dominant species, though others take the lead more often.
c.. The abbey is no longer always the centre of attention, with Salamandastron, Southsward and the north all taking much of the limelight.
d.. Squirrels, otters and badgers are now only slightly less important than mice and often taking the lead.
e.. There are still some titles retained such as 'abbot' and 'friar', but the days of the 'Almoner' are long gone.

This is a good period for its style, all three of its books being some of my particular favourites. They are a good period to be introduced into Redwall with as they are the crossover between the other periods, making it easy to move into other periods afterwards without too great a shock to the system. My favourite book of this period is 'Martin the Warrior' and is the first tale I ever read.

Modern Redwall:
This period runs from 'The Outcast of Redwall'(1995) to 'Marlfox'(1998). For me this is the period where the books begin to get quirky, for the better. New ideas are introduced with every books including 'Six Clawed Vermin', 'Moniters', 'Coral Water Snakes', 'Rapscallions' and 'Marlfoxes'. It is also a period of definite flavours of feminism with characters such as Bryony, Bella, Abbess Mirium, Grath, Tansy, Viola, Cracklyn, Cregga, Pasque, Song, Shang Dammson Tongue, Sagitar, Romsca, Silth, Lantur, Ziral, Vannan and Predak. There is also a great sense of back reference in the books with threads from 'Mossflower' and 'Salamandastron' playing important parts in various storylines.

So here is my definition:

a.. Male dominance is nearly non-existent.
b.. Mice are no longer as dominant as they once were. This makes 'The Pearls of Lutra' seem slightly out of place when reading it chronologically after 'Mattimeo'.
c.. New places and ideas come quick and fast, giving each book a fresh appeal.
d.. Equality of species is clear and even owls, hedgehogs and shrews become major characters.
e.. Traditional ranks are retained but those important in the hierarchy of the abbey are not always the centre of the story.

This is a favourite period for many and is possibly the series reaching its potential, with the idea working well together and with new ones.

Post-modern Redwall:
This is the period we are now in and it is the development of the previous one. It takes many of that period's properties and takes them to a new extreme. I see it as running from 'Lord Brocktree'(2000) and carrying on now. I will sum up its qualities below:

a.. There is no real male dominance and positions such as Logalog and Foremole, which had only ever been held by male characters, have now been given to females.
b.. Mice seem to have almost disappeared, and in 'Lord Brocktree' they virtually had with no real character, correct me if I am wrong, being a mouse. In 'The Taggerung' there is Nimbalo, but he is the only major character of that species.
c.. There is now quite a bit of novelty about it with Taggerungs, golden foxes, tridents and Haredee Gurdees. I think that this is fine as long as the storyline is not neglected.
d.. We have an otter champion and abbess, which I think is great for the series. Though I have to say I miss mice slightly. I would especially like to see them from outside the abbey, like Nimbalo.
e.. In 'The Taggerung' we got a whole load of characters in various positions. But in addition to this families seemed really common in the abbey with the cellarhogs and Rillflag's family particularly.

Some people have said that the series is declining in quality. I do not think that this is so; I believe it is just that they do not like this development in the style of 'The Tales of Redwall'.

LOL(do not laugh):
You may be noticing my omission of one of the tales: 'The Legend of Luke'(1999). I did this because it does not fit in either the 'Modern' or 'Post-modern' period. Why? Because it is a odd ball. Here is why:

a.. It is full of mice.
b.. It is quite male dominated.

Yet at the same time it fits much of the criteria for the 'Modern' and 'Post-modern' periods.

So why? Well I do not believe this is a quirk in his style. As it was based around a development of an older idea it meant that many of the characters were preset. If you think about it the ship's crew had to be mice(though he did manage to squeeze in a hare), though admittedly they did not have to all be male. Also many characters were brought in from 'Mossflower' meaning that the questers had to be predominately male.

Which period is best?
In order to answer this question I am firstly going to present the tales in my ascending order of my current preference and label the period of each:

Mattimeo (old)
Redwall (old)
Mariel of Redwall (old)
Lord Brocktree (post-modern)
Mossflower (old)
The Pearls of Lutra (modern)
Marlfox (modern)
The Legend of Luke (non-applicable)
The Bellmaker (middle)
Salamandastron (middle)
Outcast of Redwall (modern)
The Long Patrol (modern)
The Taggerung (post-modern)
Martin the Warrior (middle)

The loser in this is certainly the 'Old Redwall'. 'Middle Redwall' and 'Modern Redwall' seem to come out on top. Does this mean the peak of Redwall has passed for me? No! The newest tale, 'The Taggerung', comes second. Also I would like to say that some of the downfalls in 'Lord Brocktree' are not so much to do with its time period.

In addition to this these are only my views, based my personal tastes. Some people's ranking would be completely different. I think part of your taste is applicable to different periods.

My final word:
I hope that the series will continue to develop in its themes and characters. I also hope that we will not say that it was better in a certain period and that it has declined. Instead, perhaps, we should say that it has moved away from our particular tastes.

In the next two books it appears that the post-modern period will continue as out of the twelve characters we know the names and species of three are badgers, three are otters, two are squirrels, one is a hedgehog, two are hares and only one is a mouse, and even he is only an abbot. Likewise out of these characters we know six are definitely male, four are definitely female and two are unknown(though by the sound of their names I would guess they are male). The leading character(Triss in 'Triss' and Martha in 'Loamhedge') in each of them are both female.

Beyond these two books we know next to nothing so I think it would be hard to try and define their time periods. But rest assured, Brian Jacques is sure to keep on developing as all artists do.


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