Redwall (additional review)

441 005 489
Ace Books / Penguin Putnam Inc. NY
Number of pages: 
333 pages
Grade / Age level: 

Redwall Abbey, inhabited by peaceful monk-like mice, is set in the heart of Mossflower Woods and is the center of life for all the peaceful creatures who inhabit the woods. In this story the abbey is besieged by evil sea rats with an infamously merciless huge rat, Cluny the Scourge, as their leader. The rats are unable to conquer the abbey at first fight and thus infuriated, Cluny is all the more determined to have Redwall Abbey as his own. The rats attack the abbey with various battle plans and finally enter the abbey through the betrayal of a field mouse.

One of the abbey mice, Matthias becomes an unlikely hero, rescuing captive field mice, solving mysterious riddles of prophecy, fighting warlike sparrows, killing a huge adder and finally facing and defeating Cluny in one last show-down. Most of this action does not take place in defense of the abbey but on Matthias' quest for the famous sword of an ancient defender of Mossflower: Martin the Warrior. Through one of the prophecies Matthias discovers that Martin had foreseen the days of the rats' attack and Matthias' heroic part of it. He had hidden the sword for Matthias to find and Matthias feels the safety of the abbey rests on this sword alone. Of course it isn't where Martin left it so Matthias must go questing to find it.

When I first read this book several years ago, I was greatly disappointed. It received rave reviews in book catalogs and from 4th and 5th grade teachers everywhere. But, I found the story much too obvious and the writing weak. The dialogue was a distasteful modern sarcastic banter. The plot was full of too many coincidences and no real surprises. The hero showed no signs of heroic virtue, or any other virtue, before he took a central role in the defense of the abbey.

Recently, through the urging of some friends of my children, my husband and I read Redwall aloud to our children. To my surprise, the story, brought to life by my husband reading the voices, was not as stale as I had first thought. The children loved it. Yes, Matthias had no great obvious character from which to draw his heroism but that made him more loveable to my children. He was an ordinary, awkward nobody who rose to greatness and defeated the greatest of evils. He was like them, and yet found the ability to wield a sword. This afforded a great opportunity for discussion about the source of our strength for battling evil.

Fortunately, while they play Matthias and company, they haven't forgotten Jim Hawkins or Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy. While I thought the book a somewhat inferior literary effort, it has continued to increase their excitement about reading and storytelling and has not ruined their taste for finer pieces.

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