I wasn’t quite sure how to start off the new website here, finally moving off of Livejournal like a neckbearded trentagenerian from a suspect-smelling basement into a real, honest to goodness, paid with my own money website. Would I start with a happy “hello?” Would I give a welcome? Would I hype this site to the moon and ultimately fail to deliver? Would I just pick up where I left off, with bread and chocolate and Vulcans and Klingons and other things that make my mommy say I’m a great writer but leave literary agents curiously unimpressed? I had thought of exploring all of those options for my relaunch, seven years to the day after I first started whinging myself all over the Internet… but then something happened.
Brian Jacques died.
For those of you who didn’t know, Brian Jacques was the author of a series called Redwall, where simple creatures like mice and moles and hares engage in fantastical battles and voyages the likes of which you’d probably expect to see from the works of Tolkien or Weis and Hickman. Although, as far as I know, Tolkien never got the idea to turn Aragorn into a meager mouse and still have him swing a sword around as a perfect warrior. There was something about that idea that drew me to the cover of Martin’s eponymous volume one day in a Library (I refuse to call it an IMC) at Neillsville Middle School in Neillsville, Wisconsin. Up until now, I did not read. At all. I had been forced to by teachers, begged to by my parents, but I was finding it blisteringly difficult to find a book that would keep my attention. I saw that book, however, and my adolescent brain immediately jumped into Zombie-Pirate-Robot-Ninja territory: it’s a mouse, with a big sword, in an epic fantasy setting. Surely, that can’t be bad! Later that week, the book fair had come to my school, as it did every year, and perched on one of the shelves was that same book I’d seen before, along with another one featuring a majestic looking Badger in medieval armor, hefting a spear and cradling a helmet under one arm.
Something told me I needed to have these books.
As a rule, my parents had tried to avoid book fair books, having more than one literally fall apart and not be worth the money. Still, when they saw I was actually interested in a book, especially one topping out at 300+ pages, they bought them both for me. The rest, well… that’s why I’m writing this right now. I began to devour every Redwall book I could find, my personal crowning achievement being reading the entirety of The Bellmaker in two days, just under the deadline of school letting out. I had to. I couldn’t let school end and not know what became of Mariel and Dandin. They were my friends, my comrades in arms, all created by this delightful, grandfatherly-looking Englishman with a weirdly French-looking (but not pronounced) name. Brian Jacques became my Tolkien, he was my gateway into the world of fantasy and wonder and whimsy and, most of all, reading. It’s because of him I’m writing this right now, or writing at all, and why my fingers ache from having to split keyboard time between my creations and my awful job. Without Brian Jacques, I wouldn’t have my number one hobby, my number one dream, and I wouldn’t have an entire world to escape into when things go bad and the world looks its blackest.
The number one criticism I’ve seen levelled against Mr. Jacques (aside from the ridiculous assumption that he writes “children’s books.” To quote another dearly departed, “Any book is a children’s book if the child can read!”) is that his stories, evocative and engrossing as they are, are formulaic. To that I say, so what? I want my heroes to be heroic sometimes, and I want my villains to be villainous. I want the prophecies to be fulfilled, the clever riddles to be sorted, the idyllic life to be shattered by nefarious evil-doers, only to rise up and triumph in the end. There’s nothing wrong with these stories, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with hearing a similar story, as long as it is one that inspires the correct emotion. The world is saved, what is bad has been vanquished, and all is well. Good God, wouldn’t it be nice to say that happens somewhere outside of a storybook? Yes, Alan Moore is a genius who turns us in on ourselves to gaze and go mad. Yes, Dalton Trumbo exposed the evils of a unnecessary war. Yes, books can deliver that punch that makes you question everything that this world tenuously holds up and holds onto… but there will always be Redwall, and at Redwall, all goodbeasts are welcome.
I owe everything I am today to that peculiar book in that library, the goofy concept that made me realize that mice can be heroes, badgers can be Lords, and there is still a place in this increasingly necrotizing society for the good and the strong and the brave and the simple. I owe everything to Brian Jacques for making me want to be a writer, and giving me that route to escape. I cannot tell you how much it pains me to have never met the gentlemen, but as I write this here I will tell you that I will want to do his memory justice so, years from now, decades maybe, I can say that I am here because of Brian Jacques, and maybe another frustrated kid will read the books and be inspired. I will not stop writing, I will not stop creating, because I feel I owe it to him, after all he’s done to me.
Thank you, Mr. Jacques. Somehow, I know you can read this. And say hello to Rose and Methuselah and Mother Mellus for me.
“Goodbye, my friend, and thank you, thank you, thank you,
It makes me sad to leave you upon this summer day.
Don’t shed a tear or cry now. Goodbye now, goodbye now.
I’m sure I’ll see you somehow, if I pass by this way,
For the seasons don’t foretell
Who must stay or say farewell,
And I must find out what lies beyond this place.
But I know deep in my heart
We are never far apart
While I have mem’ry of your smiling face.
Goodbye, my friend, and thank you, thank you, thank you,
Your kindness guides me ever as I go on my way.”