A couple weekends ago, Brian Jacques, the author of the Redwall series, passed away. While I have many favorite authors, he was the first. His death touched me in a way I didn’t expect. I actually cried because I fully realized his influence in my life.
When I discovered his first book, Redwall, I was eleven and seeking adventure in the school library. I was in middle school and the social hierarchy that was so absent during my elementary years was forming. I felt alienated. I was a nerd who liked to read and felt insecure. I sought escapism in my books. In sixth grade, the library was full of thick tomes with wide spines. The atmosphere was simultaneously intimidating and exciting. Through these books I could become someone.
I remember the first time I saw Redwall. The beautiful and strange cover illustration drew me in immediately. There was a mouse in a long, green habit with a sword. In the background was what appeared to be a red sandstone castle (actually an abbey). I was reminded of Disney’s anthropomorphic “Robin Hood,” a movie I loved as a child. I borrowed the book and fell under its spell. I remember reading late into the night, savoring every chapter. Jacques’ writing was so visual and, for the first time, I was able to see the events of a book so clearly in my mind I felt as if I were there. I felt for the characters and cheered their victories. Here was a dynamic world full of adventure, exciting characters, and a romanticized, earthy village of medieval animals. Nobody seemed left out or laughed at. In Redwall, everyone was supportive and friendly (most of the time). How I wanted to jump into those books and leave middle school forever!
I inhaled the Redwall books and I learned from them. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I now know that I was attempting to stand on Jacques’ shoulders and mimic his style in my own writing. I learned how to craft sentences, paragraphs, and whole essays. His work was filled with words I had never encountered. Using a dictionary became fun for me because I wanted to know exactly what Jacques was talking about. His work transformed me into an English student. I’ve come to love other authors but nobody has motivated me the way he did. He woke me up. He helped me realize how much I love reading and writing. Language Arts classes became my favorite which set me on the path to majoring in English and entering my profession.
I wasn’t the only one Brian Jacques inspired. I collaborated with other fans on an online role playing game. Together we grew into friends and mature writers. We learned how to politely critique others’ writing. We learned how to work together. As everyone was from a different place on the globe, we learned about the world around us and the varied perspectives possible. I even met my first boyfriend there. All of this led to my own real-life adventures. Who knows what I would have been like without Jacques’ influence, but I strongly believe I would have been a different person. His work helped mold me into the person I am today.
Yes, I eventually moved on to other books and authors. I read more sophisticated novels, learned new lessons, had more adult experiences. I grew up. Childish as they now seem, I realize that the Redwall books were the first great stepping stone out of childhood and into my future. When I heard the news of Brian Jacques’ passing, I cried because I recognize the importance he had in my life. His work was the gatekeeper to greater things.
Sure I didn’t grow into a swashbuckling warrior, but I lived according to my own virtues learned through his admirable characters. I met friends, found love, traveled the world, and entered a scholarly field thanks to his creation. I realized that, although I yearned to escape into his books for adventure, I ended up having my own in the real world anyway! How amazing is that?
I wrote a letter to Brian Jacques explaining the above to him. I am planning to keep it on my altar until Samhain, the night when the ancestors are about. Brian Jacques, my first favorite author, has moved on to become an ancestor of my heart and mind. I will honor him always.