The Catalyst to My Fandom: How the Mice of ‘Redwall’ Taught Me to Be Brave

R.W.V. Mitchell

We all have that moment when the right fandom property at the right time changes our course, and we go on to dedicate our life to something. The Catalyst to My Fandom is a place for all of us to share those life-altering moments in fandom. For me, it was the swashbuckling, romance, and tasty-sounding feasts in the Redwall series that fostered a lifelong love of fantasy stories.

Until 2011, I was lying to myself nearly every day. I convinced myself that I just wasn’t that into fantasy literature. Sure I dabbled a little, but spaceships, and androids, and laser-sword diplomacy had always been what I assumed I loved best. But as I lounged in my Gryffindor pajamas finishing the final chapter of The Wise Man’s Fear, I found myself completely mesmerized. I did like fantasy literature, and, as I pondered the path that brought me here, I realized that the furry creatures of Brian Jacques’ Redwall series were my original guides into myriad fantastical realms.

Before Redwall

From about age four, I was obsessed with Star Wars. Every game I wanted to play was related to that galaxy far, far away. During playtime, I affected wearing one black glove on my right hand to cover my “robotic” limb and developed a remarkable talent for making spacey sound effects. I stole the toilet paper roll holders from the house because they were about the right size and shape to be a makeshift lightsaber. My exasperated, long-suffering mom eventually bought me one of my own from Home Depot so I’d stop taking them.

luke skywalker played by Mark Hamill in return of the jedi
The glove really completes the ensemble.

I encountered a lot of other media along the way (growing up in America, you can’t escape Disney). But in the end, if it didn’t have hyperdrive, space-magic, and robots, it didn’t hold my interest. I can imagine my parents watching with perverse fascination. I expect that witnessing my single-minded obsession play out elicited equal feelings of admiration and bewilderment. Thankfully, a friend of mine four years my senior had just enough influence on my developing pop culture sensibilities that he opened my eyes to a new set of adventures.

The Catalyst to My Fandom

As a lad, my family spent a lot of time with some friends in our first neighborhood. Consequently, so did I. They had a son, Matt, who suffered through my early toddler years enough to come to call me friend, in true. We both had similar interests (read: he liked Star Wars nearly as much as I did). We always compared notes on books we read and reenacted some fierce lightsaber battles.

One day, around age nine, I went over to visit Matt. He had constructed a massive fortress of cardboard and plywood in his vast, unfinished suburban basement. I was amazed. He introduced this spectacular structure as “Redwall Abbey” and laid out the politics, demographics, and cosmology of a brand new world. This was a bastion of freedom, a home to the mice, and squirrels, and badgers, and birds, and other furry creatures of Mossflower Woods. We spent the afternoon foraging for food and repelling attacks from the cruel onslaught of ragged, ratty forces. Matt was the brave mouse warrior, Matthias, and I was an unnamed but equally brave hedgehog (this was the golden era of Sonic, after all). We filled the afternoon with bold excursions, heart-wrenching setbacks, and ultimate victory.

redwall abbey
Redwall Abbey, in all its colored-pencily glory.

At the end of the afternoon, Matt pressed a well-read copy of Redwall into my hands. Over the course of the next week, I devoured the book. I was not yet aware, but turning that first page altered my life, in subtle ways, forever.

Why Redwall is So Special

There are plenty of fantasy series that are compelling enough to be someone’s first major hook in the genre. Brian Jacques’ stories have the distinction of walking that fine line between rich world-craft and simple adventure tale. Redwall concerns the adventures of Matthias, a humble mouse, who must find the legendary sword and shield of his ancestor, Martin, to drive off the attacking forces of the dreaded pirate rat, Cluny the Scourge. These names, these artifacts, are instantly evocative. You crave to know more about the rich history of a world that exists in relative harmony, defended by a noble warrior. I saw, in Martin and Matthias, a kind of mouse-shaped Jedi Knight.

No black glove, but he’s still pretty cool.

With all of the principal characters being animals, it makes these kinds of tales approachable for younger readers who have advanced to reading chapter books. Brian Jacques’ rooted his stories in English, Celtic, and Norse tales of derring-do. They share enough of their basic structure with other stories, such as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, that engaging with new stories became easy. The Badger lords of Salamandastron, master blacksmiths and mighty warriors both, have much in common with the Dwarves of Tolkien’s lore. The hunt for the Sword of Martin is much like the hunt for the Sword of Shannara, or the Horn of Valere. Redwall is like a child’s Rosetta Stone for fantasy stories.

Jacques has a talent for crafting stories about legacy, heroism, loss, and peril that resonate with children and leave fond memories into adulthood. Beyond that, reading descriptions of the food at the sumptuous feasts even encouraged me to try new foods. Just like he taught me about the wonder of scones and meat pies, Brian Jacques fostered my appetite for an entirely new genre of adventure stories.

The Takeaway

Ah, the gentle memories of childhood.

Thanks to Matt’s guidance, I started to branch out into new works I would have previously shied away from. I lost myself in games like Myth and Baldur’s Gate — rich fantasy tales with complex worlds of their own to explore. Now, many of my favorite games, like Dragon Age and Shadow of Mordorare hard fantasy at its best.

When I had to move away from my hometown and leave all of my friends behind in the most trying period of my childhood (middle school), books like Mattimeo offered me an escape (and a name for my new pet hamster). My newfound interest in fantasy gave me the inroads to make new friends when I needed them most. The brave soul who offered me kinship and taught me how to play Warhammer Fantasy remains one of my closest friends. I still have my hastily-painted army of Bretonnian chevaliers to this day, though it’s unlikely they’ll see a miniature battlefield anytime soon.

Ultimately, in high school, when given the chance, I rolled up a character and jumped into a game of Dungeons & Dragons. It was one heck of a good time, and it kept me from doing really stupid things that teenagers are wont to do. Years later, it also helped me find a party of like-minded adventurers in my current environs. I still play every week, and I can think of nothing I’d rather do than tell impromptu fantasy stories with my closest friends.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Brian Jacques. That initial foray into the humble setting of Redwall paved the way for not just new experiences in art, but also in pushing me toward the most unbreakable friendships I’ve ever forged. Eulalia!

Fandom is built on a foundation of passionate people with deep and unshakable knowledge spread across the entire pop culture landscape. The only way for that to manifest is timing: the right fan with the right property at the right time. Luminaries of film, music, television, games, and comics have all had that watershed moment where something infected them, and the impulse was too strong to ignore. We have shared some of those moments, and hopefully, you will join us in doing so as well.

R.W.V. Mitchell
R.W.V. Mitchell is a Fan Contributor whose proudest accomplishment is winning the Star Wars trivia contest at the midnight showing of Revenge of the Sith.
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