February 07, 2005

Shooting books about mice in a barrel

I still read children's fiction every so often. You know, the Harry Potter series, Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy -- books, for the most part, that I would recommend to any fellow non-child. Today I finished Redwall by Brian Jacques, a book which really is a book for kids, or, at least, a book for people who don't have highly developed critical faculties. The storytelling is reasonably capable, but the writing -- oof.

The characters of the Redwall universe are anthropomorphized woodland creatures -- mice, squirrels, badgers, moles, rats, ferrets, foxes, etc. I spent far too much time trying to figure out the relative size of the characters -- at one point, a baby squirrel rides on a mouse's shoulder. In the real world, as Rose pointed out, a baby squirrel old enough to walk around would be about the same size as a mouse. The mice of Redwall (an abbey) have vowed never to harm any living creature, although they apparently make an exception for fish, which they periodically have for dinner. And who built the abbey -- the mice, or humans? If it was mice, the way the book makes a big production of how nearly impossible it is for the mice to get to the attic makes no sense. Why would the mice have built a monastery and made it impossible to get to the attic? If it was humans -- why is everything else apparently proportionally sized to the mice? And where are the humans? The villains -- an invading horde of rats -- arrive on a cart driven by a horse (sized in proper proportion to the rats). No comment is ever made about where this cart and horse might have come from.

The size issue isn't the only thing that's underthought-out. There's also the scene where a shield is used to reflect moonlight into a focused beam of light -- already a dubious prospect, but to make the whole thing even more implausible, the shield is placed (or so it sounded) so that its convex side does the reflecting. Hooray, science!

And then there's the stilted fantasy-style dialogue, and then, and then, but enough of all that. This is a fine book if you are incredibly good at suspending disbelief, don't have high standards for dialogue, and can stand endless descriptions of very very idyllic countryside and reiterations of what good friends certain tiny mammals are. In other words, the kids can have it.

Let me close by quoting one young reader's Amazon review of the book; it was posted anonymously (as all kids' reviews apparently are on Amazon), making the last line quite poignant:

I first picked up this book hoping for an awesome adventure,I got what i hoped for.If you like The Lord of the Rings,or The cronicles of Narnia you'll absolutly love this. It's a great story with great characters, you'll never put it down.I heavilly Recomend it. It's only 7 bucks!!! Defintly worth it Must BUy!!!
If you can't afford it go to the library. A+++ 5 stars two thumbs up, gold medalist . If it were a movie, it would have an oscar. SIMPLY ONE OF THE BEST!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

If only I could.

Posted by Francis at 03:54 PM | TrackBack

I, on the other hand, loathed the book. In addition to the things that you mention (and did you mention that it was really poorly written? Oh, you did.), there's the author's evidently total ignorance of medieval history, theology and politics.
It was particularly disappointing, as I had vague hopes that if I enjoyed the first one, I might enjoy the second, and perhaps the third, and maybe even the fourth, and possibly the seventh, and conceivably the nineteenth, and in theory even the umpty-'leventh, or whatever he's on now.
Have you tried Cornelia Funke? I loved Inkheart and am enjoying Dragon Rider even more.

Posted by: Vardibidian at February 7, 2005 06:39 PM

Saying "on the other hand" makes it sound like I would disagree with you.

Posted by: Francis at February 8, 2005 02:08 PM

Well, and I thought that would make it fair and balanced.


Posted by: Vardibidian at February 8, 2005 06:03 PM
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