Brian Jacques (1939-2011)
Today, my words are not coming to me easily. Today, I am mourning one of my heroes.
If you’ve never read Brian Jacques, you’re missing out on one of the great children’s literary figures and series of our time. Trying to describe him, words and phrases like ‘memorable stories’ and ‘unforgettable characters’ and ‘thrilling adventure’ whirl around in my head, and they’re all true.
Brian Jacques painted with words—he painted a whole world with his words. For twenty-five years, he gave that world to thousands of children. And to many of them, he gave writing as well.
I discovered Redwall the same summer I found Harry Potter. For reasons I’ve never quite understood, I read Harry Potter enthusiastically, yet but not only read but bought with near obsession every Redwall title I could get my hands on. Bought and read and revelled in—this strange and beautiful world where mice were warriors and the animal woodlanders fought for their way of life against a gathering dark, vermin and monsters. The faces and the names haunt me forever, the memory of treasured companions. Matthias. Basil Stag Hare. Mariel. Cluny the Scourge. Orlando the Axe. Rose of Noonvale. Luke. Martin. And so many, many others. The Wizarding World is a nice place to visit, but Redwall Abbey in Mossflower—that’s a world to live in.
Jacques never pandered to market trends (although he created a couple). His are stories in the great old style—with true heroes, chivalric and noble, and nefarious villains who are soundly and satisfactorily killed in the end. He understood the responsibilities on a children’s writer, in much the way Fred Rogers understood the responsibilities on a television presenter. And he lived up to them. He didn’t create easy worlds, he didn’t create escapist worlds, but he gave us a world with both comfort and beauty and terror and sorrow, and hope. Above all, hope.
In both his public work and his private life—from all accounts—I’ve looked to Brian Jacques as an exemplar of what a writer can be. He’ll always be a role model to me, and I’ll always cherish my hours spent in Redwall. I never had the privilege of meeting him, and that will always be one of my regrets. So I never had a chance to say what I going to say now: Thank You.
Thank you, Brian, for the gift of your words and your stories. Thank you for a world well written, and for a life well lived.
All condolences and deepest sympathy to the Jacques family.
Christopher Denise, Brian Jacques’s good friend and sometime illustrator, has said that he ‘will try to put together a post in the coming days with some my memories of Brian so that you might know a bit more of the Brian that I knew.’ I’ll link to it from here when he does.