Redwall Readthrough – The Bellmaker

ARTWORK by chic2view from 123RF.com

It’s been a very a long time since I revisited this series, but how could I resist continuing the series when Wyrd & Wonder is offering me a Woodland Creatures prompt?

For those who don’t know, Redwall is a series of children’s fantasy books by Brian Jacques famous for its use of anthropomorphic animals, good vs evil, and regional British dialects. It was hugely popular when I was a young ‘un (the first book was published in 1986, the year of my birth); I do not know how popular they are now, nearly ten years after Jacques’ death and the posthumous publication of the last book in the series. I probably discovered them when I was around 10; I was still joyfully enjoying being able to take the latest release from my uncles’ bookshop for free in my late teens.

Obviously I am no longer in my teens, but now I am going to read them all again and share my thoughts. So far I’ve found my opinions haven’t changed that much since I was young so I’m a little nervous revisiting something I don’t really remember loving.

By the way – spoilers abound.

Mini-Review: The adventures of Mariel Gullwhacker did not end with Mariel of Redwall.

Instead they took her and her good friend Dandin to the land of Southward, where the Foxwolf Urgan Nagru holds the king captive. Needless to say, Mariel and Dandin get involved in the fight – but it is a hard, complicated one.

So it’s a good thing a vision from Martin the Warrior has sent help from Redwall, led by Mariel’s father, Joseph the Bellmaker.

What do I recall thinking at the time: I wanted to like this book as it contains a sea otter and it mentions a wolf, but I don’t remember thinking it one of the best.

What do I think now: Well, every author puts out a bad book sooner or later.

Best Thing: The searat Blaggut.

One of the characteristics of the Redwall series is how much good and evil are tied to species and while I’m not here to criticise that, I do enjoy it when Jacques steps outside that. Blaggut is his biggest step so far in the series. When he ends up in Redwall after he and his captain, Slipp, are marooned by a piece of ship stealing by the good guys, he really takes to the place. He really takes to their way of life, to the dibbuns who adore him. He protects them even when Slipp threatens them in the pursuit of treasure. He recognises this could have been him with a different upbringing. And he finds redemption.

Other good things include the scholastically minded mole Egbert, the sea otter Finnbarr Galedeep, and the sight of a hare goading a shrike into heroism. Uhm. Yeah.

Worst Thing: I can’t even really identify anything about it that is awful or anything. It’s just that the whole thing is flat. There’s no emotional intensity to the stakes, no great dynamic between any characters.

I guess if I had to narrow down to one thing, it would be be the fact that the character Bowly Pintips takes up a lot of book and I don’t think you’d ever notice if he was edited out.

Hero Watch: The defining trait of Mariel in her first outing, Mariel of Redwall, was her anger. She’d been dealt an awful hand and showed raw rage for much of the book as a result as she sought her revenge. But there’s no revenge for her here, and no emotional journey. She’s just another hero doing hero things and that’s just kind of sad. I’m guessing she was brought back as she was based on Jacques’ granddaughter, Jade, and if she enjoyed it then fair dos but I can’t help but wish Jacques had given her something a bit better to do here.

Villain Watch: Urgan Nagru’s main traits are he once killed a wolf and wears its pelt and uhm… he has a potentially great dynamic with his mate, Silvamord, but it’s underexplored.

Other Notes:

1) While I’ve been writing this review, I’ve been watching old episodes of Masterchef, and I watched a very talented chef go home because he made a big old mistake and served seriously undercooked fish. That’s pretty much what I’ve just seen here. Jacques wrote some fantastic books. This one is a giant mistake. It’s not just a level below, it’s something that’s kinda actively bad and can be used in the study of what not to do.

It all starts with a plot where none of the main actors have any big personal reason to be doing what they’re doing. I know I’ve already said this but it bears repeating. Mariel and Urgan Nagru have no idea who each other is before the story starts and barely meet during it. If hero-villain dynamics are like relationships, this wouldn’t even be a one night stand. They got in the taxi together then agreed maybe it’d be best if he just slept on the couch at the other end. Also, Joseph aside, none of those going forth from Redwall have really strong reasons to do so. In fact, none of them volunteer, they’re all sent forth by prophecy in what is probably one of the stupidest uses of prophecy I can think of. The only character who has strong motivations is Blaggut, who shines in this book like a wonderfully cooked side that you cling onto for dear life while sending the fish back to be cooked.

This is storytelling 101 and I don’t know what Jacques or his editor were up to here. As insult to injury, there are people who suffer at Urgan Nagru’s hands who can bring something to proceedings, but the two seen most often spend most of the book in a catatonic berserk state. Jacques has literally shown us the characters that can bring some impact to this mess, then told us we can’t have them. I have so much time for what Jacques has done as a rule but despite that, I still can’t bring myself to be polite here. This is the sort of creativity usually seen from the densest character in a sitcom, and I wish I knew whether this was sheer stupidity or laziness.

2) If you can’t have great hero-villain dynamics, have great buddy-buddy dynamics. Alas, I’ve come to the conclusion that Dandin is the beige of the sidekick world. I should have realised this when I didn’t mention him once in the Mariel of Redwall review, but it’s very clear now. Throw in the pointless Bowly and the two mute warriors, and Mariel spends most of the book starved off anyone decent to bounce off of. At least the crew from Redwall don’t have that problem, with Joseph and Finnbarr forming a good friendship, with Rosie Woodsorrell as comic relief. But they’re kind of a side note and honestly, something that could have been removed from the story with little appreciable effect other than no reason for Blaggut to reach Redwall.

3) Please don’t judge the Redwall series by this book. I can’t imagine there are many people reading this weighing up whether to buy into the series but you never know, right? Brian Jacques wrote a lot of good books. Books that mean a fair amount to me. Just not this one.

2 thoughts on “Redwall Readthrough – The Bellmaker

  1. Woodland creatures? The Duncton Chronicles trilogy (and its follow up, The Book of Silence one), by William Horwood!!
    Late 80s/early 90s, these great books are set in the world of moles, and there’s love and growth and real evil and torture and battles and travel and friendship and religion (that can be read as christian but also as any other, actually)
    As with all my books from that time, I’ve read them about 3 times, love them, and they left a mark in my growing up 🙂
    (I wonder if they still stand up, but I fool myself if I think I’ll re-read them anytime soon…..)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember seeing them in libraries at the time and thinking “they look a bit darker than I want” – I sometimes consider going back and trying them, but think the time has passed.

      Like

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