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Medicine for the Recovering English Major (In Memory of Brian Jacques)

Have you ever been enamored of a book because of who wrote it? The story may be good, excellent, even, but the sheer force of the personality behind it lends the book an extra “star” or two or whatever is your cosmological equivalent of a good rating. Such is the case for me when it comes to Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series, which recounts the epic struggles of good and evil between rats, mice, stouts, weasels, cats, badgers, moles, hares, and other woodland creatures in the land of Mossflower and beyond. Think The Lord of the Rings meets The Wind in the Willows. Now, in my self-imposed literary “reeducation” process (in which I forego the literature that makes me look and sound smart and instead find enjoyment, once again, in a darn good yarn), I stumbled upon Redwall. My curiosity was immediately perked by the picture of the author on the back cover. This is Brian Jacques:

I know, right? He looks like the grizzled old captain of a whaling ship, not a children’s author. Downright scary. So I did a bit of googling, and found some audio/video of him speaking at a Borders and as a keynote speaker in Liverpool, his hometown, and seriously, if my first choice of which author to have a pint of beer with is C.S. Lewis, a close second is Brian Jacques. A truly infectious personality, he tells bad, corny jokes and laughs at them himself if no one else will (“What creature goes ‘zubb, zubb, zubb’? A bee flying backwards.”); and he’s self-deprecating (“I originally thought all authors had first names of “Sir”- Sir Walter Scott, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle- I didn’t realize I could be one.”). He’ll retell the same stories about himself over and over like he’s saying it for the first time. There’s an old-fashioned sense of uncontrolled vitality about him- keen, refreshing, like a good, sharp, chilly Northeasterly wind.

He’s decidedly old-school as well. A definite “medieval dinosaur,” as CS Lewis once put it. “My chief delight and satisfaction,” Jacques once wrote, “is annually to desert the world of modern technology.” Delivering milk to a school for the blind, he was eventually invited to read to the students, and noted that publishers used to send books for the kids, and, as he tells it, “I didn’t like those books. Technology, teenage angst. Ugh. They were all about the now. What happened to the books that I used to read? What happened to the magic?”

It comes out in his books. Amid the clutter thrown at us in our daily lives, when modern technology seems to yell in a digitized voice that disrupts all quiet conversations over a pint of stout, a Jacques book invites a warm fireside to illuminate its pages, rather than the glow of a computer screen. It sounds quaint (and incredibly ironic, as I write this on my laptop), but Jacques writes the kind of books we need for an “out,” from our daily hustle and bustle. Not, let me be clear, as an “escape,” but rather, like all good literature of its sort, as a “recap,” or reminder of what being human is truly all about: fidelity to friends and family, sharing of food, discovery of purpose, and acknowledgment of the worth and value of those who may be different from you. And as the prospect of becoming a dad begins more and more to fill my everyday reality, it’s good to know that books like this are still being written. “Questing, feasting, singing, and battling to defend good against evil,” as Jacques puts it. What a marvelous concept for a post-modern age. All this from a man, who states, quite simply, that an author is “a person who can paint pictures with words.”

[Editor’s note: Today’s guest writer, Greg Pyne, is the author of the Wandering Tree blog located at Do yourself a favor and watch the videos below in their entirety.]


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