Did I do that right? The thing where you make an eye-grabbing, slightly offensive title that’s meant to draw you in so you can either prove yourself right or wrong? I think I did that right?
So is the book series racist?
Like, a little.
Okay yes, but not a lot, but it’s still there.
Get to the Point
So about a week ago I pulled one of those moves that many in my generation are familiar with. The move where you have a moment of nostalgia and remember something you liked and then immediately seek it out to remind yourself how great it was.
“Aw man, remember Redwall? That was thing back in the day. I read the shit out of those books. Are they still good? Did I remember that correctly or was that another childhood fever dream that walked the line between hallucination and reality? Only one way to find out.”
I immediately got the Nook app and bought it online for cheap and read the whole thing in like a day and half to make sure that what I remembered was real.
The Good News
The book is still pretty decent. I’m a big strong man now, so I don’t do kid stuff anymore (like watching cartoons and playing video games like I do every moment of every day), but it was still able to hold my attention. Once I got back into the swing of things I had a hard time putting it down, and was constantly taking my phone out during interruptions at work to get a few more pages in.
The characters are still easy and lovable. Matthias is a catch-all hero of heroes, I was reminded that Constance is a badass who gives no fucks. Cluny was simple and kind of stale, but all of the villains in Redwall are like that. It’s all about the name, when you get down to it. I mean, Cluny the Scourge! I don’t care if it’s for a small rat that’s an awesome name for a villain and good job on Jaques for coming up with it.
The morals are still there, and there’s a nice hero’s journey plot that’s easy to follow. You got your call to adventure, wisdom from the older generation, stepping out into an unfamiliar world to find knowledge, descending into the underworld and returning with new powers, reclaiming the homestead and reconciling with the father figure. Pretty easy stuff, so good job there.
The Bad News
To actually address the title, is it racist?
Yes. Yes it’s racist.
In the book’s defense, it’s not trying to be. I totally understand where it comes from, but it still is, at least in this first book.
Firstly, there’s kind of a general racism. In that, depending on what species the characters are, you know right away whether they’re good or bad. If you’re cute and small, congrats, you’re on the good team. If you’re ugly or considered a pest, looks like you’re a bad guy, no exceptions. So there’s a little of that. People that aren’t beautiful and pure on the outside are automatically scum of the Earth and want nothing than to either rise through the ranks or watch the world burn, no in between.
But it’s a book for kids, so it kind of has to be simple, right?
There’s an argument to be made there, but not a good one. We shouldn’t be afraid to be complicated with kids. In case no one told you, life is complicated, so getting them used to some gray area early on helps make people more well adjusted.
There’s also a little bit of religious intolerance, or maybe I imagined it. I mean, the good guys live in an abbey, so essentially a church. They don’t really worship any particular God, but they do say grace to some extent. Cluny makes a devil reference early on in the book, implying that there’s some sort of judgement after death, but that might just be because this was the first book in the whole 22 book series and Jaques hadn’t quite thought that through yet, so whatever.
But the book really drops the ball near the middle of the story. For one thing, Matthias is captured by the Sparrows living in the Abbey roof, who call themselves the Sparra. Since they’re a different race from the rodents, it makes sense that they would have their own language. But rather than letting it be nuanced or something interesting, they all just talk like Gollum walking through a Kindergarten class. It’s kinda dumb and sort of takes away from the rest of the story. Matthias even “learns their language” to befriend them, which just means copying the silly voice affectation and there you go, learned a new language.
The cardinal sin, however, is around the same time. Spoiler alert, Cluny gets injured and has to take some weeks to heal back up before attacking the Abbey again. While resting, he enlists the help of a female fox named Sela and her son Chickenhound. Foxes are pretty cool animals, so it’s neat that they’re in the story, but he specifically refers to them as “gypsies”.
Damn, Brian, you were so close.
I don’t need to tell anyone how offensive that term is to Roma people, but in case you don’t know, it is. It implies a certain lifestyle and invokes images of stealing and black magic and all that kind of stupid racist shit that we’re passed these days. This book was released right on the cusp of the 90s, so “asshole SJWs” hadn’t ruined everything with their feminazi ways yet (I am all of those things, btw). So in that respect, the book doesn’t really hold up. I can see what you were going for, but there was a better way to put that. And from what I know of the rest of the books, all of the foxes are like that, which is just lazy.
Other than that large misstep, the book was still fun if I ignored that bit of it. It brought the inner child out of me again, and I consider it safe for kids as long as you explain the foxes thing. That’s probably the most important thing, make sure you say something about that.
Now someone tell Barnes to hurry their shit up and put Mattimeo on the Nook store.