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I spent my allowance on a steerage ticket to Mossflower Country when I was in elementary school.
The mass market paperback was tucked into the shelves of a booth selling books at an Arbor Day celebration in downtown Zeeland, Michigan. Beneath the title, Mossflower, in gothic script were the images of a mouse with a broken sword hanging from his neck, a badger, and a pirate ship at sea flying a massive Jolly Roger and bearing the name Bloodwake across her stern. “Long ago before Redwall Abbey was built, there was no freedom for Woodlanders… ” What boy could resist? Not me.
I stayed up late reading it that very night and didn’t stop for years. The Redwall novels by Brian Jacques were my mainstays, the books that mark the memories of my youth more than almost any others — more even than Narnia and The Hobbit.
Imagine my pleasure, then, to find as I was rifling through a box of paraphernalia in the attic just the other day a letter from Brian Jacques himself!
I’m certain it was in response to a letter I sent as a school assignment, and I have only a vague memory of receiving it. I must’ve been delighted when the odd brown envelope showed up in the mail, bearing a postmark from Liverpool, England, and a bright blue sticker that read, “By air mail” and beneath it, in a strangely foreign tongue, “Par avion.” Imagine that! Me! A corn-fed, Midwestern school boy getting a letter par avion!
I’m not sure whether I was more pleased to open the envelope at age 13 or 35. Inside was a letter on Redwall letterhead, dated February 05, 1996, and a signed promotional photograph (Radio Mercyside, BBC North).
Text of the letter:
February 05, 1996
Thank you for writing to me. My mail is passed onto me by my various publishers and so sometimes take a while to reach me, so I am sorry if this reply has taken a long time to reach you.
I am so pleased that you enjoy reading my books, they are written for people just like you, the young and the young at heart.
I enjoy writing my books and love to journey into my world of Mossflower country. It is a great way to escape from the cares of the nineties.
Often I am asked why I write about animals; my answer is that I like to watch and listen to small creatures. They remind me of people that I know or have known, or worked for or gone to school with. I give them “personalities” to suit their characters as I see them, for instance Gnoff is me!!
I give my characters accents chosen from British dialects, there are so many of them. moles speak like the old men of Somerset, it is a charming old fashioned rural place. I remember it from my travels as a long distance lorry driver.
My latest book is called THE OUTCAST OF REDWALL, it was a thoroughly enjoyable journey into my world, to tell the story of Sunflash the Mace after he was lost in Mossflower.
I hope you continue to enjoy the journeys with me.
Keep reading and I will keep writing!
I’d read with sadness of Brian Jacques’ death in 2011. In total, he wrote 22 Redwall novels, plus a handful of miscellaneous Redwall volumes and other works of fiction, but I’d stopped reading his books sometime before 2000. I was in high school, then, and thought myself too old for such children’s fantasy; the last I read was The Long Patrol in 1997.
I regret now that I ever stopped my journeys to Redwall Abbey. I missed the last 12 volumes in the series. My boys and I have some catching up to do.
An assignment for parents: Sit down with your kids and have them write a letter to their favorite author. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Dear so-and-so, My name is Whatsisface and I live in Wherever, and I love your books. Have them ask a couple of questions: Who’s your favorite character? What’s the best part about writing? Maybe include a drawing. Drop it in the mail and wait. Any novelist worth her salt will write back. My personal advice is to snail mail it — pen and paper and stamp — but any medium (email, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) will do.