Dear Mister Jacques,
As I write this, I sit with Rogue Crew at my elbow, fresh out of its box. It’s shiny and lovely, with charming illustrations throughout and an otter and a hare on the cover to let us know there will be tons of adventure. I’ve been looking forward to it since I turned the last page in Sable Quean, before I even knew its name, and I can’t wait to read it.
I also can’t make myself turn to the first page and start.
I’ve written you twice a year- every year- since i was ten (which adds up to a lot of letters) and I don’t know if you received any of them. I was never sure if I had the right address or if the publisher actually forwarded them or even if I had the right kinds/numbers of stamps. I kept writing and mailing, though, because each letter was another promise to myself that one day, I was going to meet you face to face so I could tell you in person how you changed my life.
From the age of three onward, I always had my nose buried in a book, or scribbled out elaborate stories on scratch paper when I was supposed to be paying attention in class (yes, even in elementary school), but reading your books changed the way I looked at all of that. Not just books and stories, but the way I looked at everything. I tell the story again and again as I put the books into customer’s hands. I tell them how I got pulled into the lives of a warrior mouse held captive long years by the tyrant who stole his father’s sword, of the fierce squirrll who would give anything just to be free, of the beautiful Rose who sings and heals and risks so much to rescue her foolish little brother, the little brother who gets in over his head but discovers a well of courage that could change the lives of everyone he encounters. It wasn’t just a story that I picked up and put down and didn’t really think about afterwards.
Martin the Warrior held me captive from the first page to the last, and even though I was absolutely bawling- to the point that I could barely tell my mother why her ten year old was sobbing herself silly at two in the morning- I was in love. I’d dabbled in worlds before, but all I’d ever taken away from them was a sense of enjoyment for a few hours. I picked it up, put it down, and that was the end of it. But I couldn’t get away from Badrang’s fortress and Noonvale and all the stretches in between. I cared about what happened to the characters, even after the story was done. I thought about what their lives were like before the story started, and what would have happened after. Long before I knew what fanfiction was, I was playing with it anyway, wondering what would have happened if certain things had been different.
From there I was hooked. I found other titles, and then even more titles, and my whole family got in on it every time a new title came out. I read my paperbacks so many times I wore them to shreds, to broken spines and lost pages and torn corners even though I normally take really good care of my books. When I was twelve, and a house fire ruined everything I owned, the first thing I asked to replace was Martin the Warrior. When I’d finally replaced all of my Redwall books at least three times in paperback, I asked my family for help in making the transition to hardcover to make them last longer. Every year, I wait impatiently for the new title to come out, so I can savor the new characters and the songs and the food and everything else that makes your books so wonderful, and then it joins all of the others. I pretty much have a library in my apartment, but your books hold court over an entire shelf. The dust jackets are pristine but underneath, the corners of the binding are a bit battered. At least one of them was chewed on by the kitten before he learned that books are not toys or food. It makes me happy to see them there all in a row, because each one has a world inside that I love. Each one has a whole host of memories, memories that step off the pages to remind me how much these books have seeped into my life.
Like how my best friend named three cars after characters. (Cregga, Pasque, and Mariel, just for the record)
Like how I chose a section of Pearls of Lutra for a dramatic reading for a debate invitational and won first place because I had the judges in tears- because I couldn’t ever read that part without crying myself, and I wanted to share how amazing that feeling was.
Like how in college, I would skip one meal a day for a week so I could use the food money to buy the new book when it came out.
Like how whenever a customer asks me for a recommendation for their kids, this series always tops the list, and they almost never walk out without buying at least one of the books because I can’t make a neutral rec, I can’t keep the excitement and passion and love out of my voice when I talk about them.
I look at this copy of Rogue Crew and I know I’ll love it. It stars hares and otters, pretty much always my favorite sets of characters.
But the thing that has me putting it off- the reason I still haven’t turned to the first page to settle in with a drink and the cat for hours of wonder- is that once I start, I’ll finish.
And then it will be done.
Because unless you had another manuscript sitting around, this is the last tale of Redwall we’ll ever have. I can (and frequently do) reread the others, and I’ll have them to read to my one-day children at bedtime because more than nearly any other books, these are meant to be read aloud, but there won’t be any new ones. That breathless sense of anticipation, that ten-year-old’s glee at holding the new book for the first time, or even at just discovering a new title and date in the computer…It’ll be there for other series, for other new releases, but there won’t be any more for Redwall. This is the last story of Salamandastron and Redwall Abbey, of Mossflower Wood.
It breaks my heart.
But what I’ve learned, and how I’ve changed, the way these books have written themselves into my life, those things are mine to keep forever, mine to treasure.
There may be no new installments, but there will always be an abbey of peaceful creatures who work together to make a life that values harmony and life. There will still be a fire mountain on the western shores, with a Badger Lord or Lady to forge the weapons that sing and hiss of death in the hands of the hares of the Long Patrol. There will still be the hedgehogs, with their joys and awkward hugs; the squirrels with their strange breed of fearlessness; the mice and voles that work so hard to keep the abbey running as a safe haven within Mossflower Woods; and the moles, with their down to earth practicality and simple pleasures.
From the bottom of my heart, for every word, every character, every moment I got to spend within the world of Redwall, thank you. Your death is a great loss for children’s literature, but the legacy you left behind will be the gift that we- who grew up on the lessons in your books- will one day give our children.