Reflections on Badgers

As I’m continuing to read through the Redwall series, Mossflower, MattimeoMariel of Redwall, and Salamandastron all drive home themes raised in the first books:

  • good guys like/create delicious food; bad guys don’t eat;
  • there’s always more than one villain–one of which is often more of a force of nature than an actual bad guy;
  • the heroes have to go somewhere to get a sword;
  • the solution to the problems of the present is found in the past;
  • there’s nothing particularly religious about Redwall Abbey or its inhabitants.
Image result for redwall map
Image Source: Sci-Fi Stack Exchange

All of which, as I’ve said before, makes for excellent reading. Often with long series like this the books start to lose some of their punch, but at least so far Jacques has kept good solid narratives trudging along. I suspect in part this is because he hasn’t stuck with the same characters all the way through, and instead shifts around the timeline and location.

Any of the above listed items would make for good reflection, but the more I read through these books the more interested I am in the last one. Clearly, the inhabitants of this literary world know about some kind of supernatural something or other. After all Martin the Warrior visits each successive generation in dreams and visions. Though he is clearly dead, he is still alive and watching over the Abbey. Likewise the Lords of Salamandastron and occasional sisters of the Abbey have visions of the future that they either carve into stone or recite in verse. And most tellingly they live in a freaking abbey. And yet, there is little to know theological reflection or rumination in the first five volumes of the series.

Now, this isn’t a complaint on my part–I think one of the reasons these books are so consistently good is that Jacques just tells the story without a bunch of preachy moralizing. He’s writing in the grand old tradition of Lord of the Rings, and that is to be commended. The only reason it comes up is because of the setting–to tell five stories set in a monastery (well, four plus Mossflower) without mentioning religion is unusual enough to be noticeable, hence this post.

Still, without any noticeable religion (and even some openly unreligious bits, as with the remarkably un-religious blessings given over food) questions do have to come up as to exactly what it is that holds this community together. And I think the answer is pretty clear from the text: food. The critters of Redwall Abbey are united around their love of a diverse and well-prepared repast. And there’s something both remarkably Christian and remarkably un-monkish about that. For all its setting, this really isn’t a story that could have been written about a true Medieval abbey. Jacques’ Redwall Abbey is one with a worldview that is certainly shaped not only by Protestantism in general, but by Martin Luther’s attitude towards food specifically:

“Whenever the devil harasses you, seek the company of men or drink more, or joke and talk nonsense, or do some other merry thing. Sometimes we must drink more, sport, recreate ourselves, and even sin a little to spite the devil, so that we leave him no place for troubling our consciences with trifles. We are conquered if we try too conscientiously not to sin at all. So when the devil says to you: do not drink, answer him: I will drink, and right freely, just because you tell me not to.” Martin Luther

And that’s enough nitpicking of these excellent books. They are worth reading for the story alone, the points listed above are just icing on a very elaborate spiced plum cake, served with October ale and chestnut wafers piled high with honeyed watercrisps.

Also: If one of the books down the line is called Just Badgers and Birds, I’ll read the heck out of that book.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO, where he doesn’t actually drink ‘October ale’ or eat chestnut wafers. Coffee and donuts, on the other hand…

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