Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Death of a Master "In our imaginations we can go anywhere. Travel with me to Redwall in Mossflower country."

British author Brian Jacques, who wrote the "Redwall" (Penguin) adventure series, died of a sudden heart attack on February 5 in Liverpool, England. He was 71.

School Library Journal reports that Roque Crew (Penguin, 2011), the 22nd book in the series, is scheduled for release on May 3. This final book is about the murderous and evil Razzid Wearat (vermin pirate) and his crew of vermin, who are on a mission to seize Redwall Abbey.

According to Jane Henderson, Post/Dispatch Book editor, Jacques (pronounced "jakes"), a former Liverpool longshoreman, who left formal schooling at age 15, conveys a personal and professional bent toward nostalgia that was not uncommon in the early, great British fantasy writers such as Lewis Carroll and J. M. Barrie.

Brian, who grew up in Orwell Road, Kirkdale championed childrens literacy throughout his life and created the Brian Jacques Literary Award to inspire and reward talent.

When asked why so many good fantasy writers come from Great Britain he supposed that perhaps Americans watch too much TV. (He might have benefited, however, when his Redwall books were made into a TV series.)

He also said that good British writers "have a command of language. The heroes don't say 'gee, golly ' He criticized America's tendency to make "beautiful childhood stories into Disney abominations. If you can just stick to the integrity of the thing."

Jacques fine-tuned his first "Redwall" yarn while reading to blind students. He carefully described banquets and feasts (hunger during World War II made him interested in details about food) and he takes the time -- often about 400 pages -- to create singular personalities and accents for the animals and include songs, riddles and poems. As the needs of this first audience encouraged Jacques to describe his newly created world as vividly as possible; wisely, he retained the same detail and drama when the stories were written down. Their quality was recognized by a former English teacher, Alan Durband, who sent them to a publisher without telling Jacques and secured him a contract.

Jacques was a natural storyteller. He told touching stories of the responses he got from young readers, with tears springing to his eyes. He revelled in being recognized within Liverpool.

His favorite book: "Wind in the Willows" by Kenneth Grahame.

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