Thursday, February 10, 2011

Farewell, Brian Jacques, Master Storyteller

I was introduced to Redwall by a fellow reader who became one of my best friends.  She and I shared a love of many things, including books — and especially Brian Jacques, whose death on February 5 has lost this world a fabulous storyteller.

I remember traveling to the Bailey's Crossroad, Va., Borders to listen to him read.  Carole and her husband Steve came with their two children.  The children were young, in elementary school, and the place was packed.  The kids sat as close as they could and the adults peered from the edges, mesmerized as he recited the description of Cluny the Scourge in Redwall.

When I say "recited," what I mean is "performed."  I never heard such a sonorous voice, rich and interesting.  He whispered, he shouted, he drew us in close to share asides, he used his entire body to tell the tale.  I don't think I took a single breath for fear of missing a syllable.  I went to my reading eye and watched Cluny appear before me, just as Jacques described.  It was incredible, and I silently thanked the blind children who inspired him to write such rich, detailed stories.

i also wasn't surprised to learn that his descriptions of food were influenced by his experiences living through food rationing during and following World War II.  Only one who knew want could create feasts so abundant and varied.

Afterward, he signed his books.  Now, he was recuperating from carpal tunnel syndrome from signing so many books, and the event organizers asked that each person bring only three books to the table.  He apologized, and we know he would have signed every book we carried had he been able.

When my young friends met him, they were wearing the masks and waving the scabbards they had made in the workshop the bookstore had provided.  Jacques was delighted, and he gladly posed for a few photos with the children after he finished autographing their books. 

He listened to the questions and comments by the children and their parents, really listened, and thought carefully before he answered.  Some authors have canned answers, or questions they won't consider — but not Jacques.  I could see the wheels turning as he thought, and responded.

He promised to keep writing books for as long as we kept reading them.  We did, no matter how we grew (up or out).  My young friends went on to college, and yet they would read those books with their parents, with Carole twisting her tongue around Basil's Scottish brogues and Foremole's near-mumbling.  I watched in fascination, wondering how Jacques heard them in his head, knowing he would be thrilled with Carole's performance.

I am going to miss this wonderful author and the excitement of finding another of his books on the shelf.  I will miss the dormice, the hares, hedgehogs and badgers — even the stoats and weasels, without whom there could be no story.  Jacques' writing made the world a better, and more colorful, place, and his talent will be truly missed.

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