Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Warriors Come Out And Play

I've always been a sucker for violent talking animal fantasy dating back to when I first read Watership Down in seventh grade. That was the first book I ever read that really transported me into another world that was fully illuminated in my mind. I've been drawn to the genre ever since.

In college, I interned at Philomel Books, the publisher of the Redwall series by Brian Jacques and I devoured all of those books one after the other. I became enraptured by the mythology contained within those pages and was obsessed with tracking the history of Redwall Abby from Luke to Martin and beyond.

This past weekend, I discovered another such fantasy that completely blew me away. My friend, and roomate during my Redwall days, is fully aware of my love for the type and had lent me a comic book called Mice Templar a few months ago after I flipped through it at his place and was thoroughly impressed by the art. I had no idea at the time just how epic the scope of the story would be.

The book follows a young mouse named Karic who struggles to become a hero and save his enslaved family and friends from the tyranny of the Mouse King who has employed the standard animal enemies of rats and weasels to inflict his reign of terror upon the land. I know what you're thinking...aren't they all.

Beyond the action though, what the story does so well is include an sprawling mythology and legend without ever feeling overblown or losing the reader. The art is pretty intense, brutal at times-beautiful at others, but still manages to maintain a children's book aesthetic, which really appealed to me. It's very much a picture book for adults in a way that no other comic I've encountered. It's takes the next step and really illustrates the horror of the horribles.

I don't know why it is that sword wielding mice always get to me when a human counterparts would not, but they do. Perhaps it's because in our society it's easier to assign their heroic attributes to these animals as we've grown cynical about the ability of truly heroic acts in people. Or perhaps it's just because the pure fiction of it appeals to that inner child that wants a magical story.

Back when I was doing that internship, I was lucky enough to meet Brian Jacques at an informal party in the home of my boss. He'd spent the whole day cooking a Redwall feast (if you've read the books, you know those animals are always eating). Then, at one point during the evening, he began telling stories. I remember, at 21 years old, sitting on the floor with other adults and listening to him talk for hours. Suddenly, we were all little kids at story hour again. It was one of those pinpoint moments in my life when I knew there was nothing else in the world I wanted to do but tell stories that held attention like that.

Over the past year and a half, I've been drawn more and more to this kind of BIG story. I've been actively working on several different ones. To that list, I'm now adding another. There's been an idea floating around in my head for quite some time involving this kind of warring animal saga. Reading Mice Templar, and feeling that same stirring as when I read Redwall and Watership Down, I knew it was time to return to it and do some serious thinking on the matter. I just love encountering books that instill that kind of inspiration. As a writer, I'm lucky enough to have the opportunity to return the favor. It's the duty of our trade.


  1. Loved Watership Down; reread it a few years ago and loved it even more. I'll have to check out these books you mention. My bookshelf and yours look very different.

  2. I'm fairly confident you'll love Redwall then. My personal favorite of the series is Mariel of Redwall. You can pick up the books and start anywhere...but like most such series, there's a greater mythology if read in order but that a huge commitment.