Brian Jacques, author of the Redwall series of anthropomorphic fantasy novels and the Castaways of the Flying Dutchman books, and one of the most popular fantasy authors of the last several decades, died on Monday, February 5, 2011 in Liverpool. He was 71.
I first discovered Jacques in 1988. I had just left Canada to finish my Ph.D. at the University of Illinois, and the covers of his first two novels — Redwall (1986) and Mossflower (1988) — captivated me the moment I laid eyes on them in a campus bookstore. I even had a poster of Jacques’ fifth novel Salamandastron in my dorm room. His charming fantasies set in and around Redwall Abbey, a place of refuge in a dangerous world, featured valiant creatures and daring adventure.
But it wasn’t until I was running my first website a decade later that I discovered what a phenomenon Jacques had become. I was editor of SF Site, and talking to Bettina Seifert, publicist at Penguin/Philomel. Jacques was now appearing in hardcover, and she offered to send me all his books for review.
Tempting, but that seemed like a few too many titles to commit to. So instead I offered Bettina a compromise: why not just send me what was still in print?
She agreed — a little too quickly — and a week later a box of hardcovers landed on my doorstep. A very large and very heavy box.
Here’s what I wrote in my rather sheepish article in 1998:
Now, maybe this doesn’t mean a lot to you. But perhaps you’re not an established science fiction author who just watched your Hugo Award-winning novel from the early nineties go out of print. Or a mid-list author finishing a three-volume series, already getting letters from frustrated readers who can’t find the first two volumes. Unless your name is Stephen King or Robert Jordan, you get used to having your work go out of print. And no matter who you are, you don’t get used to having your small print-run paperbacks returned to print in hardcover by a major publisher, ten years after they first appeared.
Except for Brian Jacques, apparently.
Jacques enjoyed this popularity until his death. He wrote 22 novels of Redwall, including last year’s The Sable Quean and the upcoming The Rogue Crew (scheduled for release on May 3, 2011).
He also published three novels in the Castaways of the Flying Dutchman series, as well as two short story collections and several books for younger children.
Jacques had a vivid imagination and a unique storytelling gift, and I’m grateful he shared them with us.