The Redwall Survivor competition has had me reflecting back on something I like to refer to as my “First Reading Love”. It was the first book series that I really fell in love with, read obsessively, wrote fanfic for, and essentially allowed to take over my life.
It was the Redwall Series by Brian Jacques.
I discovered the world of Redwall and Mossflower on spring day while browsing books at my library. I was 11 or 12 years old at the time. In those days, my method of finding reading material involved wandering up and down the aisles in the kids’ section at my library, picking out the thickest books I saw. I liked books that took me more than an hour to read. Unfortunately, it seemed that many of the books geared towards my age were thin things.
I spotted a row of rather thick looking books with strange titles and I grabbed one.
“Wow!” I thought. “This looks really interesting.” I checked it out and took it home.
The particular copy I picked up was a paperback version (not the hardback version seen above), so it was quite easy for me to stick it in my backpack and take to school. I vividly remember the window sill I sat by at the edge the playground as I started to read this book. The words, “Orlando the Axe was following the fox,” burned themselves into my memory.
I was hooked.
Later that summer, and a few Redwall books later, I was walking across the street to get the mail. I heard my neighbor friend chopping wood in his backyard. Specifically, this is what I heard. “REDWAAAAALLL!” THUNK! “REDWAAAAALLL!” THUNK!
“Ah, hah!” I said, “He reads them too!” I asked him about them and before long, our outdoor ‘games’ became Redwall based. He was a badger named Strongpaw. His sister was a foxwolf named Bren Sprackenwulf. I became a hare named Lilac Blacktip. The playhouse in my backyard was renamed Fort Hawkeye. Our younger siblings occasionally played, but their involvement was more infrequent. Strongpaw and I used our pocketknives on the fallen cottonwood tree in the field behind my house to make swords out of the tree branches and we had many adventures.
In early 1998, my family got the internet (good old dial-up AOL) and I did a search for Redwall. I found the original site and discovered that there was such a thing as a Redwall Club. Unfortunately, the club was not accepting members at the time, but there were links to other Redwall clubs. I joined the HAWM (Haven for Avian Warriors in Mossflower) as a golden eagle named Goldtail. My friend Bren joined also as a redtail hawk named Arn Rustwing.
I joined a few other Redwall clubs over the months before deciding that I wanted to start my own. It was a cookie cutter Redwall club. No different from the others out there. I called it the Wandering Mossflower Defenders. I got a few members, but there was nothing special about it.
Then Bren approached me and said, “I’ve got an idea for a Redwall club. I’ll write up all the information for it and you do the computer work.” Sounded good, so every few days, she brought me pages scribbled on the back of old homework and I sat down and gave myself a crash course in HTML, creating a new website on Geocities. As the framework was built, Bren and I advertised this new club on the various message boards for the clubs we were involved in. Our tag line for the club was “You cannot escape our eye.” And the club’s name?
The Sentinels of Mossflower.
Finally, on Thursday, September 10, 1998, after spending ALL afternoon putting the final finishing touches to the site, we posted the link for the first time.
Then, my mom came home, chewed me out for being online all day, and tying up the phone line. Apparently, she’d been trying to call me all day and in the days of land lines and dial up, time spent online meant calls couldn’t come through. That was the only time I ever got grounded (yes, I was one of those kids who NEVER got in trouble), but she grounded me from the computer until Monday.
Monday morning, I got online quickly before school. My inbox was jammed with emails from people wanting to join the Sentinels.
Over the next few years, I practically devoted my life to the Sentinels of Mossflower. At first, Bren helped and was involved in the message board and such, but as time went on, she drifted away and left me to my own devices. I missed her involvement, but I loved the club with fierce intensity. During what I consider to be the high point of the ROC (Redwall Online Community), the Sentinels had over 200 members. Many of the members would instant message me whenever I was online and I made friends around the world.
In addition to running the Sentinels and role playing on our message board there, I took my characters to various other message boards. The Salamandastron Dance and the Boz were two of my favorite haunts. Not only did my Sentinel characters make appearances there, but I created numerous new characters to play with. I made more friends and an enemy or two there. Laughed, cried, got mad, and even found romance.
Here’s the funniest thing about this time period. I can credit the Redwall books and the Sentinels of Mossflower for my relationship with my husband. During the ROC’s golden days, Bren was the only real life friend I had that liked the Redwall books and unfortunately for me, she moved away during this time. I was incredibly lonely. I lived for the moments when I could hop on the computer, drop my lonely teenage self at the keyboard, and become someone else. It was through the ROC that I was really happy and comfortable with myself.
Then one day, a boy (who would become my husband about 5 years later) approached me at a school basketball game. I’d played a few years of basketball, but gave it up because I wasn’t enjoying myself and wasn’t good at it, but I still wanted to support my old team. I was sitting alone, watching the game, and doodling in my sketchbook. I was trying to be an artist like Bren (and her friend Vizon, who I knew through Salamandastron Dance). My future husband approached me and asked what I was drawing.
Now, I was scared of him at this time (even though I’d known him and his family almost my entire life). He was over 6 feet tall, loud, outgoing, and just about my complete opposite in every way. Oh, he was nice, but he was just so big and loud. Usually when he approached me, I kept my answers short and found a way to escape from him as politely as possible.
But this night was different, because what I had in my sketchbook were drawings of my Sentinels characters and he began asking me more and more about the Sentinels and about Redwall. The next day, he completely freaked me out by being the first boy to ever call me on the phone. He had one question. “What were those books you told me about?”
The next time I saw him at school, he was carrying a copy of Brian Jacques’ The Long Patrol. When I asked him what he thought about it, he said he was really enjoying it. Finally, I had someone else to talk to about Redwall! Within no time, we were hanging out every day. He joined my club as a badger named Bronx and began joining me in the role playing.
I was pretty happy during these years. My life revolved around school, Redwall, and Bronx. I slowly built my collection of Redwall books each birthday and Christmas. I read each book multiple times and was practically a walking Redwall encyclopedia. I actually had a challenge on the Sentinels where members could send me suggestions for a quiz we had and they got bonus points if I couldn’t answer the question correctly first.
As the years went on and I finished high school, my time for Redwall and the Sentinels dwindled. I still read the books and I still role played, but real life was slowly pulling me out of the fantasy world I’d built for myself. In December of 2002, the Sentinels of Mossflower was temporarily closed down because I moved to Ghana, West Africa for 6 months and knew my internet would be spotty at best. I restarted the Sentinels when I returned to the States, but things kept me busy. The Sentinels never again saw the grandeur of those early years.
The last official update for the Sentinels of Mossflower was on Saturday, October 25, 2008, just over ten years from the day I began. Within about a year, Geocities shut down and the Sentinels were no more. Fortunately for nostalgia, the site was preserved through the Reocities.com project, so if you really want, you can still view the old site.
The biggest blow to Redwall and the ROC came on February 5, 2011, when the world received the news that Brian Jacques had passed away. My own heart broke and I’ll admit that I cried for a good while after that. My youngest sister stopped by later that day with an ice cream cake and a funny movie to help cheer me up. She understood just how hard it was for me to see one of my heroes go.
My birthday came only a month later and I received a present from my mom’s boyfriend (now my step-dad). It was a hard copy of The Long Patrol and included a note that said he knew I already had that book, but this one was special. I opened it up.
Though I keep busy now writing the Sentinels of Mysera series and living my life, the world of Redwall and the first Sentinels hold a huge piece of my heart. Thanks to my friends on Redwall Survivor, I’ve been reminded just how much those books meant to me and just how much fun Brian Jacques’ world could be.
Have you ever read any Redwall books? Were you a member of the ROC? Even better, were you an old Sentinel of Mossflower? Let me know in the comments below.