A follow-up question to yesterday’s post about alternate worlds with sentient animals: is the Redwall universe coterminous with our own? That is to say, do humans exist somewhere near Mossflower County? Are the scattered animal strongholds of Salamandastron and Redwall Abbey more like the Shire in Middle-Earth, which is populated exclusively by non-humans but perfectly aware of the existence of humans, or are they more like The Wind in the Willows, where humans have been entirely replaced by anthropomorphic animals?
In the majority of the Redwall series, there is no mention of humans or even the possibility of them. Mice, badgers, pine martens, rats, hares and monitor lizards have managed to develop a (roughly) feudal society without any infrastructure or history provided by a lost human civilization. And yet, in Redwall, Cluny the Rat is described as being possibly Portuguese, suggesting that Europe (or the memory of Europe) still exists somewhere. Moreover, he rides upon a hay cart pulled by a horse. What is to be made of this?
The high, warm sun shone down on Cluny the Scourge.
Cluny was coming!
He was big, and tough; an evil rat with ragged fur and curved, jagged teeth. He wore a black eyepatch; his eye had been torn out in battle with a pike.
Cluny had lost an eye.
The pike had lost its life!
Some said that Cluny was a Portuguese rat. Others said he came from the jungles far across the wide oceans. Nobody knew for sure.
Cluny was a bilge rat; the biggest, most savage rat that ever jumped from ship to shore. He was black, with grey and pink scars all over his huge sleek body, from the tip of his wet nose, up past his green and yellow slitted eye, across both his mean tattered ears, down the length of his heavy vermin-ridden back to the enormous whiplike tail which had earned him his title: Cluny the Scourge!
Now he rode on the back of the hay wagon with his five hundred followers, a mighty army of rats: sewer rats, tavern rats, water rats, dockside rats. Cluny’s army – fearing, yet following him. Redtooth, his second-n-command, carried a long poll. This was Cluny’s personal standard. The skull of a ferret was fixed at its top. Cluny had killed the ferret. He feared no living thing.
Wild-eyed, with the terror of rat smell in its nostrils, the horse plunged ahead without any driver. Where the hay cart was taking him was of little concern to Cluny. Straight on the panicked horse galloped, past the milestone lodged in the earth at the roadside, heedless of the letters graven in the stone: “Redwall Abbey, fifteen miles.” Cluny spat over the edge of the cart at two young rabbits playing in a field. Tasty little things; a pity the cart hadn’t stopped yet, he thought. The high warm sun shone down on Cluny the Scourge.
The argument can and has been made that most references to human civilization exist in Redwall only and are expunged from later books; however, one of the primary ingredients in hotroot soup (featured both in Triss and Salamandastron) is mare’s tail, an aquatic plant so named for its resemblance to the tail of a horse. Whence this name, if horses no longer exist?
Also consider: there are no goats or cows in the Redwall universe, and yet Cluny’s second-in-command is named Cheesethief. What madness is this? The mice of Redwall has a Cellarmaster who brews “nut-brown ale” and various cordials; have mice developed the ability to metabolize alcohol?
Another question: while it’s perfectly reasonable for a fantasy novelist to give his characters names like Matthias or Martin, to call a long-lived mouse Methuselah suggests that the mice have a still-working knowledge of Biblical tradition. Is this the human Bible, or a mouse Bible that oddly mimics our own? Is the “Portugal” of Cluny’s possible birth a rats-only version of Portugal? Does this universe exist in a place where multiple animal species evolved in a manner that oddly mimics human development in our own?
Another disturbing point: the largest animals (leaving out the horse from Redwall) that exist in the Redwall universe are the monitor lizards and the wildcats. The remaining species in the series include mice, dormice, shrews, bats, seals (!), hedgehogs, porcupines, voles, squirrels, otters, rabbits, ermines, ferrets, bees (non-sentient, by all accounts), foxes, pine martens, snakes, sables, the occasional pike, sparrows, ravens, and a pleiosaur. There are no apex predators; there are no animals bigger than a few feet long. What mass extinction event preceded this?
Finally: Why are there churches and abbeys but no organized religion, or reference to a god or gods of any kind, in the entire series? Why not just build a farm, or communal housing, or a village? If there is no god in the Redwall universe, why is the snake Asmodeus named after the Christian devil?
Take a position and defend it in the comments. Include footnotes if at all possible.
[Image via The Long Patrol]
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.