When asked about my favorite author, I used to say, without hesitation, Brian Jacques. He wrote so many books, each of them vivid and wondrous and fun to read, he never left me without something to sink my literary teeth into. His books inspired me to write. His books inspired me to read thicker and thicker books (until I hit Robert Jordan— perhaps a little thinner now?). His books, each of them, struck my emotions, struck my imagination, without failing me.
And he wrote animal fantasy. Go figure.
These days, I say I enjoy Dumas, or Tolstoy— at least, when I’m talking to college admissions people. These days, I say I enjoy Brandon Sanderson, or Cornelia Funke— at least, when I’m talking to people closer to my age. Tolkien, Lewis, Flanagan, Riordan, Wells, D’Lacey, Stroud, Paolini, Hulick, Mull, Colfer… The list of great authors will never end. I don’t want it to end, as I continue to discover the Marcus Zusaks, the John Greens, the Laini Taylors, the Patrick Rothfusses (Rothfi? Rothfa?). I always want the list to keep growing.
But my favorite author? It always comes back to Brian Jacques.
Have other people written better books? Of course. You can’t say animal fantasy is the genre of heaven, the one true art form all books must aspire to. You can’t say Jacques’ poetry is better than Laini Taylor’s. You can’t say his humor is better than Terry Pratchett’s. You cannot say his plots are always original and always twisty, like Brandon Sanderson’s. But as for consistency? Brian Jacques beats them all. I don’t mean to say his plots are all the same— his plots are varied, but not as twisty as others. He pushes neither end of the spectrum, yet he consistently pulls off a good novel with good characters, vivid setting, and an amazing emotional punch. James Patterson writes similar things book after book, but every time I read something of his, I’m struck by its mediocrity; neither good nor bad, just something fun to read while I pass the time. Brian Jacques is consistently good at retaining that sense of novelty and wonder.
Is that such a big deal? Of course. As I learn more about the craft of writing, I’m seeing more and more of my childhood favorite authors fall to the guillotine of commercialism, haste, and barefaced ineptitude. Rick Riordan. John Flanagan. Chris D’Lacey. Obert Skye. Christopher Paolini. Dan Wells, even. A few have managed to pull back from the brink, saving themselves with an awesome book— Cornelia Funke, Jonathan Stroud, and Brandon Sanderson— but it doesn’t wash away the mistake. Brian Jacques has remained constant even as I’ve learned. To pack an emotional punch into each of twenty-five books? To keep me buying his books even after he passed away? He has never disappointed me in nearly ten years of reading his works. After all the others who have fallen… yes. That’s an accomplishment.
As an author, judged by his books, he’s done an amazing job. But how about as a person? I prefer to judge authors as authors, but occasionally the author’s personality appears important. He’s worthwhile to read, but is he worthwhile in other aspects?
My answer is yes. Brian Jacques as a person was a jack-of-all-trades; he did everything from boxing to radio to sailing to truck driving over the course of his life. He always had a story to tell, whether from real life or his imagination. (You can look up talks of his on YouTube.) He was a speaker as well. Everything about him was entertaining, from his body language to his puns. He was a bald guy with a beard and a potbelly, telling stories about his childhood in Liverpool during World War II, admonishing kids not to cheat on math tests, and making everyone laugh themselves to bits while he’s doing it. He was a charming personality, highly capable at whatever he put his hand to.
He told funny stories. He showed you where his ideas come from, painting vivid pictures in the air. He gave writing advice and life lessons alongside a punch line to make it memorable. He lived and wrote through health and pain, was kind even during his jokes, and made me, on the other side of a computer screen, feel like I was his real audience as he spoke on YouTube. Was he perfect? Of course not. But he made a good show of whatever he did. And honestly, the Liverpool accent added a lot.
And that’s just his presentation style. As a writer, he was a complete one-drafter— he never edited or rewrote. He wrote with pen and paper and made sure every sentence, every word, was perfect. He wrote with care, imaginatively and vividly. With all that, he never wrote a book I didn’t like. He pulled ideas from all points in his life and had an extra story to tell about each one. Everything about him amazed me.
Are his the best books I’ve read? Nah. I’ve read better, but they’re scattered between authors as if they all got a little bit of perfection to use on a single book. His are consistent. Is the the best person who ever lived? Nah. There are, and have been, better people, but they never wrote books like his. They never did exactly what he did, nor impacted me exactly the same way. Favorite books of all time? No. Favorite person of all time? No.
But favorite author? By far.