An Ode to Brian Jacques

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.


71 thoughts on “An Ode to Brian Jacques

  1. Cool. I wouldn’t call Jacques my favourite author, but I agree with you: he never turned out a dud novel.

    I think we need more story-tellers in this world. Not more novelists, not more writers — we have plenty of those — but more people who can actually TELL a great story, not just write one.

    I like the title of your novella. Ah, the brilliantly wily Antony…

    1. Yes, storytelling is a performance art— story-writing is a careful craft. Once you get someone who can do both, that’s pretty special.

      Thank you. It’s about a culture that places a lot of significance on ears, and a few people have detachable body parts, so I thought it especially fitting.

    1. *bows* Thank you, thank you, thankyouverymuch. *smooths pompadour* *ceases Elvis impersonation*

      In the fourth video of that talk (I think), he does a full Eulalia battle cry. It’s pretty funny.

      1. *blinks away the mental image of your hair in that style*

        I know… I ended up watching all the videos last night. *grins* It was great. All of it.
        Hey, I could be a meme, now. Watch all the videos!

  2. One of the first authors I really got into as a young kid. I can still read his books today and enjoy them immensely, maybe even more than when I first read them. He had a special touch. His books were more than just books, they were an experience.

  3. I unfortunately have to say I’d never heard of Brian Jacques before you mentioned him. I’ve certainly never read any of his writing. But perhaps someday I will.

    And what Leinad said–we need more storytellers. There’s something about a story being told in audible voice, unedited and slightly different every time, and yet still riveting that’s…well, special I guess.

    Anyway. Lovely ode, Head Phil.

    1. You should at least try his Castaways of the Flying Dutchman trilogy. That’s probably his finest work. But I’m glad I was able to introduce him to you in a good light.

      Agreed. I will do my best to fill that role.

      Thank you.

      1. CASTAWAYS!!!! *freaks out and starts sobbing* Ben!!! Ned!!! whyyyyy! *cries*
        *gets a little more control* Yes, it’s his best! 🙂 If intended for a slightly older audience. 😉 At least, I’d recommend it for young teenagers rather than middle schoolers.

      2. Yeah…. But my real reason is for the same reason they don’t hand LotR to middle school children (at least, they shouldn’t!). It takes a little more experience to enjoy it fully.

      3. I think you would like it, specifically, despite your tastes being different from mine in many ways. However, I also think that many other people would like it, so both options are feasible.

  4. Yay! I love Jacques too. Of course, I haven’t read his books in a while, but still. 🙂 I think his books were the first ones (other than G.A. Henty’s novels, which though enjoyable could get a little predictable after a while), which I learned to love.

    1. Indeed. G.A. Henty was okay, but he really didn’t have much in the way of plot or pacing. They weren’t really adventures as much as instructions on how to sleep outdoors.

      1. *nods* They do teach history, but not as effectively as they might. It takes patience to work through the narrative sections; they feel more like recap than actual story. That’s Henty’s biggest mistake–he tells rather than showing at times.

  5. Guess what. You are the honorary recipient of a Liebster Award! *crowd cheers*
    I don’t expect you to do much with it beyond say you’ve been awarded 9 Liebsters, but I did ask some pretty good questions…
    Anyway, congratulations.

  6. I still come back to re-read my favorite parts from Castaways of the Flying Dutchman. It’s one of my favorite childhood series. Brian Jacques was an amazing author. I love how he could tell a story so it felt like you were hearing it, not reading words on a page. Ned was an amazing dog. Brian really captured the spirit of a black Labrador. In general, I’m not wild about animals as main characters in stories, but Ned is definitely an exception. He reminds me a lot of my own black lab and made me laugh out loud countless times.

    I think I’ll go re-read the books again tonight. 🙂

      1. Turns out I wish I had time to savor the moment, too. Boy, does a border collie puppy keep you on your toes…….I’ll get time to read them again. Eventually.

  7. It’s odd how the comments are a mixture of “never-read-it-but-I-will” and “ooh-let’s-fangirl-over-this-together”. I, as you already know, fall into the latter category.
    I first discovered Mr. Jacques on a Christmas about three years ago. In a large cardboard box, the first ten books awaited me. Since then I was entranced, begging my friends and family to read it (my father did, my mother didn’t, my sister read the graphic novel, and I have to meet one human being [other than a friend whom I successfully pressured {and she did enjoy them}] who has read the first book, let alone the whole series. I’m sorry you don’t count.) Since then I was enthralled, enchanted, energized by the wonderful world which lay between the pages. Some books just do that to you.
    On the other hand, I still can’t believe why it’s not as popular as it should be. It’s… just amazing. Let’s fangirl together. Or fanboy. Whatever your masculine equivalent is to fangirling,
    “Redwall is where safety and warmth surround you. Food, friends, music and song. Redwall will always welcome you back.”
    -the Official Brian Jacques website,
    PS: I think I shall go sob into a pillow now. I’ve gotten myself quite worked up.
    PPS: I do believe I’ve neglected to mention what a wonderful post that was. How rude of me. I apologize. It was truly amazing and beautiful and I wish I could’ve met him so, so terribly bad.
    PPPS: I think that’s the longest comment I’ve ever written, Congratulations.

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