The Nature of Redwall Abbey

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The Nature of Redwall Abbey

Written by Kevarr (edited by Zoe_Lang)

The Order of Redwall

The first obvious step is figuring out just what this Order thing is actually all about. There is plenty of precedence in the books, seeing as Redwall is what the books all involve, but I've still seen wildly differing opinions. So we'll start with the explanation the author offers himself within the first few pages of the first book, spoken through Abbot Mortimer:

"We are mice of peace. Oh, I know that Martin was a warrior mouse, but those were wild days when strength was needed."

"That was when our Order found its true vocation. All the mice took a solemn vow never to harm another living creature, unless it was an emeny that sought to harm our Order by violence. They vowed to heal the sick, care for the injured, and give aid to the wretched and impoverished. So it was written, and so has it been through all the ages of mousekind since."

  • Redwall is a peaceful institution. Even so, it understands the need for violence when it is threatened. Its members make an oath to never harm another living creature, unless it is an enemy that also sought to harm the Order by violence. Yes, I'm emphasizing that there is no provision in there to threaten a beast you don't like, whose opinions differ from yours, or whose species is considered undesirable. The case can also be made that Order members are not allowed to resort to violence unless the Order itself is threatened (and from future books one would assume this also means the beasts under its care).
  • They vow to heal the sick and injured. They are healers, first and foremost, even those who don't know the art. Interestingly, their vow carries an echo of the Hippocratic oath Do no Harm, which is widely associated with doctors today. Again, there is no provision listed here to refuse aid to someone you do not like, based on opinions, actions, or species. Only if they threaten the Order by violence.
  • The Order is also charitable. Redwall is a place of considerable bounty in the books, with room for all. Charity involves giving of oneself freely, without reservation. The Abbot does not say, ...give aid to the wretched and impoverished, as long as they seem trustworthy and are woodlanders. While the Redwall of the books very rarely had vermin within its walls, and especially rarely did those vermin stay for a long time, this is not because Redwall forced them out do to their being vermin. It isn't even because Redwall forced them out because their opinions were undesirable or even a direct contradiction to the values Redwall upheld. The only times anyone, vermin or otherwise, have been forced from Redwall was when they killed or tried to kill members of the Abbey. Anything below that was met with chastisement and punishment, usually by chores (Redwall has a lot of chores!), based on the severity of the offense. Banishment was always a last resort, and not something to be relished.

"Today, we are a deeply honored and highly respected Society. Anywhere we go, even far beyond Mossflower, we are treated with courtesy by all creatures. Even predators will not harm a mouse who wears the habit of our Order. They know he or she is one who will heal and give aid... At all times we must live up to this. It is our way, our very life."

  • While this will prove to be untrue in later books (the world in Redwall the book is different than the world that would appear later in several important instances...Brian Jacques was still fleshing it out when this book was written), it still contains important elements. For one, Redwallers are expected to always hold Order values, even when they are far away from home. Predators will not harm a Redwall beast because they know that this beast offers healing and aid to them, should they need it.
  • One last important thing to note. While Redwall was and is an Order made up primarily of mice (in Redwall the book, it actually seemed exclusive), they do not make distinctions based on species. It is mainly mice because it was founded by mice, not because mice are considered the only suitable beast. In later books we have squirrel and hedgehog Abbots/Abbesses, for instance.

Redwall Abbey the Place

Redwall is a very large building, with grounds filled with an abundance of well tended gardens and orchards, a pond, and thick walls to protect it from the harsher realities of the outside world. An important factor here is that it is self sustaining. Redwall can hold out against a seige almost indefinitely as long as the opposing force cannot breach the walls or gates. So a huge factor of rebuilding Redwall should include cleaning the pond and reviving those orchards and gardens. Redwall in the books was so abundant that they could afford to throw feasts for every season and every major event, as well as domestic celebrations.

Redwall actually contains several different factions.

  • The Order of Redwall are those who have dedicated their entire life to upholding the values Redwall was founded on. While religion in the books was pretty much non-existent, this is very similar to how real abbeys operated. You have novices, who have expressed a desire to become part of the Order, but which have not yet received the training, experience, knowledge, etc...whatever is required of a full Orderbeast. One can pretty much assume from the structure shown that all Orderbeasts start out as novices. Following a typical structure, once you graduate from being a novice to become a full member of the Order, you take the vows of healing and charity, along with a vow of peacefulness. The Elders tend to be beasts that are older and far more experienced, as well as being experts in their particular field. This term isn't used very much in the books, but I have gathered that on the MUCK it involved the leaders of the various trades, and, interestingly, not all of those beasts were necessarily members of the Order itself.
  • The Badgermother. This involves a single beast, by tradition a female badger, usually somewhat elderly. This is an actual position in the Abbey, although it doesn't seem to specifically state whether it requires being a member of the Order itself (For instance, Lady Cregga from Long Patrol became the badgermother almost immediately, and she did not go through novice-hood or taking vows). The badgermother looks primarily after the dibbuns, acting as a sort of surrogate grandmother. She gives baths and sends them off to bed. She hands out dibbun punishments and scoldings. She assists in their education, though she is not the sole person involved. Being a badger, she is ironically one of the most warlike in Redwall, and during times of trouble seems the picture of an overprotective mother.
  • The Dibbuns. These are the Abbey's children, either offspring of those living there or orphans that have been taken into Redwall's care. In the books there are always enough of them to give their elders headaches, they seem to run in packs, as young children often do, and their entire life exists of getting into trouble and dodging baths and bedtime. As can be expected, they are highly cherished and valued.
  • The Residents. These are the beasts that live in Redwall Abbey, but are not actually members of the Order itself. They are a very diverse group, who have arrived at Redwall for any number of reasons. They may live at Redwall for their entire lives, or they may only stay for a season or two. While they are required to be peaceful and non-violent within Redwall, many of these are actually fairly war-like. An example would be the Guosim, various elements of the Long Patrol, or Skipper and his crew. They are not disdained for their way of life, and are welcomed with open arms. In the case of Skipper or Foremole, they may also be considered Elders of the Abbey.
  • Visitors. These are short term guests, often woodlanders that live in the surrounding areas. They may come to Redwall because of the danger involving a maurading horde, they may be travelers, or they may just be there for the current feast or celebration. If they are from far away, they are often asked for songs, stories, or news.

Vermin and Redwall

Yeah, here's what a lot of my comments have been getting at. The general opinion I've been seeing regarding a canon Redwall is that it should be, at the very least, distrustful of vermin. The most extreme examples I've seen involve not allowing vermin to be in the Abbey at all, or only for short periods. Before I started looking through books for this purpose, I would have agreed with most of those remarks, but now having researched what Redwall is about, I must strongly disagree.

  • Throughout the Redwall novels, catastrophes involving vermin have been a constant. They've been routinely invaded, attacked, kidnapped, stolen from, and vandalized. Redwall has very strong reasons to dislike, distrust, and barr vermin. And yet, they do not. Why?

The answer is actually fairly simple. Redwall has a mandate of do no harm, and to provide for anyone who requires aid, whether it be healing, friendship, shelter, or sustenance. Redwall does not differentiate its treatment based on species. In that, it is actually extremely unique of all the various groups in the books. To do otherwise, to refuse or limit aid to a fox, merely because he is a fox, is actually a severe violation of Redwall Order's code, and the spirit of the Abbey. In the books, Redwall has proven that it values its principles so highly that it will allow the wolf in with the sheep and offer a friendly hand, even when previous wolves have responded by biting that hand and preying on the sheep.

This is not to say that beasts in Redwall are required to be accepting and non-biased against vermin, or any other group for that matter. There are plenty of examples of distrust in the books, especially among those who are either visitors, or originally from somewhere else. Bias in Redwall is good. It's fun, and it provides for RP. It is actually the entire reason I first brought Kevarr into Redwall in the first place. Beasts should no more be required to be all accepting there than they should be required to be biased. A community is not made up of people who all share the same opinions on everything.

However. Redwall itself, its rules, its principles, do not and can not show favoritism toward one particular species, and pre-judgment against another. Redwall does not Dei-ify mice for being born mice, and neither does it condemn vermin for being born vermin. To do so would be a gross violation of the spirit of Redwall, and thus would be extremely un-canon. While wary and distrustful eyes may watch you when you enter if you are a weasel, the gates of Redwall are not shut. They are not even half closed. They are wide open, and they always will be unless you take action against Redwall itself.

This goes both ways. While you can't kick me out for being vermin, neither can I kick you out for being prejudiced against me, and speaking up about it. Remember that the only reason for banishment is if you try to kill someone in the Abbey. Unpopular opinions can be debated and argued. But you can't be banished for it. Redwall's aid is not contingent on you agreeing with everything they believe in.

I will now cite some specific examples of what I'm talking about. Beware that there are spoilers below if you have not read the books.

  • In Redwall, Chickenhound was taken in after suffering grievous injury. While he tried to offer his information in return for being cared for, he was cared for regardless of what he told the Abbeybeasts. Even though they were in an active state of war, he also wasn't in any way guarded or supervised. His response to this was to go through the Abbey and steal whatever seemed mildly valuable. He killed Methuselah in his efforts to escape, and for that Constance tried to hunt him down.
  • In Mattimeo, a large group of vermin claiming to be entertainers were allowed inside after a brief check to make sure they did not carry any weapons. (Vitch, a rat, was also allowed inside, but he somehow managed to pass himself off as a mouse). Slagar, the leader of this vermin band, offered that they could sleep outside if that would make the Abbeybeasts less nervous. His offer was not taken up, although it would have been prudent. Redwall buried its enemies many seasons ago, was the explanation offered. The vermin show was not sneered at--in fact, everyone highly enjoyed the entertainment. The response to their trust was that everyone at the feast was drugged, children were kidnapped for slaves, and two Abbey members were murdered when they tried to stop it. For that, Slagar was hunted.
  • In The Bellmaker, two rats, obviously former corsairs despite their ridiculous story, were allowed to come into Redwall and stay indefinitely. They were not supervised or guarded. In fact, there were several times where at least one of them was alone with the dibbuns. While their offered song, which involved a gruesome description of the butchering of a conquered ship's crew, did not go over at all well, neither were they threatened for it. Eventually, one of the rats would kill the badgermother, and they both would flee. Feeling guilty, the other rat killed the murderer, and returned to Redwall to tell them that justice had been done. He was allowed to stay, although he made the decision to leave and become a boatbuilder by the sea.
  • In Pearls of Lutra, while he does not show up (alive) in the actual story, a vermin who admitted to being a thief and a murderer was allowed to stay in Redwall. He suffered from a head injury, and became friends with an eccentric recluse named Fermald, admitting to all his previous crimes, and warning her that there may one day come others looking for the treasure he stole. Fermald took the treasure and hid it, leaving behind only cryptic riddles as clues to where the treasure was. When he realized he was dying, the vermin left Redwall to wander into the forest and die alone.
  • In Salamandastron, two deserting vermin were taken into Redwall. They attended a feast and story time. Being idiots, they accidently shot and killed one of the Brothers, and in fear they stole Martin's sword and fled.
  • In Outcast of Redwall, Veil the ferret was taken in and raised in the Abbey, despite misgivings about what he may turn out to be. There was certainly prejudice expressed here, but again, no one forced Veil out for being vermin. He was banished because he was caught out having poisoned someone, and also because his response to being caught was more threats against the Abbey.

There are other instances that aren't coming to mind, obviously. But the short and simple conclusion that can be drawn here is that Redwall does not keep vermin out, and they do not treat them as being unwelcome. Certainly, vermin in Redwall, in the books, were very rare. This was because most vermin had absolutely no interest in living in the Abbey, and being the standard evil sort, scoffed at the values it upheld. On the MUCK, most people seem to play vermin characters as more neutral than evil, which means there are predictably more vermin interested in living in Redwall than there would be if BJ was in charge of all the characters.

See Also