12 Facts About Brian Jacques and the Redwall Series

Jam-packed with characters and conflict from the shores of tumultuous Abbey Pond to the mountain fortress of Salamandastron (and filling 22 novels), the realm of Brian Jacques’ Redwall series was a huge place for both heroic woodland creatures and avid young readers alike—ultimately, one “as big or as small as you want it to be in your imagination,” Jacques once told Scholastic.

So whether you were forever aligned in heart and deed with the mores of Martin the Warrior or found yourself secretly cheering for the Feral Cat Army of Green Isle, there’re probably a few epic secrets about the books’ noble species, vermin, and creator that you never uncovered in your journeys around Redwall Abbey.

1. BRIAN JACQUES’ SURNAME IS PRONOUNCED “JAKES” (YES, REALLY).

Born James Brian Jacques in Liverpool, England in 1939, the prolific author’s last name is pronounced “jakes,” like “makes” or “takes,” as The New York Times and Washington Post pointed out in 2011 after Jacques passed away. And while the surname’s spelling seems to suggest French heritage somewhere along the way (and Jacques would often say his father was half-French), the family isn’t sure of its origin.

2. IN HIS YOUTH, JACQUES WORKED AS A MERCHANT MARINE, A POLICE CONSTABLE, A BOXER, AND MORE.

The renowned writer was “reared by the Liverpool docks,” according to the Times, and showed early promise at the age of 10 with “a fine short story about a bird and a crocodile.” Sadly, however, his teacher thought it was too good (to be written by a child, that is) and caned Jacques as punishment for the perceived plagiarism.

By the age of 15, Jacques had had his fill of school (and his father), and signed on for work as a merchant seaman—the first of various jobs he’d hold over the next few decades, which included work as a longshoreman, a boxer, a bus driver, a stand-up comic, and a “bobby,” or police constable.

3. HE GOT THE IDEA FOR REDWALL WHILE VOLUNTEERING WITH BLIND STUDENTS ...

In the years before Redwall, the series’ first book, was published in 1986, Jacques was working as a milkman in Liverpool and volunteering as a reader for students at the Royal School for the Blind, a regular stop on his route. According to The New York Times, however, he found the reading material to be “dreadful” and “preoccupied with the ‘here and now’ of teenage angst and divorce.” So he set out to create better children’s lit for these students—the proper kind, with heroes, villains, and the former’s adventurous triumph over the latter. He told the Times,

"I thought, 'What's wrong with a little bit of magic in their lives?' … So I went home and wrote on recycled paper. It took me seven months, each night. And it came to 800 pages because I just used one side. I had all of these pages in a supermarket bag.

4. ... AND GOT PUBLISHED AFTER A FRIEND SECRETLY SUBMITTED HIS MANUSCRIPT.

Jacques handed off this supermarket bag to Alan Durband, a friend and retired teacher, to get his thoughts on it. Durband sent the story off to several English publishers, landing Jacques a first contract for around $4000—an offer so modest that, according to the Times, Jacques “was so cautious about the future that he continued working as a stand-up comic while writing books” for the next four years.

5. MANY ANIMAL CHARACTERS ARE BASED ON PEOPLE JACQUES KNEW ...

Various characters in the long series are direct tributes to people in Jacques' life. A self-described “people watcher,” Jacques told Scholastic that nearly all his characters are “people or amalgamations of people [he] met in [his] life,” while many of their adventures are based on real-life encounters of him and his friends, too.

For example, his grandmother inspired the character of Constance, the badger guardian of Redwall, while Mariel the mousemaid is based on Jacques’ oldest granddaughter. Some whole species are based on real-life groups of people, too; as the Chicago Tribune reported, the hares in Jacques' books make reference to World War II bomber pilots, the shrews echo the dockworkers that Jacques lived among throughout his life, and his heavily accented moles take cues from “the ‘very old men’ in the villages of Somerset.”

6. ... BUT THE STORY’S MAIN HEROES REPRESENT BRAVE KIDS EVERYWHERE.

Jacques' experiences being a very frightened kid during the last years of WWII helped him bring some of the mice’s most terrifying and triumphant moments to the page. "My stories are written from the viewpoint of a kid, sitting in the movie house while World War II is on, watching all this magic come on the screen,” he told The New York Times.

To set the stage properly, Jacques worked to create what he called “interesting baddies” among the vermin and villains of Redwall Abbey and Mossflower Woods—ones that evoked the same fear he felt during childhood while watching the newsreels of the devastation of the war. But when it came time to pick the heroes, his choice was an easy one: “I like mice!" he told Scholastic. "Mice are my heroes because, like children, mice are little and have to learn to be courageous and use their wits.” With regard to the fierce clashes between heroes and villains in his stories, Jacques told the Times:

"My values are not based on violence. My values are based on courage, which you see time and time again in my books. A warrior isn't somebody like Bruce Willis or Arnold Schwarzenegger. A warrior can be any age. A warrior is a person people look up to."

7. GONFF THE MOUSETHIEF, ON THE OTHER HAND, IS JACQUES HIMSELF.

Jacques has frequently gone on the record about identifying closely with the lock-picking Gonff, who called both friends and enemies "matey." "Again I go back to me childhood," he told the Times. "He was a ducker and weaver, and so was I. There was nothing around, but if you came from a poor family and there was something left around, you picked it up. I came from the docks. Gonff tried to help others."

8. MANY BOOKS WERE WRITTEN UNDER AN APPLE TREE IN A REAL-LIFE PASTORAL HAVEN LIKE REDWALL.

Jacques mentioned in a Redwall teacher’s guide that his favorite place to write was “a corner of [his] garden, up near the angle of the wall,” where he’d settle in a little hut that he built for his granddaughter, preferably in the spring. When rain hit, he’d simply “go back under the lilac bush.”

9. REDWALL WAS ADAPTED INTO A TV SHOW AND A RADIO PLAY …

During Jacques’ life, the series was responsible for over 20 million books sold and was translated into 29 languages, but fans still couldn’t get enough. So, among other things, Redwall and two other books were adapted into a three-season animated series that aired between 1999 and 2001, while Jacques himself (along with his son, Marc, and a number of British voice actors) recorded a three-part audiobook called The Redwall Radio Play for fans’ enjoyment.

10. ... AND EVEN AN OPERA (A GENRE THAT JACQUES ADORED).

In 1998, Opera Delaware staged Evelyn Swensson’s Redwall: The Legend of Redwall Abbey, a two-act musical based on the series’ first book and which later toured for European audiences. It’s perhaps no surprise that Redwall was able to make waves in operatic form given that Jacques, a lifelong opera fan, spent years hosting a radio program called “Jakestown” on BBC Radio’s Merseyside station, and which featured many of his all-time favorite pieces and voices.

11. THERE’S A REDWALL-INSPIRED COOKBOOK.

The Redwall Cookbook offers recipes for many of the sumptuously described dishes in the series, including Mole's Favourite Deeper'n'Ever Turnip'n'Tater'n'Beetroot Pie, Applesnow, and Crispy Cheese'n'Onion Hogbake. Written by Jacques himself, the book is divided into the four seasons and also features small tidbits about Redwall's characters.

12. STILL WANT MORE REDWALL? YOU CAN PLAY TWO TEXT-BASED GAMES ONLINE.

Jacques passed away in 2011, but thanks to his many legions of fans, the universe he created is still going strong. Two text-based online games still offer access to role-playing and chat with other Redwall fans: Redwall: Warlords and the Redwall MUCK (or Multi-User Chat/Created/Computer Kingdom).

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Hulton Archive, Getty Images
15 Things You Might Not Know About Jules Verne
Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Jules Verne, widely regarded as one of the fathers of science fiction, wrote some of literature's most famous adventure novels, including seminal works like Journey to the Center of the Earth, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and Around the World in 80 Days. In addition to helping pioneer a new genre of writing, the French author also sailed the world, had a career as a stockbroker, fell in love with his cousin, and was shot by his nephew. Here are 15 facts you probably didn't know about him.

1. HE GREW UP SURROUNDED BY SHIPS.

On February 8, 1828, Pierre and Sophie Verne welcomed their first child, Jules Gabriel, at Sophie's mother's home in Nantes, a city in western France. Verne's birthplace had a profound impact on his writing. In the 19th century, Nantes was a busy port city that served as a major hub for French shipbuilders and traders, and Verne's family lived on Ile Feydeau, a small, man-made island in a tributary of the Loire River. Verne spent his childhood watching ships sail down the Loire and imagining what it would be like to climb aboard them [PDF]. He would later work these early memories of maritime life into his writing.

2. HE FELL IN LOVE WITH HIS COUSIN.

Verne began writing poetry at just 12 years old. As a teenager, he used poetry as an outlet for his burgeoning romantic feelings. Verne fell in love with his cousin, Caroline Tronson, who was a year and a half older than him. He wrote and dedicated poems to Tronson, gave her presents, and attended dances with her. Unfortunately, Tronson didn't reciprocate her younger cousin's feelings. In 1847, when Verne was 19 and Tronson was 20, she married a man two decades her senior. Verne was heartbroken.

3. HIS FATHER PRESSURED HIM TO BE A LAWYER.

While Verne had been passionate about writing since his early teens, his father strongly encouraged young Jules to follow in his footsteps and enter the legal profession. Soon after Tronson's marriage, Verne's father capitalized on his son's depression, convincing him to move to Paris to study law.

Verne graduated with a law degree in 1851. But he kept writing fiction during this period, and continued to clash with his father over his career path. In 1852, Verne's father arranged for him to practice law in Nantes, but Verne decided to pursue life as a writer instead.

4. HE LIVED IN PARIS DURING A TUMULTUOUS TIME.

Verne's time in Paris coincided with a period of intense political instability. The French Revolution of 1848 broke out soon after Verne moved to the city to study law. Though he didn't participate, he was strikingly close to the conflict and its turbulent aftermath, including the coup d'état that ended France's Second Republic. "On Thursday the fighting was intense; at the end of my street, houses were knocked down by cannon fire," he wrote to his mother during the fighting that followed the coup in December 1851. Verne managed to stay out of the political upheaval during those years, but his writing later explored themes of governmental strife. In his 1864 novella The Count of Chanteleine: A Tale of the French Revolution, Verne wrote about the struggles of ordinary and noble French people during the French Revolutionary Wars, while his novel The Flight to France recounted the wartime adventures of an army captain in 1792.

5. HE BECAME A STOCKBROKER TO PAY THE BILLS.

In May 1856, Verne was the best man at his best friend's wedding in Amiens, a city in northern France. During the wedding festivities, Verne lodged with the bride's family and met Honorine de Viane Morel, the bride's sister. He developed a crush on Morel, a 26-year-old widow with two kids, and in January 1857, with the permission of her family, the two married.

There was one big problem. Verne had been writing plays for Paris theaters, but being a playwright didn't pay the bills. Verne needed a respectable income to support Morel and her daughters. Morel's brother offered Verne a job at a brokerage, and he accepted, quitting his theater job to become a stockbroker at the Paris Bourse. Writing was never too far from Verne's mind, though. He woke up early each day to write and research for several hours before heading to his day job.

6. HIS ADVENTURE NOVELS WERE PART OF A SERIES …

A caricature of Jules Verne on the sea floor with fantastic sea creatures on the cover of a magazine.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Modern readers probably think of Verne's most famous books as distinct entities, but his adventure novels were actually part of a series. In the early 1860s, Verne met Pierre-Jules Hetzel, an established publisher and magazine editor who helped Verne publish his first novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon. This novel served as the beginning of Voyages Extraordinaires, a series of dozens of books written by Verne and published by Hetzel. Most of these novels—including famous titles like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea—appeared in installments in Hetzel's magazine before being published in book form.

7. … THAT PROVIDED HIM WITH A STEADY STREAM OF INCOME.

Starting in 1863, Verne agreed to write two volumes per year for Hetzel, a contract that provided him with a steady source of income for decades. Between 1863 and 1905, Verne published 54 novels about travel, adventure, history, science, and technology for the Voyages Extraordinaires series. He worked closely with Hetzel on characters, structure, and plot until the publisher's death in 1886. Verne's writing wasn't limited to this series, however; in total, he wrote 65 novels over the course of his life, though some would not be published until long after his death.

8. HE DREW INSPIRATION FROM HIS OWN SAILING ADVENTURES.

During the 1860s, Verne's career was taking off, and he was making good money. So in 1867, he bought a small yacht, which he named the Saint Michel, after his son, Michel. When he wasn't living in Amiens, he spent time sailing around Europe to the Channel Islands, along the English Coast, and across the Bay of Biscay. Besides enjoying the peace and quiet at sea, he also worked during these sailing trips, writing most of the manuscripts for Around the World in Eighty Days and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea on his yacht. As he earned more money, he replaced the Saint Michel with a larger boat that he called the Saint Michel II. A few years later, he bought a third vessel, the Saint Michel III, a steam yacht that he hired a crew of 10 to man on long voyages to Scotland and through the Mediterranean.

9. HE'S ONE OF THE MOST TRANSLATED AUTHORS IN THE WORLD …

Verne wrote in French, but his works have always had an international appeal. Since the 1850s, his writing has been translated into approximately 150 languages—making him the second most translated author ever. He has appeared in translation even more often than William Shakespeare. He is second only to Agatha Christie, who holds the world record.

10. … BUT NOT ALL OF THOSE TRANSLATIONS ARE ACCURATE.

Although Verne wrote primarily for adults, many English-language publishers considered his science fiction writing to be juvenile and marketed his books to children. Translators dumbed down his work, simplifying stories, cutting heavily researched passages, summarizing dialogue, and in some cases, nixing anything that might be construed as a critique of the British Empire. Many translations even contain outright errors, such as measurements converted incorrectly.

Some literary historians now bemoan the shoddy translations of many of Verne's works, arguing that almost all of these early English translations feature significant changes to both plot and tone. Even today, these poor translations make up much of Verne's available work in English. But anglophone readers hoping to read more authentic versions of his stories are in luck. Thanks to scholarly interest, there has been a recent surge in new Verne translations that aim to be more faithful to the original texts.

11. HE HAD MAJOR HEALTH PROBLEMS.

Starting in his twenties, Verne began experiencing sudden bouts of extreme stomach pain. He wrote about his agonizing stomach cramps in letters to family members, but he failed to get a proper diagnosis from doctors. To try to ease his pain, he experimented with different diets, including one in which he ate only eggs and dairy. Historians believe that Verne may have had colitis or a related digestion disorder.

Even more unsettling than the stomach pain, Verne suffered from five episodes of facial paralysis over the course of his life. During these painful episodes, one side of his face suddenly became immobile. After the first attack, doctors treated his facial nerve with electric stimulation, but he had another attack five years later, and several more after that. Recently, researchers have concluded that he had Bell's palsy, a temporary form of one-sided facial paralysis caused by damage to the facial nerve. Doctors have hypothesized that it was the result of ear infections or inflammation, but no one knows for sure why he experienced this.

Verne developed type-2 diabetes in his fifties, and his health declined significantly in the last decade of his life. He suffered from high blood pressure, chronic dizziness, tinnitus, and other maladies, and eventually went partially blind.

12. HIS MENTALLY ILL NEPHEW SHOT HIM IN THE LEG …

In March 1886, a traumatic incident left the 58-year-old Verne disabled for the rest of his life. Verne's nephew Gaston, who was then in his twenties and suffering from mental illness, suddenly became violent, to Verne's detriment. The writer was arriving home one day when, out of the blue, Gaston shot him twice with a pistol. Thankfully, Verne survived, but the second bullet that Gaston fired struck the author's left leg.

13. … LEAVING HIM WITH A PERMANENT LIMP.

After the incident, Gaston was sent to a mental asylum. He wasn't diagnosed with a specific disorder, but most historians believe he suffered from paranoia or schizophrenia.

Verne never fully recovered from the attack. The bullet damaged his left leg badly, and his diabetes complicated the healing process. A secondary infection left him with a noticeable limp that persisted until his death in 1905.

14. HIS WORK CONTRIBUTED TO THE RISE OF STEAMPUNK.

Verne's body of work heavily influenced steampunk, the science fiction subgenre that takes inspiration from 19th century industrial technology. Some of Verne's characters, as well as the fictional machines he wrote about, have appeared in prominent steampunk works. For example, the TV show The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne explored the idea that Verne actually experienced the fantastic things he wrote about, and Captain Nemo from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea appeared as a character in the comic book series The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

15. MANY OF HIS PREDICTIONS WERE SURPRISINGLY SPOT-ON.

Some of the technology Verne imagined in his fiction later became reality. One of the machines that Verne dreamed up, Nautilus—the electric submarine in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea—came to life years after he first wrote about it. The first installment of the serialized Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea was published in 1869, and the first battery-powered submarines were launched in the 1880s. (Similar submarine designs are still in use today.)

In addition, Verne's Paris In The Twentieth Century contains several surprisingly accurate technological predictions. Written in 1863, the dystopian novel imagines a tech-obsessed Parisian society in 1960. Verne wrote about skyscrapers, elevators, cars with internal combustion engines, trains, electric city lights, and suburbs. He was massively ahead of his time. He even wrote about a group of mechanical calculators (as in, computers) that could communicate with one another over a network (like the Internet). Pretty impressive for a guy born in 1828.

But Verne's influence goes beyond science fiction, steampunk, or real-world technology. His writing has inspired countless authors in genres ranging from poetry to travel to adventure. As Ray Bradbury wrote, "We are all, in one way or another, the children of Jules Verne."

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TASCHEN
Everything You Need to Know About Food in One Book
TASCHEN
TASCHEN

If you find yourself mixing up nigiri and sashimi at sushi restaurants or don’t know which fruits are in season, then this is the book for you. Food & Drink Infographics, published by TASCHEN, is a colorful and comprehensive guide to all things food and drink.

The book combines tips and tricks with historical context about the ways in which different civilizations illustrated and documented the foods they ate, as well as how humans went from hunter-gatherers to modern-day epicureans. As for the infographics, there’s a helpful graphic explaining the number of servings provided by different cake sizes, a heat index of various chilies, a chart of cheeses, and a guide to Italian cold cuts, among other delectable charts.

The 480-page coffee table book, which can be purchased on Amazon for $56, is written in three languages: English, French, and German. The infographics themselves come from various sources, and the text is provided by Simone Klabin, a New York City-based writer and lecturer on film, art, culture, and children’s media.

Keep scrolling to see a few of the infographics featured in the book.

An infographic about cheese
TASCHEN

An infographic about cakes
Courtesy of TASCHEN

An infographic about fruits in season
Courtesy of TASCHEN

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