Reading Mossflower by Brian Jacques (the prequel to Redwall) to my children in the evenings before bed has been sheer delight. In addition to the adventure themes that stir the imaginations of my kids, I’m continually struck by the virtue and wisdom of the characters woven into Jacques’s writing. Of course, he also weaves the vices of avarice and power seeking into the antagonists.
Without giving away too much of the plot, I want to comment on a particular point in the book that highlights such virtue and charity. The Woodlanders of Mossflower are a free, peaceful folk, who have found themselves displaced and oppressed by the aggressive tyranny of Kotir. Throughout the story, there have been many skirmishes between the two sides, and casualties on both sides have been sustained. Late in the story, some of the Woodlanders were able to access the palace of Kotir and found the remnant of a former lake underneath it. This discovery caused them to wonder whether there indeed was a lake where the current palace of their enemies stood. They searched and indeed found the place where the river that once flowed into the lake had been redirected. Immediately, they began to search for how to cause the river to flow where it once did in order to flood the palace of Kotir. This tactic would result in a weapon of mass destruction that would bring a decisive end to the war.
Those Woodlanders who had discovered the lake and devised the plan for flooding Kotir presented this option to the rest of the council. After the Corim approved the plan, Abbess Germaine had the final word at this meeting. Her words are some of the most sublime I have read:
‘Yes, friends, good fortune to those who traverse afar and good fortune to us all. I think the plan is a good one,’ the frail old mouse told the assembly. ‘Even I and my brothers and Loamhedge, unused to fighting and war, can see that this will avoid unnecessary bloodshed on both sides, for friend and foe alike. A death is always a death. Bloodshed is an awful thing. What we are striving for is peace—keep this thought uppermost in your minds. If I had a wish, it would be that we lived in harmony with those at Kotir. But this cannot be. So let me say again, good fortune to the lovers of peace and right. Let liberty and freedom be the legacy that we leave to those who follow us in the seasons to come. May they find true peace in Mossflower.’
There was a reverent silence for what was, indeed, a heartfelt prayer (p. 232; emphasis added).
The Abbess puts the goal for true peace and liberty, even through war, in tension with the preservation of life and the seriousness of taking it. Only virtuous leaders can make difficult and right decisions, while truly understanding and feeling the sheer gravity of the effects on the lives of both sides in any conflict. The Abbess knows what is ideal: true peace and harmony, even with their enemies. But she also knows that if the Woodlanders do not act soon, many more lives on both sides will be lost, and the vision of a free and peaceful Mossflower will fade away. Jacques has presented our children with such a beautiful display of virtuous leadership. May we continue to expose them to it.