Warning: Contains Spoilers!
‘Captain!’. the hedgehog declared. ‘See what trespassers we have captured!’
Aufwader’s Thoughts: Ah, Fenny! I daresay there may have been a bit of applause and maybe a few groans of trepidation from our long-time readers when that mousey captain came on the scene. There he is, folks, the one and only.
With Fenny’s introduction, we have another juxtaposition between the legends of the Mice trilogy, and the salt-and-porridge medieval reality. The Fennywolders of The Crystal Prison would have us believe that Fenlyn Purfote was a saintly, peace-loving figure, and despite the proof in that book that he did eventually hang up his sword, one gets the impression that the tales and songs have perhaps done their work rather too well over the years.
Regardless, he certainly cuts a dashing, and, dare I say, familiar figure for those of you who know your talking animal fantasy. Captain Fenny is Martin the Warrior with a little of the gold leaf flaking off, but I probably speak for a few of us when I say that Fenny seems a gratifyingly solid character next to the ephemeral guardian of Redwall Abbey. For myself, I’m obliged to detest the cultist-butchering captain on principle, but I find that I just can’t. Despite the bad first impression of this chapter, he has the glory of ages shining out of his ears, and I can understand how woodlanders of all kinds might rally to the sound of his name.
Matt’s Thoughts: FENNY! I had forgotten that the Fennywolde namesake makes an appearance in this book, which just makes the story even more awesome. (And I’m also keen to get back to the Deptford Mouselets now.) I love the idea of a bunch of brave but diminutive anti-Hobbers, determined to make a desperate stand against the forces of evil.
But the bit that I found most impressive in this chapter, especially reading it now in my late 30s, is the bat conversation that Vesper overhears.
It reminded me of a movie and book that I loved as a teenager. The movie was Gettysburg, and it was based on a novel from the 70s called The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. The book was a work of historical fiction that described the Battle of Gettysburg (the major battle in the American Civil War that took place in the 1860s). I didn’t know a lot about the Civil War at the time, and it’s obviously still a hugely contentious issue in America, but Shaara took a different approach than many other authors.
Rather than dig too deeply into the cause, he simply but effectively portrayed the different commanders, with scenes on both sides of the conflict, so that by the end of the book, you understood the characters and the dreadful toll that so much bloodshed was taking on them. While it could be argued that Shaara could have been more particular about the causes of the war, I found it opened my eyes to a fact about life: there aren’t always simple black and white causes when it comes to war. And for the rest of my life, it has been important to me to avoid quick narratives of right and wrong, and actually try to understand other people – particularly in conflicts.
So this scene with Vesper in the tree is a really important lesson, not just for Vesper, but for all of us. As he hears the bats sharing the same old narrative about ‘evil squirrels’ that he has grown up with – that he himself believed until recently – he realises that this simplistic version of events is driving dreadful bloodshed and evil. In understanding that the truth is more complex than he knew, it draws him away from violence. It’s another subtle strand to the story that I’m appreciating more this time around.