Correction to This Article
The picture credit that accompanied this obituary of Brian Jacques incorrectly spelled the name of the photographer. She is Judith S. Gillies. This version has been corrected.

Brian Jacques, author of 'Redwall' children's books, dies at 71

Author Brian Jacques signs books at Politics and Prose in the District in 2001.
Author Brian Jacques signs books at Politics and Prose in the District in 2001. (Judith S. Gillies)
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Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 10, 2011; 11:35 PM

Brian Jacques, 71, who was a milkman in his late 40s and part-time volunteer who read stories to blind children when he was inspired to write the "Redwall" series of children's books that have sold millions of copies, died Feb. 5 in Liverpool, England. He had a heart ailment.

Mr. Jacques (pronounced "Jakes"), who grew up near the docks of Liverpool, left school at 15 and found work as a merchant mariner. He later worked as a railway fireman, long-haul trucker, bus driver, postmaster, longshoreman, police constable and stand-up comic.

In the 1980s, as a door-to-door milk truck driver in Liverpool and its suburbs, Mr. Jacques stopped at the Royal Wavertree School for the Blind.

He became friends with the children there and offered to read them stories, but he became frustrated with the "dreadful" literature on hand.

"I thought, 'What's wrong with a little bit of magic in their lives?' " Mr. Jacques said.

He spent every night of the following seven months writing a mystical 800-page tale, which he scrawled longhand on recycled paper and kept in a grocery bag.

The result was a vividly detailed, action-packed novel populated with anthropomorphic animals and set in medieval times.

In his story, friendly mice - and hares and squirrels and shrews - battle a one-eyed rat and his horde of weasels, stoats and foxes for control of Redwall Abbey and the surrounding Mossflower countryside.

"Mice are my heroes," Mr. Jacques said, "because, like children, mice are little and have to learn to be courageous and use their wits."

Mr. Jacques said the inspiration for the world he created came from his childhood days at an inner-city park that was "surrounded by high, redbrick walls" and not far from an old abbey adorned with carvings of forest critters.

"I remember very clearly wondering what was on the other side of that wall, what did the world look like over there?" Mr. Jacques said.

He said he never wrote the book with the intention of it being published. But a friend borrowed the manuscript and passed it to a publisher, who liked it immensely.

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