By T. Rees Shapiro
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.
Reviewing the book for the New York Times in 1987, author Selma Lanes called "Redwall" "artfully structured to rivet the attention of young readers and listeners."
"Mr. Jacques," the review said, "has woven an energetic, if somewhat simple-minded, fantasy on a refreshingly old-fashioned subject: the struggle between good and evil."
The series became wildly popular among children, and Mr. Jacques wrote 21 books in the Redwall realm, including "Martin the Warrior" (1993), "The Long Patrol" (1997), "Rakkety Tam" (2004) and "Eulalia!" (2007).
More than 20 million of his books were published around the world in 28 languages. Later, when Mr. Jacques was asked about how the Redwall series became successful, he would smile and say: "It was the mice that did it."
James Brian Jacques was born in Liverpool on June 15, 1939. Survivors include his wife, Maureen, and two sons.
When he was 10, his teacher gave an assignment to write a story about animals. After Mr. Jacques turned in his work, about a bird that cleaned a crocodile's teeth, his teacher said it was so well written that it must have been a forgery.
He later said she caned him after he refused to admit to plagiarism.
Mr. Jacques, who wrote his novels during the summer months underneath the shade of a backyard apple tree, said he most enjoyed visiting children at book signings and school appearances.
One day, a young fan named Josh approached Mr. Jacques and said: "Sir, you are coming to my school tomorrow."
"That will be nice, Josh," Mr. Jacques replied.
"I am to be your escort," Josh told the writer.
"Will you take care of me then, Josh?" Mr. Jacques asked.
The child took Mr. Jacques by the arm and whispered into his ear: "Sir, I will guard you with my life."