Character Connection 23
Talking animals have come a long way since Aesop started collecting his fables. His early animal characters existed to be predictable: the lion was leonine, the mouse was murine, the fox was vulpine . . . and so on. (I'd go on, if only my vocabulary would let me!)
Our own animal stories, on the other hand, have main characters who are unusual in some way: crickets who chirp opera, pigs who herd sheep, even toads which steal motor cars! And they don't exist just to stand out, but to change and to grow. One of these days, I'll definitely write about one of them.
This week, however, I feature a character who is a perfect balance of both traditions. While he is definitely a specific animal type, he is also a three-dimensional individual whose fate makes us care about what happens to him in the end.
by Brian Jacques
The dormice were huddled miserably together, their necks looped cruelly together on a rope. They whimpered fearfully at the sinister sight of Cluny the Scourge.
"Which one of you is the leader?" he snarled.
A bedraggled, youngish mouse held up a timid paw. "I am, sir. My name is Plumpen. Please let us go free. We have done no harm to any living creature. Violence is against our nature. We--"
"Silence," Cluny snapped. "Or I'll teach you what violence means."
An anguished moan rose from the dormice lying in the ditch. Cluny cracked his tail.
". . . You, Plumpen, or whatever your name is, tell your tribe that they won't be harmed as long as you do what I say . . ."
While there is never any doubt that Cluny the Scourge is a villain and that to wipe him off the face of the land would be a very good thing indeed, we don't see the very depths of his villainy until he comes face to face with Plumpen the dormouse.
Plumpen and his family have been minding their own business, traveling through Mossflower Country intending to trouble no one and to remain untroubled themselves. (The polar opposites of Cluny and his band!) But due to a combination of bad luck and their own touching trust that they shall always be treated as they themselves treat others, they have no defense against the scouts who pounce upon them in their sleep--much less the general who intends to use them for his own evil ends.
And Cluny is never more cruel than he is to poor Plumpen. It is one thing to make someone do your dirty work for you when he has his own aptitude for mischief, however benign; it is a whole other case when what you will force him to do is so alien to his character that it tears him apart inside. (Millstones and oceans are making so much sense right now.) So when Cluny forces Plumpen to insinuate himself among the mice of Redwall Abbey, to win their trust, to lie to them, and finally to betray them--promising to free Plumpen's entire nest if he does so, taking advantage of the dormouse's innate inability to suspect a double-cross--Cluny hits the rock bottom of villainy.
Plumpen's fate nearly broke my heart . . . but Redwall is a place of grace (which is a more mystical word for good luck), and his being forced to enter the abbey, which he might never have approached on his own, likely turns out to be the best thing that ever happened to him.
Image Source: Redwall by Brian Jacques