Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Food In Literature: The Redwall Books

     I know this is a seemingly odd topic, but I've been without NHL hockey for a while now, and it's making me crazy. Bear with me. I read a lot of fantasy books. In that reading I have found one trope in almost every fantasy book: excessive descriptions of food. Not just simple stuff like "the hot ham and cheese sandwich sat steaming on the plate." I'm talking food porn. Crazy stuff like "the trays of sweetmeats lay splayed on the table like the sweaty thighs of a nubile young concubine." Lavish descriptions of food and drink go on literally for pages.

     One of the guiltiest perpetrators of fantasy food porn is not surprisingly one of my favorite authors. Brian Jacques is best known for his Redwall series of books, which delve into the lives of anthropomorphic animals that live in and around Redwall Abbey in the Mossflower wood. I can really only describe it as Watership Down meets Saving Private Ryan.  The books feature whimsical characters, clever riddles, fun songs, heroic deeds and mortifyingly graphic descriptions of animals being run through with spears or shot through the neck with arrows.

See that guy in the background? Decapitated.

     As much as I enjoy reading about little fuzzy animals hacking each others limbs off, what really keeps me coming back to the Redwall books is the food. Feasting is an integral part of Redwall life. When the Redwall Abbey throws down a dinner party, you're looking at like half a chapter of reading. Here's a smaller excerpt of Jacques' classic fantasy food porn from the book Redwall

"Brother Alf remarked that Friar Hugo had excelled himself, as course after
course was brought to the table. Tender freshwater shrimp garnished with 
cream and rose leaves, devilled barley pearls in acorn puree, apple and 
carrot chews, marinated cabbage stalks steeped in creamed white turnip with nutmeg."

Even simple meals left you gnawing at the pages. Take this quick bit from Mariel of Redwall.

"Friar Alder and his young assistant, Cockleburr, had made crusty country pasties,
and these were being served with melted yellow cheese and rough hazelnut bread."

     Every single Redwall book is like this. All the characters eat these tremendous feasts until they are fit to burst, then they wander off and start hewing off each other's limbs. Come to think of it, Redwall is a lot like Asgard. The food in the books has its own fan following. The internet is chock full of fan sites dedicated to replicating the classic recipes from the book. It got big enough that Brian Jacques actually released The Redwall Cookbook in 2005. In addition to having a fairly cute story devoid of animals murdering each other, it does give recipes for some of the fan favorites. Deeper'n'Ever Turnip'n'Tater'n'Beetroot Pie? It's in there. Shrimp'n'Hotroot Soup? It's in there. October Ale In The Skull of a Murdered Stoat? The October Ale part is in there. As soon as I have the time, I'm going to have my own Redwall feast. Pictures shall be posted.

Good times!

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