The Legend of Luke
Brian Jacques

You’re off the edge of the map, mate. Here there be spoilers for this book, as well as for others in the Redwall series. Other reviews in this series can be found here.

Sometimes I wonder if Redwall’s order of publication matches the order in which Jacques actually wrote the books. For instance: did he perhaps start drafting The Legend of Luke, get distracted by Mariel of Redwall, and then return to Luke after finishing Salamandastron? I love to read about other writers’ processes, and this has got me curious about Jacques’s. Did he draft and/or plot multiple books at once – which, if we’re honest, is what I would’ve done – or did he only focus on one book at a time? If the former, did he then go back and check all his other drafts and notes to make sure everything stayed on track? If the latter, did he reread his own books? All of which is a roundabout way of saying I’ve found the first major continuity errors in this series, and possibly the biggest ones I’ve encountered thus far, and I’m not sure if I should be happy about that.

The Legend of Luke begins some seasons after the events of Mossflower. Kotir is long gone, and Redwall Abbey is under construction, supervised by the now-elderly Abbess Germaine and Bella of Brockhall. Martin is the first and current Champion of Redwall; Dinny is the Foremole, and Gonff and Columbine have become parents to the infant Gonflet. Their happy, busy summer takes an unexpected turn when they are joined by Trimp the Rover, a young hogmaid who comes from the harsh northern shore where Martin was born. Though she was born too late to meet any of Martin’s family, she knows of his father, Luke, from a song taught to her by her grandmother, Welff Tiptip. Knowing that Martin longs to return to the north shore to find some trace of the father who left him long ago, the good Redwallers pack him off on a summer sabbatical, along with Trimp, Gonff, and Dinny. On the way they pick up a baby squirrel, Chugger, whom they rescue from a band of Flitchaye, and their group later expands to include Log a Log Furmo and several of his shrews, as well as a troubled, vermin-eating otter named Folgrim.

After many a shenanigan, the Redwall crew finally sets foot on the north shore, where they meet Vurg, an ancient mouse, who – along with the equally ancient mice Dulam and Denno and the hare Beauclair “Beau” Fethringsol Cosfortingham – is all that is left of the band Luke took with him when he left the north shore. The four of them have been living aboard the remaining half of the Goreleech, an enormous blood-red ship that was sliced cleanly in half when it smashed into the imaginatively named Tall Rocks about three days’ sail from the north shore. Renamed Arfship, the former Goreleech is suspended in the air between two tower-sized rocks, and it hasn’t budged ever since it first wedged itself there. The Arfship‘s population used to be larger, but over time it dwindled as its inhabitants left or died. Without much else to occupy their days, Vurg and the others have devoted themselves to writing down the legend of Luke in the hopes that someone in the distant future would find it, and find their prayers answered when they are finally able to share their life’s work with Martin.

In the beginning, Luke did not set out to kill anybody. He and his tribe arrived on the north shore after fleeing the vermin-ridden southern lands, and, though the climate was harsh, the north had potential. However – and unbeknownst to the mice – the northern seas were regularly prowled by the Goreleech and her crew of Sea Rogues, under the command of the pirate stoat Vilu Daskar. Attracted by the bonfire built by Luke’s tribe to celebrate the birth of Martin, Vilu and his crew attacked their settlement and slaughtered every mouse they could catch, and ate their food into the bargain. Luke and the more able-bodied members of the tribe escaped only because they happened to be far enough away at the time of the attack, returning too late to defend their families. Martin and his grandmother Windred survived by sheer chance, but Luke’s wife Sayna was personally murdered by Vilu Daskar. Maddened with rage and grief, Luke captured the vermin corsair ship Greenhawk, which Martin renamed Sayna, and he and the most battle-ready members of his tribe set out to avenge their loved ones. Just before their departure, Luke gave Martin the sword that had been passed down from his own father, and swore to return to him when his mission was complete.

Unfortunately, finding a red ship in the middle of the ocean is easier said than done, even when the ship in question is less of a ship and more of a floating village. With nothing to guide them and no real sense of the route the Goreleech might take, Luke and his crew spent some time wandering and lost. Eventually they met Beau, who was marooned on an island and eager to escape, and, after some more mishaps and setbacks, they finally caught up with the red ship just in time for Vilu Daskar to sink them in a vicious early-morning attack. In the wake of the attack, Luke, Dulam, and Denno were taken aboard the Goreleech, where they befriended Ranguvar Foeseeker, a ferocious black squirrel warrior who was already the terror of the entire Goreleech crew. Despite their situation, they managed to turn the odds in their favor when they convinced Vilu that they had hidden a fabulous treasure trove near their home. Overwhelmed with greed, Vilu agreed to allow Luke to steer the Goreleech to the north shore on the strict condition that Luke be tied to the steering wheel, theoretically to prevent any mutinies from taking place.

Meanwhile, Vurg and Beau managed to keep up with the Goreleech while staying undetected, and, by terrorizing the superstitious Sea Rogues with a made-up ghost named the Bogle, began to steal food and weapons to pass to Luke and the other slaves. The original plan was to direct the Goreleech to the north shore, where Martin would lead the remaining warriors against the Sea Rogues, but Luke’s hopes were completely destroyed when he arrived to find that his entire tribe was gone, enslaved by Badrang the Tyrant. With nothing left to lose, Luke directed the ship to the Tall Rocks in the middle of a violent sea storm. Vilu realized too late that tying Luke to the steering wheel gave him complete control of the ship, and, with the slaves mutinying and Ranguvar wreaking havoc among the Sea Rogues, he found himself completely helpless and begging for his life when Luke smashed the ship against the rocks. The front half got stuck in the air, where it would later become the Arfship; the stern fell straight to the bottom of the sea, taking Luke, Ranguvar, and Vilu with it.

In the present day, Martin listens to the story as it is told by the inhabitants of the Arfship, and, in this retelling, finally gains the closure he has never been able to find. When the story has drawn to a close, he performs a brief tribute to his father and to Ranguvar, then sets sail for his Abbey, never to return. In an epilogue, Abbess Germaine gives a brief update on the winter doings within the Abbey: Folgrim is now a Redwall resident; Trimp and Chugger are officially a part of Gonff’s family; Germaine has become close friends with Vurg and Beau, who – along with Dulam and Denno – were brought back to the Abbey to live out the rest of their days; and Martin returned from the trip with a woven tapestry depicting his grandfather (who was also named Martin), which will go on to become the centerpiece in the not-yet-woven Great Hall tapestry. With no battles left to fight and no more family-related mysteries to solve, Martin hides his sword on the newly raised Abbey weathervane before joining the rest of the Abbeydwellers as a creature of peace.

This is – surprise, surprise – one of my favorite Redwall books. (Aren’t they all?) As ever, Jacques remains a skillful storyteller, at least as far as Luke’s section goes, though the tone of Martin’s story does somewhat undermine the bittersweetness of the end. I forgive my cousin for saying the first and third sections were dumb. I even kind of agree with her. This is a fine example of my one grievance with Martin the Warrior, magnified by quite a lot because everyone is gratingly obsessed with Trimp’s beauty and I have no idea why. This book is giving me the impression that Trimp is, like, supermodel-level according to hedgehog standards of beauty. Trimp as a character is perfectly fine, if a bit bland. She’s not the most memorable Redwall character, but I don’t have any beef with her. But do we really have to be told how pretty she is every other sentence? While we’re at it, does Chugger really have to talk in such an exaggerated baby dialect? I hate to admit it, but sections one and three are a borderline cringey blend of adventure, comical mishaps, and friendship, which – though I do enjoy such things – in this case are so heavy-handed as to be almost satirical. (But also, like, I love them? It’s complicated.)

It makes me sadder to acknowledge that, favorite or not, this just happened to be the first book that set off my continuity alarms. I suppose technically we could call it the second, but my concerns with the timeline were less dire in the Abbot Saxtus arc than they are here. The thing is, Martin’s sword does not get to the weathervane until Rufe Brush takes it up at the end of Mariel of Redwall. Believe me, I checked. The sword is first recovered by blind Simeon, who takes it from the Abbey catacombs in the middle of the night, guided by the spirit of Martin. This can be cross-checked with Redwall, in which Matthias finds Martin’s shield and empty scabbard down in the catacombs. Had there been more books, I’m sure one of them would have taken place between the events of The Legend of Luke and Mariel of Redwall, but, in the absence of any such book, we have to assume that Simeon was the first to pick up the sword after Martin hid it. We also have to assume that even the spirit of Martin would not have been able to guide a blind, elderly herbalist over the roofs of the Abbey to retrieve the sword from a weathervane. Martin is many things, but corporeal is no longer one of them.

The other problem is that the relative ages of the characters have gotten tangled to the point of error. This is the kind of thing that makes me wonder how much Jacques checked his own notes while drafting new books. I’m having a hard time understanding how the hedgehogs Ferdy and Coggs can be described as elderly when Martin, Gonff, and Dinny are at most middle-aged. To be perfectly clear, Ferdy and Coggs were babies during the events of Mossflower, when Martin was already fully grown. They can’t be that old, and yet they sound and act as if they are now older than Martin and his friends. This isn’t world-ending, given that Ferdy and Coggs have a very small role in this book, but it is distracting, and it bothers me more than Saxtus’s lightspeed ascension into old age. I suppose this is a natural consequence of reading every Redwall book back to back to back, and I should’ve seen it coming. Still, the consistent progression of time is not the strongest aspect of the series, and I kind of wish it had been done more carefully. (As a side note, Jacques is also somewhat careless in narrating his stories-within-stories – there is, for instance, no earthly reason the crew of the Arfship would have had access to Vilu Daskar’s private conversations, and they almost certainly should not have been able to hear Luke’s final words – but that is unfortunately a fairly standard Redwall problem.)

Regardless of the time, the cringe, and the sometimes ill-fitting goofiness, I was not wrong at the end of Martin the Warrior. The Legend of Luke remains one of the saddest books in the series, less because of all the loss – which is fairly par for the course with any Redwall book – and more because there is no happy ending for Luke or Ranguvar. (Losing your life while dragging your enemy to the bottom of the sea does not qualify as a happy ending.) I have no idea if either of them could have been happy without an enemy to fight, and now I never will. On the other hand, they went out with tremendous style, and I genuinely would not have wanted them to go any other way; but also I feel that they conceivably could have had a good time living in peace and plenty at Redwall. I really cannot decide. Yet even with such indecision, Luke’s final words are chilling, and they are a large part of the reason this book has really stuck with me over the years. Cowards die a thousand times, but a warrior dies only once. Whether I like Luke’s final fate or not, he dies as he has lived, a warrior to the last, and neither Martin nor I can ask for anything more.