Friday, January 11, 2013

Watership Down Review: A Bunny Tail with Meat

"Hey guys, want to listen to a story about bunnies?" I asked the Little Goofs.

They agreed and we started listening to Watership Down.

I had read it when I was in 7th grade, just a year older than GoofBoy and had liked it.

But, unsurprisingly, I didn't realize what an incredible work it was.  It is the story of a band of rabbits who, following a premonition that something bad was going to happen, leave their warren and set off to found a new one.  On the way they have many adventures dealing with other animals, people, nature, and other communities of rabbits.

The rabbits have a society, but they are still rabbits.  When a bird tells them about the ocean they cannot conceive of it and the concept of a boat is a profound innovation.  They have no understanding of what human beings do and their numerals are one, two, three, four, and a great many.

What I did not appreciate when I was 12 was how the author, Richard Adams, creates a rabbit mythology and world that absorbs the reader.  The rabbits tell each other stories about their great hero El-ahrairah who through cunning and tricks always bests the elil (enemies of rabbits.)  These stories inspire the rabbits to develop clever solutions to their own challenges throughout the story.  The addition of a rabbit vocabulary really brought the story to life.  At one point, when GoofBoy was hungry he announced, "Dad, can I silflay (lapine for "to feed outside")?

GoofGirl joined in, "Dad, I need to make hraka (droppings)."

And we began referring to the motor vehicles by the rabbit term, "hrududu."

The whole book serves as an allegory about politics and society.  At the heart of the rabbits' struggle was their conflict with a bigger warren of rabbits run by the tyrannical General Woundwort - an enormous and strong rabbit.  The attitudes of the rabbits under his rule bring to life how totalitarianism works and shapes lives and feelings.

The characters are sharply drawn and engaging.  GoofBoy and I have had several debates about the virtues of Bigwig and Captain Holly - a pair of brave rabbit heroes.  The action scenes are exciting.  During the giant battle at the end, GoofBoy could hardly sit still.  I mentioned to GoofBoy that Adams, like so many men of his generation had served in World War II and this informed his presentation of the action.  In fact, Adams says that several of the main characters are based on his comrades from his squadron during the war.

One downside was that it might have been just a bit over GoofGirl's head.  She certainly got parts of it, and she complained about not understanding the reader's English accent (although she had no trouble with Jim Dale, the reader of the Harry Potter series.)  So be it, Watership Down is a challenging book.  A bunny story for almost all ages.

No comments: