Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Richard Adams/WATERSHIP DOWN


A "fantasy classic," first published in 1972, about a group of rabbits who set out against all odds to start a new warren. The main character, Hazel, finds himself leader of the group against all odds, and is guided in his decisions by his brother, Fiver, who has a supernatural ability to dream the future.

Watership Down made my Gaps list for a couple reasons--first, it had made a lot of "best of the 20th century" kinds of lists, second, because my mother, who has a very low tolerance for literary nonsense, expressed great surprise and sadness when she found out I hadn't read it. "It's very good," she promised. My baby sister, when she saw I was reading the book, shouted "Hazel-rah!" at which point I learned she had read it in fifth grade (while I had somehow missed it).

I sat down to lunch with a literary agent whom I was meeting for the first time, and when she saw the book in my hands, she said, "Silflay hraka!" I hadn't gotten to that part yet, so she explained, "That means 'eat s**t' in rabbit! When we read it in elementary school, we thought it was so cool we could swear in rabbit, since the teachers couldn't punish us." At this point I realized I had missed out on an entire piece of our English language cultural fabric by not having read it, and became very glad I was getting around to it now.

I spent a week reading this one--it inspired savoring--and was very pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Like, blind enjoyment--it wasn't any work to read at all, despite the many bettering and literary themes. It required suspending disbelief--when I first encountered "lapine," the rabbit language, my thought was, "Seriously? Rabbits don't talk!"--but it is satisfyingly easy to get over these humps. And while this book is, I guess, "fantasy" literature, Adams is also gruelingly observant of rabbit biology, natural phenomena, and the world of the downs in which they live. It's really ... real, and very easy to get lost in.

Like I said, I enjoyed reading it, in a pretty unqualified way. It's a great story. I do think there are a couple barriers to pure enjoyment, and I feel obliged to mention them here, if only in passing: the first is gender roles stereotyping, although one might write this off to faithful animal behavior observation. The other is racial/ethnic stereotyping, which comes in a little bit in the "dialect" rendering of non-rabbit speech throughout the book. I personally think the book would have been a little improved without the dialect inclusions, but in 1972 perhaps this was not as much of a concern.

So, another Gaps goal accomplished! Pip pip.

5 comments:

Allie said...

I read this one last December and I was surprised by how much I liked it! I mean, it was about rabbits! But, I got a lot out of it and really enjoyed it.

Linda said...

I've missed it too. It's not on my gap list but it sounds like a must read!

KarenG said...

I love this book so much. In fact I've been wanting to reread it and apparently I gave it away to somebody. Grrr! I always do that with books I think people just HAVE to read.

Melissa said...

I cannot read this. I know a lot of people recommend it, but the movie killed me when I was a kid. I can't imagine reading the book (emotion x 100!).

moonrat said...

Melissa--everyone warned me it was going to be a huge tearjerker. But. I hope this isn't a huge spoiler in case you ever read it. While I cried at the end, it was mostly because it was a very well-done ending, not because you could compare it to, say, WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS, which frankly almost made me miss work for a couple days.