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March 2017



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can't sleep books will eat me

Book Report #20: Richard Adams, Watership Down

Comfort rereading, and forgive me, for I have sinned: it's been ~ three weeks since my last book report.

But I was busy.

I first read this book when I was in first grade, I believe. It was the older paperback edition, with the tan cover with the wheel. A friend of my mother's gave me that copy, probably quite bemused that such a small person wanted to read a grownup book. (I read The Plague Dogs not too much later, and it scarred me for life. It's very interesting how much of my childhood is clearly linked in my head to books: I remember when I was three or four, looking at the pictures in my mother's copy of The Black Stallion Challenged and being frustrated that I could not read the words yet. I can remember where I was sitting, in fact. Don't ask me the name of my first grade teacher, though, because I don't recall it.)

And I've reread it a bunch of times since.  (I think this was #26, but I might have lost one in there somewhere.) I reread it to pieces. Twice. I loved it, I think, because the rabbits succeed by being smart and tough and determined. And smart. And mostly, smart.

And by never giving up.

I suspect whatever it was that I absorbed from that is part of what's gotten me through life so far.

I am amused that this edition still has the typo in the first line of page 59 that I remember from my childhood: "After some time, Hazel woke Buckhorn." And yes, I remember that typo. Apparently, I am not the only one who cannot get stuff fixed in later editions.


Anyway, it holds up. Maybe a bit sentimental in places, but I remember being absolutely chilled by a lot of it when I was younger, and I still found it engaging and often gorgeously written. One of the best recent uses of omniscient I've read... where recent is the last thirty-two years, dear me. This book is the same age as John Henry.

Well, it would have to be, wouldn't it, for me to have read it in first grade?

You know, reading it as an adult? Bigwig is less of a jerk than I remembered. I think as a child I must have been very very firmly on Fiver's side.

But Blackberry and Dandelion were always my favorites. And Blackavar, when we finally meet him. And the last third of the book is the part I really love.

Also, I like the alien perspective. They're such very English rabbits. And yet they are very rabbity rabbits too, small and living in a world full of things that want to eat them, for all you half expect them to sit down to tea and cucumber sandwiches at any given moment.

"There's a large dog loose in the wood."


I haven't read Watership Down in at least 12 years and I feel like I'm missing out! I pretty much still a kid last time so I don't recall very much about it. But I do remember Blackberry and Dandelion were my favorites too.
That is one of my favorite books of ALL time evar.

And that is the best quote. ;)
Hazel. I've always been a Hazel fan.
I haave never read the book. I'll have to check it out.

I have, however, seen the animated film made of it and that scarred me. one scene in particular where the rabbits get buried alive in their burrows. Oh, yeah, I can see the little wide-eyed creatures now as they attempt to exit the warren but cannot. Oh, the horrow.
Oh that scene still haunts me. They showed the film to us at school and the teachers had to then cope with a hall full of completely freaked out kids.

I cry at the end every damn time.
Love this book lots and lots.
My introduction to Watership Down was my father reading it to me. Later, when I tried to read it myself, I ended up with a badly misprinted edition. Several chapters from from early in the book were repeated later in the book in place of chapters that should have been there. Most of Bigwig in Efrafra (sp?) was gone.

I think that was the first book I ever threw away. (I've worked in libraries since then, so I've thrown more books away than I can count.)
I've only read it once. I think I was about thirty (not a typo).

I ought to read it again.

I saw -parts- of the movie when I was young, but invariably intercut the memory with Secret if NIMH. They were both pretty dark and fucked-up, other than Dom DeLouise as a bird saying, "Ooooh, a SHINY!"

eBear (et al) - have you ever tried reading other works of Adams? Shardik is on my short list of ignominy - Books I Shall Never Finish.
Shardik is terrible.
Shardik is nigh unreadable. Maya, however, the prequel-ish thing to Shardik, was a little better- uneven, but it had some interesting characters, decent worldbuilding, and good banter. At least, so my memory says- I lost my copy five or six years back.
Okay, so it -isn't- just me, wondering "When does this stop sucking?"

That's what I get for trying to tease out a reference from the Gunslinger series.
What? I love Shardik so much I've probably read it more times than Plague Dogs and Watership down (which is quite a few) ... now Maia, *there's* a book I've started twice and just couldn't stand.

I've heard Traveller is good, though :D
Whenever someone mentions reading and liking Watership Down I always ask if they have read/heard of The Book of the Dun Cow, by Walter Wangerin, Jr.. I read them both at around the same time when I was younger (not since, however), and they both involve talking animals. I suppose the similarity ends there, but the two stories remain linked together in my mind.

I love BotDC.

There's a sequel to the BotDC, The Book Of Sorrows, that is just as life-scarring as The Plague Dogs.
I just saw that about The Book of Sorrows when I wiki'd the BotDC. I've never read The Plague Dogs. I guess my reading list just grew by two.
Fair warning. Gordon Lightfoot endings*, the both of 'em.

*"You'll never read that book again because the ending is just too hard to take."
Yes. Though reading the The Plague Dogs is always worse for me, because I'm such a huge dog lover. Poor Rowf! Poor Snitter!

I picked up The Book of Sorrows at a BOOKS BOOKS BOOKS traveling sale while on vacation in the Outer Banks. My parents thought the book was okay for me to read (I was 10 or 11 at the time) because it was in the Christian Lit section. I didn't know of BotDC's existence yet so I wasn't familiar or emotionally invested in any of the characters, but I swear I cried non-stop starting with what happened to Russell the Fox, then on to Ferric and Rachel and Benoni, and ending with Pertelote and Chauntecleer. Ack!

I've read it since then -- read it at least every other year -- and it never fails to rip my heart out. Still haven't re-read The Plague Dogs, however. :P
Augh flashbacks. Scary, scary flashbacks. I don't even remember which of those two books had the little creepy crawly infecting things that got everywhere and--

--wait a minute. Why is my brain now saying I should go reread both books? Life scarring is bad enough without revisting it. Stupid brain. Maybe I'll just read the first of the two.
One had bubonic plague.

One had brain maggots.

Augh. Brain maggots. Those hit some of my buttons far too hard. I still remember the first time someone had me watch a Star Trek movie. They did not inform me ahead of time that there would be maggots getting stuck into people's ears.

Though, on reflection, at least it's easier to mentally block out a movie scene than to do so to several chapters lovingly detailing the horror of what's going on.
That moment when Bigwig is guarding the run against Woundwort, and refuses to move because his chief rabbit told him to stay put? And Woundwort nearly shits himself at the thought of how *big* the chief rabbit must be, if he's ordering Bigwig around? One of my favorite moments in all of literature. And every time I try to write a heroic character, I think of Bigwig in that scene.

"My chief rabbit told me to defend this run."

Oh yes. That is right up there with Gandalf and "You cannot pass!" as one of the great stubborn smackdowns in fantasy literature. That's the good stuff, right there.

And the quieter courage of Holly, right behind Bigwig, even though he's so terrified of Woundwort he could about turn himself inside out, saying "Let me take over for a while, old chap."

And Bluebell telling stories to the does where Bigwig can hear him. Holly's right about Bluebell being the bravest of the bunch of them.

It's fabulous stuff.

Also, I really like the fact that the does--although we never really get their POV--are all just so damned sensible and reliable and full of smarts. I don't think it's an accident that Hyzenthlay's name is so close to Hazel's.

Re: "My chief rabbit told me to defend this run."

oh yes, yes, yes. That moment is my mental image for stubborn bravery, and for standing fast in the face of practically impossible odds. It gives me shivers every time I read it, and it reminds me (quite a lot, actually) of Atticus Finch.

And that moment makes me forgive Bigwig, and love him, despite him being a bully in the earlier parts of the book.
It's an amazing novel...I think I need to read it again, as it's been years. The alien perspective is the best part of the book--they're not humans in animal suits at all, and the rabbit mythology fascinates me. I never got round to Plague Dogs, though.
it's been quite a while since I last read this book, but I do adore it. first exposure was my mom reading it aloud to my brother and me when we were both pretty little. we saw the movie shortly afterwards, I think, and whenever the book comes into my mind, it brings up the image of a big pulsing sun and Frith.

I was a firm Hazel and Fiver fan, from the beginning.
Watership Down has been one of my favorite books since I was given it to read for a summer book report between 7th and 8th grade. I still pull it out now and again to re-read and it never grows old or faded.

Hazel has always been my favorite of the rabbits, something about his sensible, common sense attitude always struck a chord with me.

I was delighted several years ago when, while browsing the airport bookstore in the hopes of finding something to while away the trip, I found Tales from Watership Down, a collection of short stores focusing about the warren. While not as compelling as the original, I did enjoy reading new snippets of the lives of my favorite rabbits.
Perhaps it's that I was already in my 20s when Watership Down was published and I first read it, but I'm finding myself slightly started by people's memories of reading it as children. I knew Adams based it on stories told to his children, but it always seemed such a profoundly grown up book that I'm taken aback at the thought of it being assigned junior high reading.

Not that children *shouldn't* read adult books - I imagine most of us here did. But I've never considered that WD might be considered juvenile fiction.
When I am trying to write something frightening I will sometimes say aloud "Can you run? I think not."

I find it helps tremendously.

Also, I very much agree with the alien perspective- I love, for example, how they fail to understand basic tool-use concepts that would be second nature to humans, and of course, their number system where every number above four is hrair.
I love that book. It's one of my all-time favorites, and I reread it every couple of years.

Bigwig's actually my favorite character. He may not be as bright as some of the other rabbits, but he's so tough and courageous and determined, and I love how he doesn't use his size and power to take over leadership of the band, or to bully the other rabbits. Instead, he uses it to protect them. A true hero.

I tried to read Plague Dogs, but it was so over-the-top preachy that I couldn't finish it.
Watership Down was a touchstone for me as a child. My best childhood friend and I bonded over that book and I don't think I can count how many times I have read it.

In our play -- we were both quite young when we read it -- as the characters, I realized for the first time something I had had to realize over and over again, which is that you are going to have to pretend to be/identify with the male characters, because no one is going to give you decent female ones. (No one, of course, meaning authors like Mr. Adams, who think that females are restricted to a single chapter on breeding.)

I realized this at the tender age of... eight? I think? It puzzled us and we tried our best to work around it, but there it was: we had to pretend to be boys or else we could not play the characters in the book we loved. (It took me several readings to figure out what the sentence about "trusting to luck and the fortunes of war" meant. How attractive.)

I still love the book, despite the bitter lesson it taught me gradually and rather kindly, all things considered.

(It's very interesting how important gender is. We had no problems imagining that we were rabbits -- but pretending to be boy rabbits was somehow transgressive.)
He's got quite a lot of strong, active women in Maia.

Of course, most of them are sex slaves, or otherwise sluttish. And the protagonist's a bit of soppy wet innocence, really.

They do rise up against their masters in the end, though.

And did I mention there's a quite lot of sex?

Admittedly, that was a large part of the book's initial appeal to me, at the age I read it. But it's also set in a fascinatingly not-quite-height-of-the-Roman-empire kind of world.
My favourite quote from that book is 'Dogs aren't dangerous!'

Woundwort is teh win!
I love that book so very, very much. The first time I read it through, I cheered out loud at "Silflay hraka, u embleer rah" - and I still cry at the end, every single time. I have no idea how many times I've read it; at a conservative estimate, I could only say "scores". Heh... "hrair." ;)
"My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today."

Hazel was always my favorite.

My dad loaned me his paperback copy - the tan cover, with the wheel - when I was about ten years old. I never gave it back. It was the first book I really sank my teeth into, 'cause I had to read it twice just to get a decent mental grip on it. I've read it so many times since then that the book has fallen apart. I still have it. It's in three pieces, plus the cover and assorted loose pages, which makes for a complicated read. I can't bring myself to buy a new copy though. It's a comfort read for me, yeah. But more than that, it's my dad's book. He's been gone eight years but I still have this book he loaned me...as if someday I might get around to returning it, or something.
I have lost count of how many times I've read this one, ever since I read it at the age of eight or so. Utter adoration. The last time I read it, I was struck by the sheer volume of detail about the English countryside: plant lore, and the like. I hadn't noticed it before: maybe it's because I garden now.

I think that one of the things that confirmed to me that my to-be-husband was The Guy was that he had been to Watership Down, and was thrilled about it because of the book, which he has also read multiple times.

*g* envy your guy. I didn't make it there when I was in the UK....
I first read it in my last year of primary school and was thrilled by the mythic quality to it. My teacher then shrank in my eyes by commenting "Yes but talking rabbits aren't exactly realistic, are they?" I couldn't at the time articulate how wrong he was e.g. "It's called fiction because you make stuff up!"

We now live near Watership Down and I drive over the next hill along every day on my way to work, which makes every day special. Richard Adams allegedly lives somewhere nearby (assuming he's not dead yet).

That hill in the cartoon - drawn from life I can tell you.

Tried the Plague Dogs afterwards, gave up in pain and disgust.

bad dog memory

Interesting you mention The Plague Dogs and being scarred by it. I was too. If there was a book on earth I wish I'd never picked up that would be it, for a lot of reasons. I don't even remember the storyline now but I remember the first five pages and if I could unread them I would. Especially back when I was 11.

Re: bad dog memory

Oh man. The ending killed me. Eeeeee.