Monday, October 17, 2011

Watership Down, by Richard Adams

This is the cover of the audio edition, not the book.

This is probably my favorite of all I've listened to so far. Since this is my second entry, it may look like I don't have much to compare it to, but considering I'm 10 or so stories in by the time I'm writing this it should give you a better example. I know Watership Down is a classic story, but I honestly can't remember having ever read it before. I think I might have seen the animated movie when I was younger. In any case, you're never too old to enjoy a story about bunnies, especially when it's written so impossibly well as it is by Richard Adams and read by Ralph Cosham (who also reads the book I am currently listening to, to my excitement). There were several times when I first started listening to it that I puzzled about how long the recording was. I am a "ruiner" (self-titled ; ) in the way that I like to know the plot line of a book before reading it. I generally will Wiki it, or ask someone that's read it before to tell me how it ends. It's just how I roll. When I DO finish something that hasn't been ruined for me, I'll go back and re-read it to pick up on the subtleties I previously missed that hint at the ending. Since I wiki-ed this prior to listening to it, there was no mystery in the plot line. There was, however, mystery to me in the length. Why, when X-Y-Z were the only major events, did it need to be THIS LONG?

Having listened to it all, I can confidently say that I would listen to it all again. All fifteen hours of it. There was not a moment in the entire story where I found my attention waning, or where I regretted having started down this road. I know from having read about it and hearing the prologue that Richard Adams initially wrote it for his daughters. It had started as a story he told them aloud during car trips, and upon their insistence that he write it down, eventually become a book. He never really wanted more than to give his girls their own hardback copy of the story they loved, but I can understand completely why it became such a renowned and beloved story.

Assuming I am not the only one in the world that hadn't previously read or listened to this, I'll give a brief overview. The story begins with a rabbit, Hazel, and his runt brother, Fiver, who is a 'seer' in the way that he has dreams and visions of what is to come. Early in the book, while Hazel and Fiver are off loping around, they come across a sign posted near the edge of their dominion and Fiver has a vision implying that their burrow is in danger. He warns Hazel that they need to leave, and the big-hearted rabbits make the decision to go to the chief rabbit and try to persuade him to move the burrow. This isn't received well, so Fiver and Hazel attempt to gather what other rabbits they can and leave on their own. This is a bold move for rabbits, particularly for Hazel, who has been low on the hierarchy and has no real leadership experience. The story follows their adventure as they seek a new home, which is a huge feat for animals that by nature are convinced that everything in the world is out to get them. They encounter many predators on the way, and find that they even have enemies in their fellow rabbits at times. Even once they've found a home, their problems aren't over, as they realize that without females their numbers will dwindle and die off, which begins a whole new adventure to obtain further members. My favorite character, personally, is a rabbit named Big Wig (that's the human English translation). He is abrasive at the beginning, but goes on to withstand violence and fear that define him as a hero. It occurs to me in saying so, however, that I really do love each of the rabbits in one way or another, even the villains for their cleverness. The characters are all so memorable.

It would be easy, as an adult, to dismiss this story based on the fact that it's about rabbits and was initially written for children. However, that would be an error in judgment. Not only is it tremendously entertaining and impeccably written, but so many parallels can be made between the tough decisions these rabbits have to make and the decisions we're faced with as human beings. Likewise, inspiration can be taken from their loyalty to one another, their perseverance, and their ceaseless capability to love and hope. Finally, if nothing else, the author has created the outlines of a whole new language ("lapine") and a wealth of lore in the stories these rabbits tell to each other- for they are great storytellers themselves. I'm back and forth with myself about whether or not I should share this with my son. Him being a creature of immense empathy, I am worried about parts of the book that are violent in nature. There are ears ripped, necks sliced into, blood shed. There are many mentions of death, and shadows of fear worked into parts of the book that I am worried might scare him a little at the age he is now. Still, overall, it's an inspiring tale and I think that it will definitely one day be a part of his library, if not now. It will definitely stay a part of mine as well.

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