DiskuteraGroup Read: Watership Down (Spoiler)

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Group Read: Watership Down (Spoiler)

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jul 24, 2011, 2:58pm

At least one of us has finished and several are well underway, so I thought it's time to start the spoiler thread!

How's everyone doing?

jul 24, 2011, 3:19pm

More from Wikipedia:

The book explores the themes of exile, survival, heroism, political responsibility, and the "making of a hero and a community". Joan Bridgman's analysis of Adams's works in The Contemporary Review identifies the community and hero motifs: "The hero's journey into a realm of terrors to bring back some boon to save himself and his people" is a powerful element in Adams's tale. This theme derives from the author's exposure to the works of mythologist Joseph Campbell, especially his study of comparative mythology, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), and in particular, Campbell's "monomyth" theory, also based on Carl Jung's view of the unconscious mind, that "all the stories in the world are really one story."
The concept of the hero has invited comparisons between Watership Down's characters and those in Homer's Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid. Hazel's courage, Bigwig's strength, Blackberry's ingenuity and craftiness, and Dandelion's and Bluebell's poetry and storytelling all have parallels in the epic poem Odyssey. Kenneth Kitchell declared, "Hazel stands in the tradition of Odysseus, Aeneas, and others". Tolkien scholar John Rateliff calls Adams's novel an Aeneid "what-if" book: what if the seer Cassandra (Fiver) had been believed and she and a company had fled Troy (Sandleford Warren) before its destruction? What if Hazel and his companions, like Aeneas, encounter a seductive home at Cowslip's Warren (Land of the Lotus Eaters)? Rateliff goes on to compare the rabbits' battle with Woundwort's Efrafans to Aeneas's fight with Turnus's Latins. "By basing his story on one of the most popular books of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Adams taps into a very old myth: the flight from disaster, the heroic refugee in search of a new home, a story that was already over a thousand years old when Vergil told it in 19 BC."

I have to say that this is what the first part reminded me of almost immediately- especially the Lotus-eaters from The Odyssey. I was also reminded of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

jul 24, 2011, 4:21pm

I read the 1st 60 pages yesterday. On my first reading of WD, I had not yet read Odyssey or Aeneid so I didn't have these as frames of reference. Now the comparisons discussed in wikipedia are clear. I think that the archetypes that Adams has drawn on are what make this book a classic. I am finding myself fitting this quest into today's world, with the mist of materialism (at Cowslip's Warren) clouding judgments about the need to continue moving forward.

jul 24, 2011, 4:47pm

I just got to part 2. It's been too long since I read The Odyssey and not sure whether I've read The Aeneid, though I must have since I did Ancient Greek studies... in any case I find that bit from Wikipedia interesting, and I guess subconsciously there are echoes of those historical works, but I'm mostly just taking it as a hero's journey with little frame of reference.

I very much like the relationship between Hazel and Fiver. To me, Fiver is the real hero, though of course there would be no story without Hazel who is actually able to get everyone working as a group.

I saw Nathalie mention on her thread that from what she's seen of the movie, it seems they made it more violent and even added in scenes that weren't in the book. Considering how strong an impact that movie had on me, I'll have to revisit it when I'm done with the novel to help me put it all into perspective.

jul 25, 2011, 2:26am

#2: now that someone is saying it... :-)

What I really liked about the book - compared to what I saw of the movie - is that the 'elil' have their believable 'motives'. A dog hunts a rabbit, because it's in its nature. And even the 'big bad' (don't want to spoil too much at this point) is not really a bad one, he is a different kind of hero.
And then Blackberry's (? names...) flashes of genius! In the book it is explained how innovative his ideas are for the rabbits (floating on the water!). In the movie they just jump on that piece of wood and that's about it.

Movie spoiler coming:
what I noticed: in the beginning a doe is among the rabbits and she is taken by a hawk (or a similar bird). Then there is a cemetery scene. The story around Cowslip's warren however is cut short - the rabbits arrive, eat carrots in the big burrow, Fiver runs away, Hazel and Bigwig follow him, Bigwig is caught in the sling (and that scene they show in all the gory details with the blood running from his mouth...). I missed the element of suspiciousness, when everyone is wondering what's wrong with that warren and the whole lotus eater thing was not worked out well. I don't know yet if I'll watch the rest of it.

jul 25, 2011, 3:33pm

I read another 60 pages yesterday. They are off 'hunting' for does.

Although brief, I found the description of the deaths in original warren to be disturbing. An image that did not occur to me in my first reading was people trying to escape from some sort of terror attack.

jul 25, 2011, 4:30pm

I'm really looking forward to what other people think - those that are reading for the first time and those, like me, who have read it before. One of the reasons I loved this when I read it when I was much younger was that I was really into reading mythology and animal stories. So I love the El-Ahriarah stories and the idea that rabbits have a mythology. I have read it several times since so know the story so well but I still find it a very good read.

I started it today and I've got to the end of chapter 11. I'm really liking the differing characters of the rabbits and as said above the opening quotes to the chapters really fit. I think one of the things I am noticing this time is the amount of foreshadowing that Adam's is using. Obviously Fiver's prophecies and the quotes but also other things the rabbits say and do. The little hints to what is coming add layers to this re-read.

jul 29, 2011, 7:21am

Well I finished it. Still loved it and its rabbit eye view of the world. Lovely descriptions of plants and nature. More later:)

jul 29, 2011, 5:02pm

I've not been active here or anywhere else the past for days and wasn't in the mood for reading much. But I plan on listening for a good while today and hopefully finishing this weekend, but we'll see about that.

I'm at the part where Hazel and Pipkin have just reached the farm and are talking to the farm bunnies.

jul 29, 2011, 5:22pm

Finished on a plane today. I'll comment later though. I'm beat.

jul 29, 2011, 8:12pm

I'm so glad I decided to tag along on this one. It's a title I have wanted to read, for nearly 30 years. I'm listening to the audio, read by Ralph Cosham and it's been excellent, although I'm not sure where I am at exactly. The gang is staying with Cowslip's group of rabbits and they are trading stories. So far, Hazel is my favorite bunny.
Thanks Ilana, for pulling me in!

Redigerat: jul 30, 2011, 11:36pm

Glad you joined Mark.

I'm at the part where they're discussing returning to Efrafa and are volunteering to go... pretty exciting stuff!

jul 31, 2011, 1:28pm

Almost finished....I do love the tale of Fairy WogDog!

aug 1, 2011, 8:21pm

I'm moving right along and it's been a joy! Bigwig has infiltrated "Efrafa" and is planning his escape. I'm having a tough time with the spellings of names & places, since I'm listening to it. I love Bigwig, but Hazel is still my hero!

aug 1, 2011, 10:30pm

Mark, looks like you've caught up with me. I'm kind of listening to just a bit at a time each day. I think the whole Efrafa section is one of my favourites. Bigwig has really grown on me too. It's great seeing the great big change he's gone through in the course of the story.

aug 2, 2011, 1:29am

This was my second reading of Watership Down, the first being some 3 decades ago. And I watched the movie somewhere in between. After seeing the movie, I remembered the book being more violent than this reading revealed it to be.

A few more thoughts...

The world of rabbits is full of terrors. They possess an innate understanding of those animals for whom they are prey, but the incursions and creations of man are unnatural puzzles which require innovative behavior. While they are capable of surviving under a variety of conditions, they thrive when free, when faced with challenges they surmount through clever thinking and mutual effort.

Adams' anthropomorphism of rabbits builds a complex culture with its own traditions and ideals. Group cohesion is balanced with an appreciation for individual differences and respect for leadership and soldiers as well as seers, poets, and visionaries.

aug 4, 2011, 10:49pm

Finished the audio tonight. One question that had been nagging at me for a good while was why is it that General Woundwort didn't allow anyone to leave Efrafa, even when it was overcrowded and went so far as to force other rabbits found in the area to join the warren as well. I couldn't help but see parallels with communist Russia, though I haven't seen that mentioned elsewhere. Thoughts?

My favourite part of the novel was probably the whole section beginning from when Efrafa is introduced into the story. I kept trying to identify what Adams had in mind as a model when he thought that up (see above).

In the meantime, I started watching the movie on YouTube, as the whole thing is available in 10 instalments. I've watched the first three, which brings us to Cowslip's warren and Fiver warning everyone that it's a bad place.

aug 5, 2011, 8:44am

Yeah, Soviet Russia was what came to mind when I read that section, especially under Stalin. What really struck me about Efrafa and Woundwort was ho so very much un-rabbit-like he was. The stories Adams has his rabbits tell make it pretty clear that their nature is to survive by being prolific, clever and fast. Woundwort built his warren by being the complete opposite - hiding, discipline, strict rules, organized fighting. SO in some sense, he had to fail since he had left his rabbitness behind. The whole hubris thing in Greek stories came to mind.

I think my favorite scene in the whole book was where Hazel confronted Woundwort alone, offering to settle things peaceably by working together. Hazel was an average, rather unremarkable rabbit who rose to be the hero as the leader, yet was completely dismissed by Woundwort, who only considered fighting ability in his assessment of worth.

sep 17, 2012, 12:36pm

Just finished listening to this on audio, it must be nearly 40 years since I read it first, more or less when it first came out. Enjoying reading all your comments now that I've finished.

One of the things I'd forgotten is the detail of description of the natural world, especially the flowers and vegetation. As a child I was fascinated with wild flowers and learned the names of lots of them, which must have helped me the first time I read this since I could picture clearly what was being described. It's a great way of creating the rabbit's-eye view of the world from the outset of the novel - though for readers unfamiliar with the flora and not into lots of description, it must make for hard-going. Although it is not done entirely consistently (which would be almost impossible) I think it is very effective also how the rabbits puzzle over the 'un-natural' incursions of humans into the natural world, as jeanned mentioned in #16, and the way in which some these (railways, boats etc) become important in the development of the plot without ever straying from what might 'naturally' happen.

I too liked the scene that Jim mentioned in #18 - especially the way Woundwort assumed that Hazel was a mere emissary of Bigwig as he was not big and strong enough to be a leader. The fact that Hazel did not contradict his assumption (itself a measure of Hazel's un-boastful style of leadership) became one part of Woundwort's undoing later on during the fight in the warren: when Woundwort, severely mauled by Bigwig already, discovered that Bigwig was not Chief Rabbit as he had supposed, he could only imagine an even bigger and stronger rabbit and knew he did not have the strength left to fight him. His own limited imagination about what leadership implies created an imaginary foe for himself and his army.