DiskuteraGroup Read: Watership Down (Spoiler)
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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I'm at the part where Hazel and Pipkin have just reached the farm and are talking to the farm bunnies.
Thanks Ilana, for pulling me in!
I'm at the part where they're discussing returning to Efrafa and are volunteering to go... pretty exciting stuff!
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.
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.
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.
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.