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nataliya

nataliya

“Books are a uniquely portable magic.” 
― Stephen King, On Writing.

Nataliya's quotes


"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."— J.K. Rowling

'Watership Down' by Richard Adams - forever favorite.

Watership Down - Aldo Galli, Richard Adams
Some books have an amazingly unexplainable ability to transcend the purpose of their creation and take a leap into being an instant timeless classic.
“All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a Thousand enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you; digger, listener, runner, Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.”
Watership Down began as an impromptu entertainment for Adams' two young daughters on long car trips - an adventure of a migrating bunch of somewhat anthropomorphic but yet very rabbit-like rabbits. It is a story full of palpable love for English countryside, full of 'rabbity' allegories of the variations of human societies and ideologies that nevertheless do not overshadow the simple but fascinating impact of the story of survival against all odds, rooted in friendship, bravery, loyalty, courage, quick thinking and learning, ability to see and embrace the new while relying on the ages-tested old, and perseverance despite the unfavorable odds.
“Rabbits live close to death and when death comes closer than usual, thinking about survival leaves little room for anything else.”
I first read the story of Hazel, Bigwig & co. when I was twelve, and read it again and again many times since, loving it more and more with each re-read, appreciating more and more each time how its seeming simplicity is actually made of layers of complexity.



Survival is the big theme, naturally; but another one is the coexistence between the old ways and the new ways, the balance between the natural and the 'unnatural', innate and learned. (It's not just the rabbit society that is plagued by these choices, of course). On a superficial read, it would appear that Adams favors the former: our rabbits are looking for a way to lead the 'normal' natural rabbit life that sharply contrasts with the decadent Cowslip's warren and militaristic Efrafa. But on the other hand, it's precisely the openness to the new things and experiences that allows Hazel's bunch to survive: the raft and the boat, the digging of burrows, the interspecies alliances; but they still hold on firmly to their essential rabbitness. It's the harmony that Adams is looking for, and I love it.

Adams succeeded in creating such vivid and distinct personalities for all of the rabbits in the story, making them so human-like and yet unmistakably animal at the same time. Cute fluffy bunnies they are not, however; they are tenacious survivalists full of life force and determination to survive despite their status as prey for the 'Thousand', the many carnivorous predators from cats to hawks to foxes to humans. They are driven by the need to live and multiply and thrive (and when allowed to do so, they are fearsome indeed - just think of how rabbits took over Australia, for example). In Adams' rendition, they are and aren't like us, and it's both their similarities and differences from what we think as 'human' that makes the story unforgettable.
“Animals don't behave like men,' he said. 'If they have to fight, they fight; and if they have to kill they kill. But they don't sit down and set their wits to work to devise ways of spoiling other creatures' lives and hurting them. They have dignity and animality.”
Each rabbit has a distinct voice and personality - without being *people* they are nevertheless *persons* - but it's the three that stand out to me: Hazel, Bigwig and Woundwort.

Hazel, the mastermind of the rabbit adventures, is a natural leader. He is not the fastest, the smartest or the strongest - but he has the understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the ragtag bunch he leads. He genuinely cares, and his charisma and leading by example are quick to win the loyalty of others. The parallels between Hazel and the legendary rabbit folklore hero, El-ahrairah, the Prince of a Thousand enemies, are not surprising, and the final scene of the book, lovely but quietly gut-wrenching, comes as no surprise.

"You needn't worry about them," said his companion. "They'll be all right -- and thousands like them. If you'll come along, I'll show you what I mean."

He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom."

His opposite is the eventual villain of the book, General Woundwort, the tyrant leader of an isolated militaristic rabbit warren, a ruler with an iron fist, whose forceful personality is supplemented by ferociously merciless teeth and claws. Unlike Hazel, he leads by force and coercion - but props to Adams for not making him neatly fit into a black-and-white good-vs-bad model as his amazing ability to at least temporarily make rabbits, perpetual prey, into predators was a source of almost legendary fame. And yet Woundwort's vision breaks down because, grand as it may be, it's still just tunnel vision.
“At that moment, in the sunset on Watership Down, there was offered to General Woundwort the opportunity to show whether he was really the leader of vision and genius which he believed himself to be, or whether he was no more than a tyrant with the courage and cunning of a pirate. For one beat of his pulse the lame rabbit's idea shone clearly before him. He grasped it and realized what it meant. The next, he had pushed it away from him.”


And bridging the gap between Hazel and Woundwort is my hero, Bigwig. Big, strong and experienced and therefore bound to succeed almost anywhere in the rabbit 'society', he grows from a careless and a bit bullyish character to one strongly loyal and just, learning to rely on brains over brawn and yet with enough ferocity and determination to be an unstoppable force when combined with Hazel's leadership. 

The warren of Watership Down would have been doomed without Bigwig's boundless daring loyal courage, without his resolute determination and willingness for self-sacrifice for the others - a trait he would, of course, have not developed if not for the friends he made on the night of the escape from the doomed old warren in the search of Watership Down promised by Fiver. Hazel learns to see the strengths and weaknesses in others; Bigwig learns to see them in himself.

My strong and loyal rabbit hero, your words at what you thought may have been your last minutes never cease to make me happily grin:

“My Chief Rabbit has told me to stay and defend this run, and until he says otherwise, I shall stay here.”

 

This book is wonderful, fantastic, and has definitely earned itself a spot on the strategically placed bookshelf in my future hypothetical daughter's room where it will serve the purpose of helping to bring her into the wonderful world of stories and help her see the world for the amazing place it is. 

And meanwhile, somewhere in the wild, rabbits would quietly go on with their rabbit lives.
"Underground, the story continued."