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Watership Down (Watership Down, #1)
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message 1: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 01, 2017 06:46PM) (new)

This is our discussion of the classic fantasy novel...

Watership Down (Watership Down #1) by Richard Adams Watership Down by Richard Adams
(1972)

#10 on Locus Magazine's Top Fantasy Novels of the 20th Century.
#32 on NPR's Top 100 Science Fiction & Fantasy.


Silvana (silvaubrey) This book surprised me. At first I thought it would be like The Wind in the Willows but it is much more intense.

I was a bit turned off by the made-up language but it was rather okay at the end. Silflay is my fave one.


message 3: by Rob (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rob Beck | 23 comments For me, this is an interesting choice. The animated film was released during my time at boarding school during the 1970s and I can remember the theme a song being in the charts in the UK at the same time. I would be interested to see if the book stirs up any memories of that time. If you had asked me last week if I wanted to read it I would have said no, now, I'm going to add it to my list!


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

Silvana wrote: "This book surprised me. At first I thought it would be like The Wind in the Willows but it is much more intense...."

This was an "in" book in the early 70's. When I first heard the title, I thought a Watership was.... yaknow, a ship, and it must have,... well, crashed. So when I found it in the bookstore and saw the rabbit on the cover, I was confused. :)


message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Silvana wrote: "I was a bit turned off by the made-up language but it was rather okay at the end. ..."

I first read Watership Down in the 70's, and haven't revisited it for several decades at least. Yet I still remember many of those made-up words, Silflay chief among them.

I think Adams was quite canny in his lapine language, using them for things rabbits would have a special need to condense (e.g. Silflay, Owsla) or for man-things (e.g. hrududu, which if your throat is dry might actually sound like a car.... :)

Of course hraka is an infinitely useful addition to anyone's vocabulary. :)

I also thought it was clever to have a special pidgin for inter-species communication. I mean, why would a mouse or a seagull speak lapine?


Silvana (silvaubrey) G33z3r wrote: "Silvana wrote: "I was a bit turned off by the made-up language but it was rather okay at the end. ..."

I first read Watership Down in the 70's, and haven't revisited it for several de..."


Hrududu is also a fave of mine. However if you think about it, how exactly do these animals communicate since their speaking organs differ.

Anywayyyy, I was laughing out loud reading the Special Bunny Ops (aka Bigwig going undercover). I just can't...hahaha....Oh gosh.
Well there were some horrible stuff in there but I still smiled whenever I remember that battle map.

G33z3r wrote: "Silvana wrote: "This book surprised me. At first I thought it would be like The Wind in the Willows but it is much more intense...."

This was an "in" book in the early 70's. When I first heard the..."


Well I actually thought it was a ship, a boat then it got drowned or something while there were bunnies on it. Oh how we are so mistaken.


message 7: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2516 comments G33z3r wrote: "Of course hraka is an infinitely useful addition to anyone's vocabulary. :)"

You know, lots of people consider the book/movie for kids, but there's quite a bit of swearing... :)

I grew up on the movie, as a kid it was one of those VHS's that parents must hate because the kid watched it over, and over, and over again (and over some more). But I don't really consider it a kids movie, it's very serious, and well, lots of swearing and a ton of violence and gore and blood and death and horror. But hey, it's animated and it's got bunnies so must be for kids :) On the other hand, kids can handle much more grown up stuff than adults give them credit for. It was actually the psychedelic scenes (like the "Bright Eyes" sequence) that scared me...the opening sequence was also somehow terrifying due to it being stylized art and quite dramatic...though I love it. Don't see too many animations anymore with beautiful watercoloured backgrounds, CG has it's place but I love this older handpainted stuff. Since I just read the book back in December, I rewatched the movie last week to prep for this discussion instead.

I guess because I learned what Watership Down was long before I knew the term "down" meaning "crashed", I never even considered people could mistake it for spaceships, LOL

Many years later I read the book, and while the two match up quite well there are differences in characters and events, but to be expected, it's a big book and a short movie. I've also read the Watership Down short story collection, it was ok, but I didn't really enjoy reading all the bunny stories, that is the stories the bunnies tell as opposed to experience.

But I love their language, silflay is just beautiful, hrududu is just fun (and cars do sound a bit like that as they go by!), and hraka is just fun. In fact having memorized the movie practically word by word I'm fairly conversant in lapine.


Brendan (mistershine) | 743 comments My favourite and most often re-read book as a kid. Come to think of it my love for this book probably somewhat influenced my somewhat twisted adult literary tastes.


message 9: by Emily (new)

Emily (englishscribbles) | 44 comments I read this when I was young (never saw the movie), and it was just a strange bunny-speaking story at the time. When I re-read it as an adult, it was as if I was reading a completely different book. I suppose that's true for most stories just because you change over time, but I distinctly remember this one giving me that "whoa" feeling. This one and The Tao of Pooh kind of hit me upside the head.


message 10: by NekroRider (new)

NekroRider | 321 comments Planning to read this this month, but need to hunt it down first. Actually the first I've heard of the series (or maybe I once heard it and forgot, who knows), excited to read it though.


message 11: by Phil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Phil Jensen | 329 comments Love this book.


message 12: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 02, 2017 07:09AM) (new)

NekroRider wrote: "Actually the first I've heard of the series (or maybe I once heard it and forgot, who knows)."

Probably best to think of it as just the one book. It was, in the 1970's, a surprise hit. Apparently actual kids liked it, but so did the college crowd. Its status was in the mainstream, not fandom. The Hugos ignored it (partly because it's first publication was a British small press, and in November; it didn't see an American publication until 18 months later, in 1974.)

An animated movie followed in 1978. (That at least got a Hugo nomination, though Superman won the award.)


message 13: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 14, 2017 06:17PM) (new)

Am I the only one who has to keep reminding myself that Hazel is a male?


Rachel Humphrey (one_mrshum) | 39 comments Just read this for the first time a couple days ago, totally forgot it was on the discussion list for this month!


Silvana (silvaubrey) Nah, I read the introduction and Hazel reminded me of Dick Winters in Band of Brothers. So I basically imagine Damian Lewis as his voice actor.


Silvana (silvaubrey) Speaking of this being an adult book, would you recommend it to your bunny-loving friends or not? there were some nasty rabbits in there, I am a bit worried I gave my friend a wrong targetted recommendation


message 17: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 02, 2017 07:28AM) (new)

Silvana wrote: "Nah, I read the introduction and Hazel reminded me of Dick Winters in Band of Brothers. So I basically imagine Damian Lewis as his voice actor."

Well, that's one approach. So, David Schwimmer (Sobel) is Gen. Woundwort?


message 18: by Emily (new)

Emily (englishscribbles) | 44 comments G33z3r wrote: "Am I the only one who as to keep reminding myself that Hazel is a male?"

Haha! Nope! I had this exact same problem.


message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

Silvana wrote: "Speaking of this being an adult book, would you recommend it to your bunny-loving friends or not? there were some nasty rabbits in there, I am a bit worried I gave my friend a wrong targetted recom..."

My friend's mother is obsessed with rabbits and loves this book, so they might like it. Depends on whether they're okay with a bit of darkness I suppose.

It's great being able to reread this, as it's an old favorite of mine. Not sure if I'll be able to finish it before another book and a much-anticipated ARC arrive in the mail, but if those books don't arrive before I go on vacation, this book will be the one I'm taking instead.


message 20: by Andrea (last edited Jun 02, 2017 10:54AM) (new) - added it

Andrea | 2516 comments G33z3r wrote: "Am I the only one who as to keep reminding myself that Hazel is a male?"

Kind of curious why you and Emily got this impression? I'm guessing it is something about the book since in the movie (which cemented the characters in my head, voices and all, before I read the book) he has an obviously male voice so I can't imagine him any other way.

As for rabbit fans liking the book...depends I guess. If they like real rabbits, and real rabbits fight over territory and mates then it comes with the bunny package. But if their view of bunnies are just fluffy cute harmless animals, then probably not. Doesn't the Redwall series have bunnies (and other animals) that fight? Though Watership Down is quite a bit more violent than most anthropomorphic books.


message 21: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 02, 2017 11:08AM) (new)

Andrea wrote: "G33z3r wrote: "Am I the only one who as to keep reminding myself that Hazel is a male?"

Kind of curious why you and Emily got this impression? I'm guessing it is something about the book ..."


Well, I read the book years before the movie, and Hazel is traditionally a female name among humans. I read a female name, assume a female character. I've seen the movie (will probably again this week sometime), but it's the book that left the impression on me.

Adams, on the other hand, is naming rabbits mostly by their appearance, without regard to human convention. So Hazel & Silver and Blackberry for colors, and Bigwig for the shock of fur on his head, etc. and Fiver for being 5th of the litter. And others after plants (Clover, Bluebell, Holly, Dandelion) (Not sure what Pipkin implies. Was he lame? :)


message 22: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2516 comments I think in the anthology I had a Lapine dictionary and it came up there. I found this though

hlao / *hlao-il: Any dimple or depression formed in the grass, such as that formed by a daisy plant or a thistle, which can hold moisture.
Hlao: The name of Pipkin in Lapine.
Hlao-roo: (Hlao + roo) diminutive. A nickname of Pipkin.


In English a pipkin is an earthenware cooking pot used for cooking over direct heat from coals or a wood fire.

Either way a kind of small depression which I guess works for a small rabbit.


message 23: by Emily (new)

Emily (englishscribbles) | 44 comments Andrea wrote: "G33z3r wrote: "Am I the only one who as to keep reminding myself that Hazel is a male?"

Kind of curious why you and Emily got this impression? I'm guessing it is something about the book since in ..."


I just had it in my head that Hazel is a girl's name. I have never seen the movie, so I didn't have a voice in my head to associate with the character.


message 24: by Silvana (last edited Jun 02, 2017 07:18PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Silvana (silvaubrey) @Geezer: More like Speirs (Woundwort is a capable warrior and cruel). Sobel's voice is for the hraka chief Threarah.

Hlao-roo is so cute!

And thanks for the thoughts, guys. I actually already gave the book to a friend. I hope she is not traumatized, having many rabbits as pets once.

I am thinking also about the sufferring the rabbits had just to get chicks. So I wonder whether it is also has a parallel in human world. People from one tribe fighting to get breeders? I might have heard about it.


message 25: by Cat (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cat | 343 comments I fell in love again. I had very fond memories of this book as a child but for some unknown reason had never re-read, I'm glad I did!

Interestingly, I read in the preface that Richard Adams originally came up with this story to keep his kids entertained in the car, so it's always been a kid's story at heart. And I think it's great for the kids just starting to get into more grown-up stories.

It's got one of my favourite kinda epilogues - I'm a shocker for always wanting to know what the whole outcome is, so I found it quite satisfying.


message 26: by [deleted user] (new)

I re-watched the movie yesterday. It's a remarkably faithful rendering of the novel. The only real difference I noticed was they don't rescue Clover. (And no one tells the story of the Kings Lettuce.) Oh, and Hazel has a male voice for some reason. :)


message 27: by Emily (new)

Emily (englishscribbles) | 44 comments G33z3r wrote: "...Oh, and Hazel has a male voice for some reason. :)"

Haha! Thanks...I just choked on my coffee! I guess I really need to watch this movie, though. That or wait for the graphic heavy CGI version Hollywood will put out which won't be anywhere close to the novel. In this version, Hazel will be voiced by Vin Diesel. "I am Hazel."


message 28: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 07, 2017 06:04PM) (new)

Emily wrote: "That or wait for the graphic heavy CGI version Hollywood will put out which won't be anywhere close to the novel. In this version, Hazel will be voiced by Vin Diesel...."

I thought John Hurt made a fine Hazel. (And Zero Mostel as Kehaar for a slightly comic take. Only names I recognized.)

TIL, iMDb lists a 1999 Watership Down TV series that ran 3 x 13-episode seasons. (John Hurt voiced Woundwort in it!) Never knew that existed. Apparently it's a sequel. ("When the series premiered, the producers took pains to reassure potential audiences that unlike the feature film, which is notorious for its bloody violence and weighty themes, the main characters in this version would be survive their adventures unscathed." The cover art definitely looks more Disneyesque.)

I'm going to cast Vin Diesel as Bigwig, and Samuel L Jackson as Woundwort.


message 29: by [deleted user] (new)

I think an amazing trick that Adams pulled off was to take his premise of bunny rabbits and write it entirely seriously, with some real thought into how rabbits might view the world. There's no Bugs Bunny chomping on a carrot and asking, “what's up, Doc?” The story takes its premise totally seriously.

Adams made his rabbits intelligent, from a limited lapine perspective, and done some real world-building. He's given them (and other animals) a more elaborate language than foot-stomping and squealing. Hes organize their society, a form of governance with chief rabbits & a police force (owsla) with ample variation between warrens. And he's filled in a mythology, complete with a creation myth with a Creator (Frith), a rabbit progenitor with the unpronounceable name El-ahrairah who is the protagonist of most of their trickster stories, and Inle the Black Rabbit to guide rabbits to the afterlife.

As an academic exercise, one could compare the world-bulding to what you might expect if instead of rabbits in a human world, we were dealing with similar aliens on some distant planet, or maybe some creatures in a strange fantasy world. I suppose we'd be wondering about the small white sticks the larger species seems to use for fuel. (Smoking was bigger in the 70's. :)


message 30: by Sarah (new) - added it

Sarah | 68 comments I tried reading this with another group last year. I just couldn't do it.
I finally threw in the towel around the 60% mark.
I tried the ebook, the physical book and the audiobook. I may try again at some later date, but I'm not totally sure.

I felt that what I read of it was long and bogged down in unnecessary detail and just didn't hold my interest.

Hopefully others enjoy it more than I did.


Silvana (silvaubrey) Yeah I had to admit the rabbit tales of El-alraihrah kind of bored me and made me put down the book for a while. I was more interested to Hazel and Co.'s ordeals and every timd some bunny said 'let's have a story!' I groaned inside.


message 32: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 07, 2017 06:40AM) (new)

Silvana wrote: "Yeah I had to admit the rabbit tales of El-alraihrah kind of bored me and made me put down the book for a while. I was more interested to Hazel and Co.'s ordeals and every time some bunny said 'let's have a story!' I groaned inside. ..."

I rather enjoyed the little stories; I thought it added depth to the lapine culture, a key part of the "world-building" I mentioned earlier.

Out of curiosity, when you're reading The Lord of the Rings, do you wince when Strider says, "I will tell you the tale of Tinúviel," or expatiates on the difficult to finding Athalas leaves (you know how rangers like to talk Silflay :), do you also groan and long to get back to the ordeals of Frodo & Co. ?


When I was re-reading this time, it occurred to me the “Trickster” role embodied by El-ahrairah and his stories were very similar to the Western native American Coyote stories. (I think the artwork style in the movie's prolog helped reinforce that.) "Trickster" is a classic role in folktales, from Norse Loki, to Japanese Fox & Tanuki, to Br'er Rabbit.

Disappointed, neither Campbell, Frazer, nor Bulfinch have much to say on the trickster archetype.


message 33: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2516 comments Also that the Black Rabbit of Inle, while representing death, is not considered evil, he just is (though still a little intimidating when he calls). Like Hades was considered by the ancient Greeks. He was probably the least vengeful and malicious of the gods, but one does try to avoid attracting his attention just in case, after all there was Tartarus...but just because he was the god of death, he didn't go around causing death (that was more on Ares side of things...)

There's a fun story in the anthology where El-ahrairah goes to visit the black rabbit, I enjoyed that one. But overall disappointed the anthology wasn't more "continuing adventures of Hazel and company" rather than "here's a bunch of random rabbit fairy tales".

G33z3r wrote: "Out of curiosity, when you're reading The Lord of the Rings, do you wince when..."

...they break out in song? Absolutely! Though that was more of a problem in The Hobbit. I dislike "reading" people singing, even though I could just consider it a poem instead. But I know for some people that was their favorite part, maybe they are better at inventing some music in their heads to go with the words.

However stories in LotR were history (and worldbuilding) while in Watership Down it's really just a story. I find there's a difference. Knowing the rabbit tales didn't really tell us more about the world and how it came to be (it's our world after all), they were just cute interludes (and perhaps some slight insight into lapine logic/culture) whereas stories in LotR explain how the current situation came about. One gives us background info, the other a distraction.

Not saying I didn't enjoy some of the stories, but I could have done with fewer of them too (the movie pretty well left them out with no loss of information). Although at this point I'm probably confusing how many were in the main book versus the anthology, I was storied out by the end of reading both :)

G33z3r wrote: "do you also groan and long to get back to the ordeals of Frodo & Co. "

*checks in on them*

"Frodo"
"Sam"
"Frodo!"
"Sam!"

Nah, they're still meandering through Mordor, need another story to pass the time...


message 34: by Phil (new) - rated it 5 stars

Phil Jensen | 329 comments I loved the El-ahrairah stories in WD, but the Rivendell section of LotR drives me crazy. I think I'm more of a folklore type than a genealogy type.


message 35: by Sarah (new) - added it

Sarah | 68 comments G33z3r wrote: "I think an amazing trick that Adams pulled off was to take his premise of bunny rabbits and write it entirely seriously, with some real thought into how rabbits might view the world. There's no Bug..."

I did like those aspects and the world building, complete with El-ahrairah and the existence of bunny folklore.
I think I could have just done with fewer examples of it.

G33z3r wrote: "Silvana wrote: "Yeah I had to admit the rabbit tales of El-alraihrah kind of bored me and made me put down the book for a while. I was more interested to Hazel and Co.'s ordeals and every time some..."

I enjoy some of the tales, but the poetry makes me cringe.

I usually enjoy stories of trickster-type characters. If they weren't woven into a large story that they didn't seem to really help move forward, I probably would have enjoyed the tales about El-ahrairah more.

Andrea wrote: "Also that the Black Rabbit of Inle, while representing death, is not considered evil, he just is (though still a little intimidating when he calls). Like Hades was considered by the ancient Greeks...."

I agree about the difference in the stories. Stories interwoven for a purpose as a opposed to stories just for the sake of stories.


message 36: by Rob (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rob Beck | 23 comments Silvana wrote: "Yeah I had to admit the rabbit tales of El-alraihrah kind of bored me and made me put down the book for a while. I was more interested to Hazel and Co.'s ordeals and every timd some bunny said 'let..."

I have only recently started reading Watership Down, but felt the same way about the first of the tales. The second one: "The Story of the King's Lettuce" was not so bad, but I do find something a little irritating about them, perhaps my view will change as I progress through the book.


message 37: by Cat (new) - rated it 5 stars

Cat | 343 comments G33z3r wrote: "I rather enjoyed the little stories; I thought it added depth to the lapine culture, a key part of the "world-building" I mentioned earlier...."

I did enjoy the lapine stories included - I felt that they did relate to the story albeit tangentially as either a moral which could be applied to the current situation or as a prompt for some daring trick. In developing a culture - I think it would have been more unusual leave out some form of cultural experience or history, every culture includes stories, dance, song or poetry. In developing a rabbit culture, Adams would have been remiss to leave out the means through which a culture is expressed.


p.s
Andrea wrote: "Nah, they're still meandering through Mordor, need another story to pass the time... ...."

Hahahahaha. Love it Andrea.


message 38: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2516 comments Actually having the same issue with tangential stories in Gene Wolfe's New Sun series. Though in that one I'm not sure if the "story" is more than just a story since I can't figure what parts of the book is real/imagined/etc since the whole thing feels like giant tangent :) It's one of those books/series that needs a second read to know what you should be paying attention to and what really is irrelevant to the overall story.


Silvana (silvaubrey) G33z3r wrote: "Out of curiosity, when you're reading The Lord of the Rings, do you wince when Strider says, "I will tell you the tale of Tinúviel," or expatiates on the difficult to finding Athalas leaves (you know how rangers like to talk Silflay :), do you also groan and long to get back to the ordeals of Frodo & Co. ?"

I did not remember what I felt at that time - but LOTR is so very fantastical so I might have been more willing to focus my attention to the storytelling scenes. I do love all the poems/lyrics parts because I was listening to the songs so the experience was much more immersive. And LOTR was very much history-heavy so tales of Tinuviel I think an important part of the world and character building.

In Watership Down, I found myself drawn to the plots and characters more and not really into the worldbuilding. Definitely more into the 'show' than the 'tell'. Stories within stories to me felt like more 'tell' and I found myself losing concentration.


message 40: by Rob (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rob Beck | 23 comments G33z3r wrote: "a rabbit progenitor with the unpronounceable name El-ahrairah who is the protagonist of most of their trickster stories..."

Having read the footnote on the stresses of this name being the same as "never say die", I think it is pronounced ELLa-hrair-RAH, at least that's how I am reading it!


message 41: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2516 comments Rob wrote: "G33z3r wrote: "a rabbit progenitor with the unpronounceable name El-ahrairah who is the protagonist of most of their trickster stories..."

Having read the footnote on the stresses of this name bei..."


I think it (but wouldn't dare attempt to actually say it) the way it is in the movie. That helped. Does sound a bit like coughing up a hairball though.


message 42: by Sarah (new) - added it

Sarah | 68 comments Andrea wrote: "Rob wrote: "G33z3r wrote: "a rabbit progenitor with the unpronounceable name El-ahrairah who is the protagonist of most of their trickster stories..."

Having read the footnote on the stresses of t..."


I was surprised when I saw the spelling of it because it wasn't anything like I expected based on how it is pronounced in the audiobook.


message 43: by Rob (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rob Beck | 23 comments Valid points! I haven't seen the film or listened to the audio book. You'd hope they would have researched how to pronounce it, wouldn't you? I'd better try a YouTube search, I could be miles off!


Silvana (silvaubrey) In my head I pronounce it 'elareira.'

So if I want to watch the adaptation should I watch the movie or the TV series? Three season of series wonder what the stories, do they also include the Tales from WD book?


message 45: by [deleted user] (new)

Silvana wrote: "So if I want to watch the adaptation should I watch the movie or the TV series? ..."

Movie.


message 46: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2516 comments Movie

(though I haven't seen the tv series but the movie is absolutely gorgeous)


message 47: by Mike (last edited Jun 12, 2017 04:06PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike (mikekeating) | 242 comments I just finished this and I loved it.... gave it 5 stars. Lapine is right up there as one of the best fictional languages ever, IMO. The tales of Elahrairah were fun to read in much the same way the little capers in Lies of Locke Lamora were.


message 48: by Rob (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rob Beck | 23 comments Finished! I think it's fair to say this was not my favourite book, but even though it was quite readable, I found myself just trying to get through it. Sarah said in an earlier comment that she gave up at about 60% (I think) I actually started to get more in to it around there, where there were a couple of "I'll just read the next chapter" moments. I was expecting to feel a bit more of an emotional connection to the story than I did, this might have been a legacy of being told as a child how sad the film was.

On more a positive note, I found the characters quite believable, although I think I only really developed an attachment to Bigwig and Kehaar. I loved the way Richard Adams wrote Kehaar's accent (I generally don't like reading written accents) and also the accents of the few human characters.

If the book was also making a social comment, I'm afraid I missed it, but I'm not very good at spotting that kind of thing - I tend to take things at face value.


message 49: by Andrea (new) - added it

Andrea | 2516 comments Well, as for social commentary, Efrafa is clearly some form of dystopian society where everything is controlled, everyone reports on each other, and no one can leave. Haven't put enough thought to decide if they represent communism or fascism but I'm sure it's highlighting one of those two (or just general oppression). Versus the free and happy Hazel and company, where everyone can do what they want, where they want, in an idealic location.


Brenda Clough (brendaclough) | 337 comments WATERSHIP is one of the great secondary worlds, as good as Middle Earth and tons better than Narnia. Richard Adams created the whole thing, just like Tolkien did: the creation myth, the legends, the language, the culture.


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