Sunday, July 11, 2010

You'll like it. Bunnies get killed.

In Watership Down, Richard Adams created an ecology of rabbits, warrens, and downs set against man's world of hrudru (manmade things), white sticks (cigarettes), and iron monsters (trains or automobiles). What a lovely book! And a terribly unlovely book. Confessions: I was inspired to buy after I saw a picture of my favorite college professor holding a copy of it. I was inspired to read it after Sawyer on LOST told Benjamin Linus, "You'll like it. Bunnies get killed." Sold.

Well there are bunnies, and who doesn't love bunnies? Adams gives them a language, an operational philosophy, a heritage, a religion, and individual strengths and weaknesses. The fascination of supposing animals live not only as sentient but as preferential beings has inspired writers and readers for centuries and why wouldn't it? The bunnies of Watership Down have distinct opinions of man and man's undertakings. Would we want to hear them if we could understand their words? Which leads me to the...

Adams' desire to create a formal language system--right down to the phonemes and morphemes--just about does the book in. In desiring to remove the rabbits' speech from the readers' speech, the language becomes impossible mumbo-jumbo. Rooted in nothing the reader has experienced or understands, it sounds like so much mush-mouthedness. I tried saying some of it out loud, with laughable results. Yeah, just try saying "hrair" and "hrudru" and laugh at the results. Instead of sounding reasoned Tolkein's languages, it just sounds made up. Now, I should tell you this book came out of the Fiction section. Fortunately for you, Dear Reader, the dialogue is in English most of the time.

The book is interesting for its anti-pastoral qualities: Set in woodlands, populated by animals...animals that behave just like humans in their self-interested destruction of one another. I stopped counting dead pelts by four or five. Communism, imperialism are the operating themes of most of the warrens, with only our hero, Fiver's, warren operating on principles of true democracy. I would call it constituional monarchy, but that may be ascribing too much intent to the writer. You may be thinking of Animal Farm as a good comparison, but it really isn't so much. Our warren operates well internally, and only faces external foes. It is rather telling that the only outside rabbits that successfully acclimate to our warren are the frightened dams forcibly rounded up by Hazel and the Gang. Even relationships between the male and female rabbits parallel the lives of actual rabbits: little emotion is wasted on murdered rabbits and sexual relationships are dictated by the need to procreate with no regard for monogamy or emotional investment.

Did I like it? Hm. I wouldn't read it again, but I now I can at least confidently name it in my next Facebook survey of "Books I've Read".

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