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Friday, December 29, 2017

Reread: Watership Down

I remember reading Watership Down as a teenager. I remembered that it was about rabbits or bunnies, but not much else. Despite Bowen's love of bunnies, when I went to the library, the book was so thick and intimidating that I didn't even bother checking it out to read to him. I tried the movie version, but 5 minutes into it Bowen was bored.

Eva Silverstein's a much better parent than I am, so on Bowen's birthday, she bought me the Kindle version of the book, which forced me to read it to Bowen. Bowen, being Bowen, is making me read a chapter of the book to him nearly every night, which indicates that the story is at least interesting to me. We're about 70% into the book, but I couldn't help it one night and just plowed all the way to the end, so even if Bowen hasn't finished the book, I have.

I can see now why the book didn't leave a deep impression on me. Much like Lord of the Rings, it's full of digressions, side-trips, and irrelevancies all merged into the narrative. The side stories do serve a purpose, granting the world of the bunnies a deeper folklore and worldview with history all of its own, but also distracted me from the main storyline, making me impatient to skip over them and go on to the "what happens next?" It also turns out that the plot of the novel is based on the mythology of the founding of Rome, which has no resonances for me, since I didn't have a classical background. The chapter start quotations are also clearly targeted for an adult audience, going over Bowen's head. But I read them all to Bowen anyway!

Each of the bunnies have a distinct personality, and according to Richard Adams came from research he did by reading non-fiction books. The rules he set when writing the novel was that the rabbits would never do something that was physically impossible for real bunnies to actually do, even though the behavior of many of the bunnies in the book are quite unnatural for bunnies.

I have a hard time recommending this book. I think the story itself is OK, but the structure and pace don't make for easy reading to a 6 year old, and there are many places that are a slog. Nevertheless, Bowen is loving the book. I'm dreading that when I get to the end he'll make me start all over! Clearly I'm not made out of the stuff that Jo Walton is.

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