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Watership inconsistency and fantasy

I'm re-reading Watership Down. I'd always like how stupid the rabbits are at times, especially about anything mechanical; even comprehending a raft or snare under direct demonstration is an act of near genius. But I'd forgotten Strawberry and the new down warren, talking about roots supporting the roof through strength or carrying weight down to the floor, and leaving blocks of earth to bear loads as well. It makes sense in a way: burrowing is a natural rabbit thing, even if we're talking advanced burrows and males, while rafts and traps aren't It's still bemusing to go from "PEG, WHAT IS PEG?" to "yah, so leave those roots in, they'll be load-bearing pillars, and we can close and open runs for seasonal ventilation"

Same book, different topic: A thread on good "one and done" fantasy included me recommending Watership Down, leading to an argument about whether it's fantasy. I saved one of my posts:

And now that you've provoked me to think about it, Watership seems to fit the traditional modern fantasy mold even better than I thought. Look at the plot: apocalypse, quest by fellowship facing trials, diversion, continued quest, new home, acquisition of 'magical' allies through virtuous behavior, new quest, venture into the land of evil, sidelines of hero's journeys, climactic battle, fulfillment of prophecies... It has a lot in common with the Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, say, and derivatives, which it doesn't with Hundred Years of Solitude, which is a very different story, or non-story even, of people being acted upon, in one place, and changing with generations.

Looking on Wikipedia, it doesn't come out of the modern fantasy tradition, but seems to have roots in the author's WWII experience, plus books he read about rabbits -- fueling what's basically an exercise in worldbuilding and culture design, even the roots of a conlang vocabulary[1] -- and critics see Joseph Campbell, the Odyssey, and Aeneid in it. If it's not fantasy, it shares roots and parallel direction with fantasy.

http://www.tor.com/blogs/2010/10/rabbit-realism-and-folklore-richard-adamss-watership-down is a good review from this perspective.

[1] So you end up being trained to read "eat shit" in a made-up language in a children's book...

I note Wikipedia calls it "heroic fantasy" straight out, FWIW. And says it's rooted in tales Richard Adams told his daughters, though that said, it's a rather long and sophisticated book for children, with elaborate elegiac language, obscure chapter heading quotations. But then some of that language is reminiscent of Wind in the Willows, and doing similar 'scene painting' work.

I also note, where I hadn't in the post, that the book even has a map, a classic clue of modern fantasy...

I *can* see the Aeneid parallels, loosely. Troy=Sandleford, Carthage or Lotus Eaters=Cowslip's warren, Rome=Watership Down, Latins=Efrafa.

See the comment count unavailable DW comments at http://mindstalk.dreamwidth.org/317107.html#comments


( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 17th, 2012 12:16 am (UTC)
I teach Watership right after LOTR: Return of the King in my fantasy class, because damnit, it's fantasy, and damnit, it's great.

re: the peg. I think you're being too hard on the bunnies.
Apr. 17th, 2012 03:15 am (UTC)
Well, Bigwig knew snares from the Owsla, so it's not as magical as the Miracle of the Boat which only Blackberry and Fiver could grasp. You still see Hazel being stumped by something a 6 yo human could understand. Which is part of the charm of the book, it's rabbits being rabbits, not the twee little humans of Wind in the Willows. But then we jump to Strawberry, bunny Vitruvius...
Apr. 18th, 2012 11:20 am (UTC)
...and I note that Bunnies and Burrows is right there in the first generation of games reacting to DnD. I contend that its lack of widespread adoption by gamers comes out of prejudice against non-humanoid protagonists.
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )


Damien Sullivan

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