Apr 23, 2008

Tales from Watership Down"by Richard Adams (and giveaways!)

“Tell us a story, Dandelion!”

As I mentioned when I posted about Watership Down, one of my favourite things about that book was how Richard Adams created such a rich mythology for the rabbit society he was writing about. Several tales about the Lapine trickster/folk hero El-ahrairah and his faithful companion Rabscuttle are told throughout the novel, and they always add to the narrative. Tales from Watership Down is divided into three sections: the first has further tales about El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle. The second tells of the two heroes’ adventures on the way back from their meeting with the Black Rabbit of Inlé (an episode retold in Watership Down). Finally, the third section has stories about Hazel and his warren that take place in the winter, spring and summer after the events of Watership Down.

Unlike what happens in most collections of short stories, the stories in Tales from Watership Down are connected, and its overall structure is almost like that of a novel. This is especially true of parts two and three, when the episodes retold follow each other chronologically, but even in part one the Lapine myths are contextualized. We are shown a little scene in Hazel’s warren, and then one of the rabbits – often Dandelion, but not always – begins to tell a story.

It was wonderful to reencounter characters such as Hazel, Bigwig, Keehar, Silver, Holly or Fiver. I enjoyed this book almost as much as Watership Down. Richard Adams is a wonderful writer, and he tells these tales with amazing solemnity and warmth.

One of my favourite stories was “The Rabbit’s Ghost Story”, which, as the title indicates, is the story of a rabbit that has seen a ghost. I didn’t know (though in retrospect I should have guessed, because it’s the kind of thing we humans so often do) that some farmers would deliberately infect whole warrens with myxomatosis to wipe them out:
[The disease] reached the UK in 1953, apparently without human action. Some in the UK deliberately spread the disease, placing sick rabbits in burrows, while many others deplored the cruelty and suffering. The government refused to legislate to make deliberate spread of the disease illegal. By 1955, about 95% of rabbits in the UK were dead. Rabbits suffering in the last stages of the disease, commonly called "mixy" or "myxie" rabbits, are still a common sight in the UK in 2007. Unfortunately, the disease affects more than the rabbits: the Spanish lynx among others is now almost extinct because the declining rabbit population, encompassing 90% of its diet, has caused mass starvation. It is not uncommon for shooters to specifically target infected rabbits, viewing the act as being merciful.
(From Wikipedia)

The theme of men’s abuse of nature, which was also present in Watership Down, is thus repeated here.

Another favourite of mine was “The Story of the Terrible Hay Making”. I call it a favourite, but it was a story that made me cry. It was very, very brutal. It opens with a quote by Horace Annesley Vachell which sets the tone of the story perfectly: “In nature there are no rewards and punishments: there are consequences.” The fact that Richard Adams doesn’t shy away from showing nature’s brutality is one of the reasons why I love his books so much. It is also one of the reasons why his characters are so believable as wild animals, and yet tell us a lot about ourselves at the same time.

If you’re a fan of Watership Down, it’s safe to say that you will also love this book. Revisiting that world and those characters was wonderful, and I already miss them again.

Other Opinions:
DogEar Diary
Fifty Books Project
Steve's Book Journal


To celebrate her 100th post, Kim is giving away four books: The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende, My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult, Space by James Michener, and The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. For her international readers, she has a $15 Amazon gift card instead. Leave her a comment by next Saturday, the 26th, to be entered.

Andi is also giving away a book, and an important one: The Down-to-Earth Guide to Global Warming. Leave her a comment here by Friday to be entered.

Finally, Jeane is giving away 2 BookMooch points. To be entered, all you have to do is tell her what the most obscure book in your inventory is.

Edit to add: Ana at Cosy World is celebrating World Book Day by giving one lucky winner a book from their wishlist! Leave her a comment by tomorrow to be entered.

22 comments:

  1. I'm also hosting a book giveaway in my blog, if you want to sign up! ;-)

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  2. Thanks for letting me know, Ana!

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  3. I've had this one on my list ever since reading Watership Down and after your review I think I'm going to get it next time I place a book order. I love that the stories connect to each other. After reading your review, I find that I really miss the rabbits from Watership Down...he did such a great job with those characters.

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  4. wow.. how strange is this! I have been busy writing a post about an actor I like who I recently learned has narrated some books... one of them is an audio version of Watership Down which when I can afford to I will be sending for! I did read the books eons ago..(and I DO MEAN EONS!)

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  5. Watership Down has been one of my favorite books for a long time (and it was the subject of one of my first attempts at a book review -
    http://robot-jitters.blogspot.com/
    2006/12/light-seemed-to-cover-all-slope-below.html )
    , but I was tempted to avoid Tales when I first found it because I was afraid that it might be just an attempt to cash in on the success of the original(as some of the reviewers claimed at the time). Luckily, my desire to revisit the world that Mr. Adams had created was stronger than my fear of disappointment, and so it soon joined the ranks of my favorite books right alongside it's sibling.
    The only negative is that when you finish Tales, that's it - no more new stories!
    Chris - when you get the book - take your time with it, savor the stories...

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  6. I didn't know about this book until I saw in your sidebar that you were reading it. I am thinking about re-reading Watership Down as it has been many years since I first read it. If I do I will definitely read this afterwards to get my full fix! It's good to know you enjoyed it as much as Watership Down, thanks for the review.

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  7. Chris: Do order it! It's such a good book. I really loved the fact that it read very much like a novel. You'll enjoy it for sure! I missed them too, and now I miss them even more, if that makes sense :P Ah well, I can always re-read the books.

    Deslily: An audiobook sounds like a perfect way to revisit this world! Enjoy the experience :)

    Ken: I really don't get why this one got negative reviews...I can't imagine people who enjoyed Watership Down not enjoying it. It's not an inferior book in any way. I know just what you mean, though! I was sad when I finished because there was no more. Like I told Chris, the only solution is to re-read the books, which is something I definitely see myself doing in the future.

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  8. Rhinoa: I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Reading it right after Watership Down is an excellent idea.

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  9. I've always loved harsh, beautiful, strange and moving Watership Down... I might have to pick this one up as well!!

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  10. Watership Down sounds familiar, but I'm not sure. I like short stories that have connectivity (Kate Chopin has a few that go together really nicely), but I'm not a fan of novels that are like that. Maybe it is just the expectations that novels should be more fluid? Off to figure out why Watership Down rings a bell... :)

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  11. I haven't read Watership Down, but I really want to. I didn't realize that there was a collection of short stories based on the book. It sounds really good!

    And thanks for mentioning my giveaway!

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  12. I've been thinking about reading this for a while, but its been so long since i read Watership Down, that I probably should reread that first! The film was so dark that I was a little upset as a child, but remember that I love reading the book! Thanks for reminding me about this one!

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  13. I really must find this book for Annie...I know she would adore it!

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  14. you have certainly enhanced my respect for this book now. i've always known that it was popular and well-liked and that people thought it was good. but from this i can see that there is a lot more to it.

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  15. Daphne: Harsh, beautiful, strange and moving...what a perfect description. You do need to pick this one up!

    Trish: Could it be that you saw the animated movie when you were little?

    Kim: Thank YOU for hosting it! I hope you enjoy both this and Watership Down when you get to them!

    Mariel: I only saw the movie recently and it really was very dark. I hope you enjoy this one!

    Debi: Yup, I think she would!

    JP: I can understand why Watership Down became such a classic. It really is that good, and it can be read in many different ways. You should read it!

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  16. I love Watership Down, but for some reason when I read Tales a few years ago, I found it disappointing. I can't even remember it very well. Thanks for spreading the word about my Book Mooch giveaway!

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  17. Ooh, I love Watership Down! In fact, if I squint, I can just make out its spine over there on a shelf. Maybe I'll move it to TBR Mountain and reread it, and then read this! If you notice me review Watership Down, will you remind me this book exists? And I think I'm going to avoid your Book Thief review below for now, because I plan to read it very soon. But if you see me review The Book Thief, will you remind me that I want to come read your review?

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  18. No...but after looking it up (and your review of course) I am really interested!

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  19. thanks for letting us know about the giveaways!

    I still have to read Watership Down, I know it's a book I will read one day,there's just to many!!! But it's good to know that afterwards I could revisit that world with the tales:)

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  20. Jeane: You're welcome! And maybe it's a matter of expectations? I found this one as satisfying as Watership Down, but then, I read it for the first time last December, so there was no long wait for this book for me.

    Dewey: I'll remind you, yes. Can't wait to see what you think of The Book Thief.

    Trish: I hope you enjoy it if you decide to read it!

    Valentina: I really think you'll love Watership Down. So read it :P

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  21. I haven't read Watership Down. For some reason, it was never a book that made it onto my radar, even when one of my book groups was reading it a couple of years ago. I imagine I will try it one day--and follow it up with Tales from Watership Down.

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  22. Literary Feline: I hope you enjoy it when you get to it. Watership Down is a book that surprised me a lot - it's much more layered than I expected it to be.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.