Sunday, 9 November 2014

Tea and bunnies on a chilly November morning...

I’ve been chopping vegetables and cooking all morning, and am happy to finally be sitting down with a cup of steaming chai to write my blog post for the week – whew!  This is such a treat for me, to have the technology and the opportunity to share my weekly reading experiences with so many people in such a laid-back, fun way (almost like working in my pajamas!).
My volunteer book group met yesterday to discuss Richard Adams’ classic novel, Watership Down.  I was disappointed that one of my members, a retired high school English teacher, was unable to make it.  I recall that when I announced the substitution to the group last month, she clapped her hands, grinned and exclaimed, “Oh goody!  I love that book!  Every time I see a dead animal on the side of the road, I think to myself, ‘Oh, the hrududu got him!’”  I now know what that means, and I have to admit, after reading this novel, I will never look at rabbits or roadkill in the same detached way again.  This novel relates the epic journey of a group of rogue rabbits who, on the advice of Fiver, a runt bunny possessed of wisdom and foresight beyond his size, leave their warren to escape the unnamed destruction certain to befall their former home.  Led by Hazel, a seemingly cowardly bunny from their original warren, they search for a new place to call home.  They find a group of large, healthy rabbits at Cowslip and consider joining their group, but something seems unnatural about them and once they discover the source of their discomfort, promptly hightail it out of there.  Once again relying on Fiver for advice, they settle on Watership Down, a grassy hill where enemies are few and food is plentiful.  But alas, they have no females to carry on their legacy, so the rest of the story tells of the perils they encounter while searching for does to bring to their warren.  These perils include men, cats, dogs, and rabbits from another warren, the Efrafra, a Nazi-like group with a militant leader who will stop at nothing to keep his bunnies under his control.  But their experiences are not all bad.  They also make unlikely friends along the way, including a mouse and a black-headed gull named Kehaar who speaks with a Norwegian accent.  I’m sure I won’t spoil it for anyone if I say that there is a happy ending in store, but that there is plenty of bloodshed on their road to freedom.  Most of my ladies loved it.  Some had read it before, years ago, and found it well worth rereading.  Only one member did not read it, but gave up and started next month’s book selection.  Everyone agreed that it was difficult to get into, but once the adventures began, it proved to be much more interesting.  We also all agreed that it would be difficult for a child to read on his or her own, but that a high school student could read and understand it, or a child might enjoy it if it were read aloud to him or her.  It is one of those novels that can be enjoyed by readers of different ages, as it is so complex that it can be read and understood on many levels.  We discussed the names of the rabbits, Blackberry, Clover, Woundwort, Hazel, and Dandelion, among others, and noted that they are all named after types of plants.  One member compared the name of General Woundwort’s rabbits, the Efrafras, to the Luftwaffe, and noted that the plant woundwort is often used as a healing remedy, the complete opposite of the character in the book.  I discovered that the gull, Kehaar, was based on a Norwegian pilot Adams knew in the war, which explained the accent.  We liked all of the characters, and felt that there was interesting character development throughout the novel.  We talked about the unnaturally large, healthy rabbits at Cowslip, and I compared it to the situation in “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson or “The Ones Who Walked way form Omelas” by Ursula LeGuin, both short stories that tell of peaceful, successful communities that are bought at the price of an annual sacrifice, and of the community members’ acceptance of this sacrifice as preferable to risking their guaranteed peace to chance.  We discussed the mythological aspects of the novel, and the anthropomorphization of the bunnies to enable them to have rich inner lives and culture.  We felt that there were many life lessons in this novel, and that Hazel was the perfect leader, strong and confident, but also open to advice from others.  Regarding the quotations at the beginning of each chapter, we did not agree:  some loved them while others found them confusing.  One member pointed out that, like many other children’s classics, this one began as stories told to entertain Adam’s daughters on long car rides.  It was a hit with the group, and by the end of the discussion, the one member who had given up determined to keep on and finish it.  I’m certainly glad it was on the list, as I would not have read it otherwise.
Now I must decide what to read next.  I have many choices:  books for my committee, books for review, or a book for work, which would be a young adult book.  Hmmm… I will surprise you next week with my choice.
That’s all for today.

Bye for now…
Julie

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