Book Club: Watership Down

The discussion of the May Selection for the Bodacious Bloggity Book Club is starting. I’m a day early with my post, but I’ve already planned my Sunday post on another topic. After you’ve read my review of Watership Down by Richard Adams and you want to follow the discussion, visit Marathon Bird on May 25 and check out the other links.

First of all, I know there is a word for animals that are given human characteristics—yes, I am right, anthropomorphism. I typically detest that sort of book or movie and feel it is the bane of parenthood to be subjected to them. But, I took a chance by remaining open to suggestion, and It was worth it.

I am not sure if this is a true example of anthropomorphism or just a creative interpretation of how a warren of rabbits may actually live. Adams was not overtly saying, “Here is a human disguised as a rabbit.” And that is why I think this book was not only tolerable but struck me with great curiosity.

Whatever the author’s intended approach or form, I recognized numerous examples that showed similarities between the personalities of the rabbit characters and human personalities.

Identifying each rabbit’s personality and then observing how it fit into the group showed a theme of governance and individual agency. Leadership that allows for individual ownership and participation by making choices and acting upon responsibility increases the growth and survival of the whole group. On the other hand, dependence upon others takes away the opportunity and the capacity to make decisions and stifles growth.

The leader of the main group of rabbits in this story follows the first philosophy of leadership as they encounter the other types of leaders and groups. As such a leader, he even extends freedom to other animals, recognizing and using their traits in exchange for protection or service. Hazel, who becomes the Chief Rabbit of stragglers escaping a doomed warren, said, “If anyone finds an animal or bird that isn’t an enemy, in need of help, for goodness sake, don’t miss the opportunity. That would be like leaving carrots to rot in the ground.”

When they come across some hutch rabbits on a farm, they learn quickly that captivity destroys not only the use of agency to make choices but diminishes the ability to develop the reasoning to do so. Describing some hutch rabbits that the wild rabbits turned loose, “They did not know how to make up their minds. It was not within their capacity to take a decision and act on it. These rabbits had never had to act to save their lives or even find a meal.” Self-reliance encourages long-term survival.

Of all the characters, my two favorite personalities are Fiver and Big Wig.

As a sensitive soul myself, I adore Fiver, the small rabbit who can sense danger or wrong choices. He is the one who insisted on leaving the doomed warren in the first place. At first, the others doubt his ability to see and listen to the signs around them, but he has a gift that through several experiences is proved invaluable.

Big Wig is a tough but smart fighter who does not shirk from a difficult task. About him Hazel predicted in the beginning, “He was certainly no coward, but he was likely to remain steady as long as he could see his way clear and be sure what to do. To him, perplexity was worse than danger.” These were true statements, but Big Wig learned to not only face danger but to also make decisions in the midst of it.

These characters and all of the others are leaders in one way or another as they use and develop their particular gifts to benefit all. Their struggles to create a warren of their own, protect it against their enemies and help it flourish with buck, does and kittens is an apt analogy for our own life experience as families, communities and nations.

I am surprised that I liked it and admitted that to my daughter’s 3rd grade teacher who saw me carrying it at a classroom performance. She said, “I used it as a read-aloud with my kids—my own kids at home, not my classroom students.”

Intrigued, she gave me an idea of how to extend my May Reading Challenge in a summer read-aloud of Watership Down with my children.

1 Comment

  1. Holly
    May 26, 2008

    First, I must compliment your new blog design. It’s beautiful. I like your desire to illuminate and encourage.

    I’m glad you enjoyed reading Watership Down. I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, since it’s more of a fantasy fiction read complete with talking rabbits. I appreciate your willingness to be open and giving it a whirl. Your idea of reading aloud to someone else is wonderful. I really only make time to read aloud to my daughter (almost 5), but I like your suggestions of branching out a bit to spread the joy of reading.

    Your take on the effects of a group vs. individuals is so true. Self-reliance is necessary to thrive. Hazel made such an effective leader because he appreciated different strengths and talents in others.

    They were fortunate to have Fiver with them and to trust his instincts. Reminds me to listen more to my inner voice.

    Thanks for being a part of The BBBC!

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