My Heart Has Joined the Thousand: Watership Down

Bookworm Wednesday: Watership Down

“My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today.”

— Lapine Mourning for the Dead, Richard Adams, Watership Down

(I would like to take just a moment to once again thank the WordPress admin people for featuring my post about Literary Tattoos on Freshly Pressed, and to thank all the lovely people who liked my post, left wonderful thoughtful comments, or even subscribed to the blog.  Thank you all.)

Last Friday, in my post about literary tattoos, I mentioned that I was thinking about getting a tattoo based on Richard Adam’s novel Watership Down, and it occurred to me that I’ve never written a blog about that book.  Which is a travesty that must be rectified, as it is not only one of my favorite books but also an absolute classic.

Fiver and Hazel

Watership Down, by British author Richard Adams (1920–), tells the story of a group of rabbits who escape the destruction of their warren by a humans and must face a number of trials and dangers in order to find a safe place to live.  The main characters are the rabbits Hazel and Fiver.  Hazel is the leader of the group of rabbits who escape the warren, though he is not the biggest or strongest, he is loyal, brave, and clever.  Fiver is Hazel’s brother and a runt; he is a seer who has visions of danger, is highly intelligent and intuitive.  (Fiver is also my favorite character.  I identify with him quite strongly.)

It is Fiver’s warning that allows the rabbits to escape the destruction of their warren at the beginning of the book, as well as several other dangers throughout their epic journey.  Some of these dangers include hunters and dogs, but the largest threat is from another warren.  The main antagonist of the novel is General Woundwort, the tyrannical leader of the Efrafa warren, who rules his warren with brutal efficiency, and kills any dissenters.

El-Ahrairah and Frith

While the rabbits live in the wild (and Adams based much of their behavior on The Private Life of the Rabbit (1964), by British naturalist Ronald Lockley), they are obviously anthropomorphized.  They have a system of government, language, poetry, proverbs, and religion.  Their god is Frith (meaning ‘sun’ in Lapine); their mythical founder El-Ahrairah, The Prince of a Thousand Enemies, and their grim reaper is The Black Rabbit of Inle (Inle meaning either ‘moon’ or ‘darkness’ in Lapine).

The name of the novel comes from the place the rabbits are trying to reach, Watership Down (down as in hill) a real hill in the north of Hampshire, England, near where Adams grew up.  In fact, several of the locations described in the novel, including the farm, are based upon real locations.

According to an audio interview with Richard Adams (found here), the novel began as a series of stories he told to his two daughters, based on some of the struggles he and his friends encountered in the Battle of Oosterbeek, Amhem, the Netherlands, in 1944.  His daughters insisted her write the stories down, but the resultant novel was rejected 13 times before it was finally got picked up in 1972 by a small publisher who could not even afford to give Adams an advance.

Now, it has been made into a movie (1978) and a television show (1999-2001), and it is Penguin Books’ best-selling novel of all time.

Watership Down follows many of the tropes of classic epic storytelling, exploring themes of exile, survival, heroism, political responsibility, and the “making of a hero and a community.”  Many critics have drawn comparisons between Watership Down and the Aeneid or the Odyssey.  And many of the themes of the novel were, without a doubt, influenced by Adams’ reading of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero With A Thousand Faces.

Watership Down is incredibly touching, suspenseful, intense, and beautiful.  Adams ability to balance a wide range of main and secondary characters, a adventurous plot, and lyrical almost philosophical prose is downright magical.  It is one of those novels that will never leave me, and I hope I may one day be able to read it to my children (or my friends’ children, which is more likely).

If you’ve only seen the movie, or if you’ve never even heard of it before now (though that’s probably unlikely), you definitely need to read this book.  In my opinion, everyone over the age of 10 needs to read this book.

“El-ahrairah, your people cannot rule the world, for I will not have it so. All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.”

Richard Adams, Watership Down

If you have read it, please feel free to chime in!  Favorite characters?  Favorite scenes?  Favorite lines?  I’ll be honest, if you didn’t like the book, I’m not sure I’ll be able to handle it.  You might break my heart.

A Permanent Relationship With Words: Literary Tattoos

This is the first official post for the newly-instated “Free-For-All Fridays.”

It’s a funny coincidence.  On Tuesday Clay talked about being “Tatted Up” on his blog EduClaytion.  Of course, his story is about receiving a few temporary tattoos from his niece, but still.  Tattoos.  Major coincidence, because I’ve planning to write a blog about tattoos all week.

Let me begin by saying I don’t have any tattoos, but I am endlessly fascinated by them.  I really want one, but haven’t worked up the guts to get one.  Here’s the thing: my mother is one THOSE people.  You know the kind.  One of those people who honestly believes that anyone with a tattoo must automatically be a punk and quite probably a criminal.

When I was fourteen or fifteen years old my mother told me in no uncertain terms that, besides from the obvious things like drugs and alcohol, there were four things I was never allowed to do: die my hair an outrageous color, get body piercings (for her meaning anything besides a single ear-piercing), get a tattoo, or date a guy who owned a motorcycle.  (You can see what kind of mentality my mother has pretty easily from this list.)  And, purely by accident since I’d never said anything, these were almost all things I was interested in.  I’d thought about dying my hair purple on a number of occasions (though I have since decided that I like my hair just the way it is, thanks), I’d thought about getting an ear-cartilage piercing, I wanted a tattoo, and I loved motorcycles (though I’d rather own one myself rather than date someone who owned one).

I am twenty-six years old now.  I have never done anything of these things.  And for the most part, I’m okay with that.  But after all this time, my fascination with tattoos as remained.  As long as they are carefully planned and done by a professional, they are beautiful, expressive, and a wonderful portrayal of a person’s tastes, beliefs, etc.  But more than any other kind of tattoo, I have recently discovered a trend that I love above all others: literary tattoos.

As is true for most of the people who read this blog, words are my life.  Period.  I read, write, dream them.  I breathe them in.  Words stay with me forever.  Books that are important to me, leave an indelible mark on my thoughts, beliefs, and life.  It seems to me that have a tattoo at all gives you a permanent connection to art.  Having a literary tattoo gives you a permanent and explicit relationship with the words that have touched you, marked you.  How can could I say no to that?  So when it first occurred to me that one could get a tattoo based on a book, poem, etc., I was hooked.

I have been going through a few blogs devotedly specifically to literary tattoos, admiring and also scheming.  The two best blogs are Contrariwise and The Word Made FleshContrariwise, unfortunately, hasn’t been updated since May 2010, so I’m assuming it’s essentially been abandoned, but there are still plenty of pictures to go through and admire.  The Word Made Flesh updates with new pictures of tattoos a couple times a week.  I find myself checking back every day to see if there’s a new one yet.  The Word Made Flesh is also a book (and the creators are apparently working on a second one), that I really really want but haven’t shelled out the cash for yet.

Some of my favorites from The Word Made Flesh are (each image links back to the original post on The Word Made Flesh):

After years and years of being fascinated by tattoos, I’ve finally decided that this isn’t some passing fancy that will go away.  And I think it’s about time I finally said ‘screw it’ and get a tattoo.  So my plan is for my birthday next May, I’m going to get one.

I like to plan everything very carefully, so before I go through with anything, I want to make sure I know exactly what I want, and where I went to go to get it.  There are quite a few tattoo parlors in Houston, and I have no idea how to go about picking one.

In the mean time, I have a few ideas for tattoos I want to get.  The first, and I think strongest, choice is the words “Still Rowing” from Anne Sexton’s poem, “Rowing” in white ink.  White ink is a fairly new trend, and it looks really cool.  Here’s a couple examples (also from The Word Made Flesh):

Another idea I’m really leaning toward is a tattoo based on Watership Down by Richard Adams.  I’d love to do something with El-ahrairah and The Black Rabbit of Inle in a circle, possibly with Frith in the center, and the quote “All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you” encircling them.  I’ll have to find someone who can design it for me though.  And those of you who haven’t read Watership Down are completely lost right now, but that’s okay (and if you haven’t read it, you need to.  Hmm… I think I know what book I need to blog about next now…).

There are at least a dozen other books and poems I’ve considered doing a tattoo for, but I think the two above or the most promising right now.

Okay, tattoo enthusiasts, chime in!  How many do you have?  What are they for?  What inspired them?  Etc.  And those of you who don’t have any tattoos, have you ever considered getting one, or are they just not your thing?  And if you have considered it, what kind do you want, and why haven’t you done it yet?

(Again, all images are from The Word Made Flesh, clicking on the image will take you to the original post.)