Monday, 10 September 2012

My memories of: 'Watership Down'

I was trying to get my hands on a copy of 'Watership Down', a book that is on my classics list, when I was gripped by childhood memories. The plot of 'Watership Down' is rather simply in the sense that it is about a group of rabbits who leave their warren, Sandleford, because one of them, Fiver, forsees it will be destroyed. They settle down in Watership Down and hear of the destruction of their warren after their departure. But they cannot settle down in peace just yet when they become aware of another warren: Efrafra. The rabbits are anthropomorphic, which means they are given human characteristics such as emotions, religion and speech. It is a classic fantasy novel that I have some of my earliest literary memories from. No, I didn't read a 285-page book at the tender age of 8. I had something much better. (Please excuse my terrible photography skills, I used my phone!)

The cover above belonged to a picture book of 'Watership Down'. In 1978, an animated movie was made which might sound terrible but wasn't. I still haven't watched it, don't ask me why. But the pictures in my picture book were 250 stills from this movie. I wanted to share some of my favourite pages because they are simply beautiful and they have been imprinted in my mind.

The picture to the right shows the destruction of Sandleford by a bulldozer, as reported by one of the rabbits that escaped in time. What is great about these four stills is the way in which they are so abstract. The frantic red eyes, the open mouths, they seem to be screaming out. It really highlights the distress that must be felt by the rabbits. And then there is the bottom right picture which shows the horror of the bulldozer. The figure of the rabbit is stripped down and looks completely lifeless. The one uprooted tree is both symbolic and simply shows what a bulldozer does. Also, the choice of the contrasting blue against the red and yellow just makes this picture all the more impressive.

In the picture to the left, we see Blackavar being mutilated and punished for wanting to escape Efrafra. Efrafra is another warren in Watership Down which is a police state. Blackavar was made an example of: no one leaves Efrafra. I loved the brutality of this picture. When you think of cartoon you think of a children's story, the same counts for rabbits. This one still shows that 'Watership Down' is different. There is an agression and power in this picture that used to scare me as a child, in a good way. I understood the terror of a police state much easier this way. The consequences of disagreeing with the state might not be worth it.  Much like 'Animal Farm', animals have taken on human traits to make us take a step back and look at ourselves.   

 The next two picture are in sequence. They show Fiver, the rabbit with the gift. He has just heard from the other two rabbits that his brother, Hazel, has been shot. I think that the first drawing captures Fiver's despair at his brother's absence perfectly. Again, I apologize for my appalling photography skills. I also think that they captured the way rabbits move quite well in the stills. The ears at different angles, the way the paws are placed, etc. In the other still below, Fiver is led by a vision to where his brother lies with a shot wound. I love the stylized version of the rabbit that leads Fiver. It sort of seems this spirit that could otherwise slip into Fiver. I guess it's also a representative of a lot of Stone Age-art, the rough edges, the representation of motion and the dark colour.

These images, the way they used colour and the way they portrayed the characters were simply amazing. Even before I could read I used to look at the picture and imagine the story around it. Imagine my surprise when the letters at the bottom started making sense and I found there was a story there. Although I love words and always take the saying 'a picture says more than a thousand words' with a pinch of salt, some images are great at capturing the imagination and adding something extra to the words. I've never read the novel, I am about to start, and the picture book only adds a couple of words to each picture, outlining the major plot line. Therefore I cannot wait to start reading this book, only to see whether I'll develop the same kind of ties to it as I have to this picture book. I might have to steal it of my dad and kidnap it to university!

So, what do you think of the pictures? Do you have fond memories of any childhood book?

1 comment:

  1. So beautifully spoken and shared.. Thanks Juli for sharing both the memories and your book. I too was looking for either a ecopy or paperback of Watership Down just recently because I wanted read the book as an adult.

    I had seen it and the messages of the tale scared me as a kid, but struck home the realization of things. Now, it just makes me want to reread and see what I missed and learn anew from it.

    Thanks Juli!!