I’m steadily working my way through the nation’s 100 favourite books according to World Book Night’s poll in 2011. Find out more about this challenge and check my progress here.
I don’t feel like I have that much to say about Watership Down, and actually I’m quite surprised it’s on this list, and by so comfortable a margin, too. It’s definitely a brilliant children’s book, but it seems quite old fashioned in a very dated way. It didn’t seem to me like the kind of book a child could fall in love with, then keep reading again and again as they grew up. Obviously, though, I’m wrong!
If you don’t know, Watership Down is the story of a group of rabbits that flee their warren after young rabbit Fiver has a vision that something bad will happen there. He can only persuade his brother, Hazel and a few other rabbits to go with him on a journey toward a distant, possibly imaginary meadow that Fiver insists will be their future home.
Despite their lapine status, the characters are all classic for children’s literature of that era: the small, clever one, the plucky, adventurous one, the strong but dim one. They certainly have their appeal, but I don’t think Anne of Green Gables, the March girls or the Famous Five will be moving over to make room on my shelf for this.
I tackled The Secret Garden in an extremely busy week, so here’s another book I should have flown through, but instead was reading just a few pages a day. It took me a week, which is shameful considering I could have read it in a matter of two or three hours, had I done it in one sitting.
As I was reading I was really transported back to my childhood, although not to my memories of the book. I assumed I had read this when I was younger – I certainly owned it – but I found very little of the book recognisable. There were things that I expected to happen that didn’t, and things popped up that quite surprised me. Then the other day as I was on my way out, I suddenly noticed the 1993 film had just started on some obscure channel.
I ended up watching the whole thing, and realised that all my memories of the story were entirely based on the film, which differs quite a lot from the book. I loved watching it, and was particularly amused to notice that the young boy playing Dickon looked really familiar to me. A quick Google revealed that I now know him as Dirtbox from Gavin and Stacey, among other things. The young girl playing Mary was outstanding, I thought – she was perfect in the way she started off so smug and ignorant and gradually developed into a likeable, sociable young girl.
This is such a timeless story. I’ve noticed that a lot of the older books – ie anything written before about 1930 – are really heavy on God, religion and church, which can date some books as a lot of people simply can’t relate to that. It was really nice to read something that isn’t so pious. In fact if anything this book borders on Pagan in the reverence it shows for nature. Mary’s transformation is attributed completely to fresh air, theYorkshiremoors and time spent in the garden.
All in all this is a refreshing read, easy and gentle and nostalgic.
I started The Hobbit at the beginning of a four hour Megabus journey in the hope that I’d polish at least half of it off by the time I got home. Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out that way and it ended up taking me a week. This was not good for my schedule!
I’m not the biggest fan of fantasy novels (previous blog on The Eyre Affair excepted) and I’ve only struggled through The Hobbit in the past out of a sense of duty. Yes, I can absolutely understand why people love it. Yes, the battle scenes are epic. Yes, there are some genuinely laugh out loud moments. Yes, the character are known and loved by millions of people.
But I just don’t love it. I admire Tolkien’s technical abilities – the different species are so well characterised, Bilbo is comically lovable, the narrative is gently witty and the sense of place is almost obscenely well realised. I would kill for such talent and skill. But unfortunately, Middle Earth isn’t for me. Hence a book that an eight year old could read in two days taking me seven! I realise that since this is well into the top twenty at number fifteen, I’m horrendously outnumbered though, so I’ll let it lie.
I’ve tried to read The Lord of the Rings three times now and given up in the middle of the second book, so I’m not looking forward to reaching that one any time soon, either! If I finish that in a week, it’ll be a miracle.