I’ve been reading Richard Adams’ Watership Down out loud with a housemate. Each time I have read it in recent years, I have been reminded of how much impact this book has had on my life. It is the story of a group of English Rabbits who flee their home warren, following the visions of their Dreamer, Fiver. So many stories could be told about this book, I don’t know where to begin, but…
In the course of seeking Watership Down, they have many adventures throughout the English countryside, through meadow field, hedgerow, forest, creek, river, hills, and encounter different communities of Rabbits, whose cultures are extremely different from theirs, and from each other. When they go to form their own community, they borrow the bits they like from the other cultures, and seek to leave behind the parts they found dangerous or abhorrent.
There are also multiple stories-within-the-story, told mostly by their Storyteller, Dandelion, about their hero, El-ahrairah, the Prince of a Thousand Enemies. There are also amazing characters of a leader who acts more as a first-among-equals, a King’s Hand, an innovator, and others.
Part of the relevance of this story, to me, is that it is easily relatable to by Humans, so much so that it seems to be an allegory, although Adams said it’s just a bound edition of stories he made up to tell his daughters on long car rides. For myself, it has impacted my life in so many ways, from the study of English hedgerow ecosystems to a fascination with community and seeking to create it wherever I find myself, and the search for the ideal place and community.
Fiction can do this for us, I believe, in ways that even some of the best non-fiction may not be able to. Fiction, at its best, can allow us to imagine worlds we have not seen, speak to us in a language that may be easier for us to hear than our day-to-day, and inspire us to things we might not otherwise have thought of. At its worst…I may not even have seen its worst, yet, as our President spins out fiction after fiction, hour after hour.
And maybe that’s it, fiction to counter the ravages of Fake News.
Transition Towns have often a focus on re-storying, creating new stories to replace the old ones our culture has been telling itself. Perpetual growth culture re-storyed to regenerative growth culture, massive transnational empire-building re-storyed to small, local cultures who maintain active, healthy trade and exchange cultures with our neighbors.
What other roles could fiction have in the Transition Era? What roles has it played in your own life? Are there any books or stories which have particularly inspired your life?