Fairytales Written by Rabbits, by Mary A. Parker – book review by Fred Patten.
by Patch O'Furr
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
Fairytales Written by Rabbits, by Mary A. Parker. Illustrated by Michelle Cannon.
Melbourne, Vic., Australia, Ferox Publishing, September 2015, trade paperback $12.99 (x + 228 pages), Kindle $2.99.
Despite the charming cover by Michelle Cannon, “Fairytales” is a single word everywhere except on this cover.
Its countryside world seems very familiar —
“But first they must catch you.” (p. 1)
With a major difference –
“The dust came in the late evening, many seasons ago.
Flashes of light flowed and danced across the twilight sky. Green, orange and purple streaks twisted among the clouds and stars. The rabbits were frightened at first, fleeing to the familiar darkness of their burrows, away from the unknown.” (pgs. ix-x)
Fairytales Written by Rabbits is both fantasy and science fiction. It begins with the same scenario as Richard Adams’ Watership Down; the peaceful realistic life of a countryside rabbit warren. This is interrupted by an unknown world-changing spectacle similar to that at the beginning of John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids; the sky is full of something strange.
What happened? It’s never explained. But man never comes to the countryside again. And little by little, over generations, the wildlife grows more intelligent.
Heath and his sister Millet are the young rabbit protagonists of Fairytales Written by Rabbits. In the first chapter, while they are foraging for food in the nearby meadow, lightning during a sudden violent thunderstorm (it’s implied that weather conditions have changed drastically since the dust) sets fire to a tall eucalyptus tree near the entrances of their burrow. A black hawk, also grown more intelligent since the dust, uses a burning branch to set backfires driving foraging rabbits away from their warren:
“‘We need to be upwind,’ she [Millet] said, ‘I think we need to get to the other side.’ Heath wasn’t really listening; he was too preoccupied staring at the hawk as it dived towards the warren. The hawk rose on the hot air from the flames again, clutching not a rabbit in its talons, but a glowing stick.
‘What does it want with that?’ Heath wondered out loud. He’d never even heard of such behaviour from a hawk. But the flicker of curiosity quickly turned to a wave of dread as the hawk sailed closer, and dived towards them, burning stick still in its talons.” (p. 10)
The hawk pursues Heath and Millet, possibly because they’re two rabbits close together. They are driven by both the hawk and the spreading grassfire away from their warren, towards a large stone burrow that readers will recognize as an ancient human drainage pipe.
The rabbits are familiar with the thing, but fearful of it. It’s become known as the Great Stonecutter Rabbit’s burrow in the rabbit’s religion that has developed since the dust:
“The legend of the Great Stonecutter Rabbit was born, a giant that dug through rock and hills so that a little water would still flow to the rabbits. It was a gift, and worthy of respect instead of fear.” (p. 5)
Heath and Millet enter the large pipe farther than any rabbit has explored before. They are unexpectedly swept still further by a threatening flood that almost drowns them (readers will recognize a flash flood from the storm) and washes them out the other end, into unfamiliar territory:
“Hopefully there would be some decent grass and a chance to properly recuperate before attempting an overland journey home. But which direction to go? He assumed the stone burrow travelled more or less straight, but the more he thought about it the less certain he became. They might end up in a completely different direction. They may never see the warren again.
This idea was not as distressing as he expected it to be. He was a young buck, and would have been expected to move on from the warren eventually anyway.” (p. 35)
It would be a spoiler to give away what Heath and Millet find and what adventures they have, but they are both science-fictional and magical, together and separately. There is mystery and excitement. There is heartbreak and redemption. There is death, both old and new. There are other animals that readers will recognize; notably Stares-at-moon, the longtail. Fans of Watership Down – and who isn’t? – will want to read Fairytales Written by Rabbits.
The author says, “All author royalties earned from the sale of this book will be donated to the Big Ears Animal Sanctuary, Tasmania.”