Saturday, March 10, 2007


This post by another Bear put me in mind of Shardik. Although Watership Down is known as Richard Adams' classic, and although I loved it when I read it (and re-read it; and sought out similar fare, like Duncton Wood; anyone remember the moles?), I think the images and situations from Shardik have stayed with me even more clearly and sharply. The archetypal aspect of Shardik carries a powerful charge. And in thinking about, for example, a failure like Apocalypto (which shares a few superficial commonalities with S, but becomes exceedingly silly after awhile), Shardik's accomplishment seems ever more impressive. Some have deemed Shardik unreadable. For me, it was unput-downable, and mysterious, and had that rough edge and unknowable quality that distinguishes edgier books from the more domesticated variety.

Am I crazy? Or right? I'd love to hear your opinions.

For anyone who hasn't read the book, here's the basic plot summary, stolen from wiki:
Shardik takes place in an imaginary world. It is the story of a lonely hunter, Kelderek, who pursues Shardik, a giant mythotic reproducing bear believed to have the Power of God within him. Kelderek becomes involved in the politics of his entire empire and in a personal story of sin and atonement. Other key issues in the story are the strength and potential held in children and the task of adults to meet children's needs of responsibility and entertainment in hope of a better future.

Adams, famous for writing stories from the point of view of animals (Watership Down and The Plague Dogs), here creates a story in which the animal, Shardik the Great Bear, is an antagonistic force that generates the entire plot and yet cannot communicate overtly and is merely a template for the characters and readers to impose their views upon. At no point in the story is it explicitly confirmed that Shardik is a divine creature and several points in the story can be interpreted equally each way.


At 6:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shardik is one of my favorites, all the more impressive because it was created so soon after Watership Down but is so dissimilar. I still remember how my brother and I were fascinated by "The Streels," even though these were not a major part of the novel. We would have endless conversations about them and drop the concept appropos of nothing into other discussions.

--Eric S

At 8:01 AM, Blogger Daniel Ausema said...

I found it to be a very impressive novel. Watership Down was good, and I really ought to reread it...but Shardik I found to be much more powerful. Archetypal and philosophical (/religious without necessarily being tied to any particular religion). And it avoided easy answers, even in its ending. I'll love to see more fantasies that use this earlier, bronze-age-ish setting (no more pseudo-medieval, please!).

I've only read it once (so far), and I always hesitate to speak too highly of something I haven't reread...but it's certainly up there among my favorites of those I've read once. Have others read Adams's Maia? It's a sequel or prequel or something, written later but set about a generation earlier in the same place. I found it fun for the simple pleasure of revisiting the setting. And the story was good...just not great. It didn't seem to have the weight and breadth of Shardik.

At 10:08 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldn't get into Maia, but I tried it at a time when I was expecting something less slow-moving.

BTW--I think the Shardik cover above is one of my favorite covers. Don't know exactly why, but it works.


At 6:38 PM, Anonymous liz hand said...

I've not read Shardik but this has spurred me to do so -- Adams' The Girl in a Swing is one of my very favorite novels -- I've read it three or four times. His balance of the frightening and the erotic in that book is just amazing. I enjoyed The Plague Dogs, though like Daniel A. I feel I can't really comment on a book till I've reread it, and I only read that once.

I think one reason I never picked up Shardik was because I did read Maia and found it ... slow. Admirable and I felt perhaps it was my fault that I didn't cotton to it more, but I sort of felt the way I did after watching Last Year in Marienbad, that maybe this was a lot more fun for the person who created it than it was for his audience.

At 10:03 PM, Blogger David said...

I tried to read Shardik when I was 14, and I think that was a little early. I'll have to track it down again.

At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Jonathan Wood said...

I'm a little reluctant to read any more Richard Adam's after taking a look at Watership Down in university. It's a fun read, but on one level it also gives an overview of British history from World War I to World War 2, and I wasn't really sure I liked his take. He takes an incredibly negative view of artistic movements taking place at the time, and then seems to find a lot to admire in the rabbits who represent the opposing force at the end of the book (I forget their name) who seemed, at least to me, to be a stand-in for the Nazis.

Now, I'm not saying that Adams is a Nazi-sympathizer. Not only am I not that suicidal but I genuinely believe that he's not. He comes down quite clearly on the importance of removing the threat of the "Nazi" warren. But at the same time, over and over again, the rabbits comment on what they find admirable in these rabbits, and I found the whole thing a little distasteful.

Of course, this could be my own little hallucination. But is there any sign of this thinking in Shardik?

At 12:05 PM, Anonymous Tim Pratt said...

I didn't find Shardik as likeable as Watership Down, but there are images from it that I found deeply disturbing, and that still stick with me. Certainly some of my ongoing fascination with bears comes from reading that book at an impressionable age.

At 12:37 PM, Anonymous PaulJessup said...

Oh I absoultely loved Shardik. Probably one of the best books I have ever read. I enjoyed Watership Down as well, but Shardik really dug under my skull.

At 3:57 PM, Blogger Cat Rambo said...

King draws on Shardik in the Dark Tower series, and it's clearly a powerful image for a lot of people. I liked Duncton Wood, though it seemed to be yet another of a slew animal-centered stories (I think Tail chaser's Song was around the same time, but I may be misremembering) that came out around the same time.

Plague Dogs is my favorite of Adams' books so far, although I know I still use Watership Down vocabulary now and again, particularly that lovely concept, "tharn". I've never thought of WD as mirroring British History, and now I've got to go back and read it again with that in mind. Fascinating.

At 5:34 AM, Anonymous Paul Jessup said...

Speaking of "interpreting" WD- when I was reading it ages ago (I was what? 10? 12? I don't remember), I had a friend of mine come up to me and start telling me how it represents some book of the bible.

I still don't see it.

Maybe Adams did put that in, or the history of Britain. Or maybe he didn't.

Still haven't read Plague Dogs yet tho.

At 8:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have never read sharik but am reading watership down i do not think it brilliant...
you hasve made me want o read shardik though and i wiill get it from the libary immediatly:)

At 8:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although I liked Watership Down, I consider Shardik to be the better work of Richard Adams. It is a powerful story which gives man's search for the divine, and when it comes, the results are totally unexpected. For a while, people try to use Shardik for their own ends, but the bear has other ideas. The lesson finally given is unexpected and shocking, and brought me to tears every time I read it.

Speaking of WD, have any here read a book called "The Cold Moons" by Aeron Clement? It has the same theme as WD, but with badgers as the protagonists. It is a story of heroism and treachery on the way to a new home. I found it even more spellbinding than WD, as good as it is.

Marc D.

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