Watership Down (Classic Serial) - thoughts after the first episode

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David Buttery

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Sep 29, 2002, 9:12:15 PM9/29/02
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The first half of Neville Teller's radio adaptation of Watership Down
was on this afternoon (repeated 9pm Sat 5/10; second half 3pm Sun
6/10), something I'd been looking forward to for ages.

And - well - it didn't really deliver. It was competent, workmanlike,
efficient, clearly voiced and reasonably faithful to the book, all of
which virtues are to be praised. But it was mostly devoid of any
passion or emotion, which was terribly disappointing. I know a lot of
people dismiss the story as a "kids' fluffy bunnies tale" (which is so
far wide of the mark it's hitting the adjacent target), but surely
people doing an adaptation ought to have some sort of feeling for the
story?

There were good things in it - some of the characters missing from the
otherwise pretty good 1978 film (eg Buckthorn, Hawkbit and Strawberry)
were restored, Bigwig's accent grew on me, and Dandelion actually got
to tell a story of El-ahrairah, which he doesn't get to in the film. I
couldn't decide about the music - either it had rustic charm or was
irritatingly "ooh-arr". Possibly both.

On the minus side of the ledger, Kehaar is too restrained and not
nearly funny enough, poor old Pipkin seems to have lost his voice, and
the cliffhanger at the end was just a little bit too far on in the
story. Worse than this, though, was the removal of some of the book's
msot memorable lines - for example "the field! It's covered with
blood!" and "my heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped
running today". Considering that many lesser lines were kept in word
for word, I can see no reason for this.

Overall, this was a decent effort, and I'll be tuning in for the second
half, but you really didn't miss all that much if you didn't catch it.
The book is still miles above any other version, but if you want a
"condensed" rendering, watch the film instead.

--
The GPL Scrapyard: http://www.btinternet.com/~gplscrapyard
(this site is about Grand Prix Legends)
Bits'n'Bob-stones: http://frith.blogspot.com
(this one is about Watership Down)

Leon

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Sep 30, 2002, 8:25:22 AM9/30/02
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In message <Xns9299166D2DA79...@130.133.1.4>, David
Buttery <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> writes

>The first half of Neville Teller's radio adaptation of Watership Down

I listened with interest as I once read the book, out of gratitude to
the effect it had when I bought it (when it first came out, early/mid
70's) for my girlfriend and she was so pleased she was like a doe on
heat!

<snip>


>On the minus side of the ledger, Kehaar is too restrained and not
>nearly funny enough,

That's the seagull right? I thought the cod Italian/Spanish/Kosovan(?)
accent with halting use of English was absurdly contrived, and raised a
hoot of derision here. Or was it implying seagulls are illegal
immigrants with a poor grasp of Rabbit lingo? :)

I will listen to the next episode though (final part?) if only to hear
Kehaar's voice.
--

Leon

Martin Underwood

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Sep 30, 2002, 9:02:01 AM9/30/02
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"David Buttery" <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote in message
news:Xns9299166D2DA79...@130.133.1.4...

I've just this minute finished listening to the recording that I made of
it - after going for a walk on the real Watership Down yesterday afternoon!
[1]

I thought it was *quite* good - good enough to make me listen next week -
but I agree that the passion and the excitement has not quite been captured.
Some bits were good: the Threarah's patronising "go away and stop bothering
me with psychic rabbits" attitude was just as I had imagined it; Bigwig's
voice had more authority that the other rabbits'; Cowslip's ingratiating
Mormon-like manner was unexpected but it worked well. However I'd expected
Fiver's voice to be more wimpish and maybe a bit more train-spotterish like
John Major's! [2]

The problem with many radio adaptations is that you really need voices which
are very easy to distinguish from each other, and I found the voices rather
too similar.

But the biggest criticism is that it's been condensed far too much: it
should have been stretched to much more than two hours. We lost the reaction
of the rabbits in Cowslip's warren to "where?" questions (except as a
throwaway reference). We lost some of the other El Arairah stories - I
wonder if we'll get the King's Lettuce, Rowsby Woof (dog) and Slugamoon
(hedgehog) stories in the next episode?

Will we get the classic insult "silflay hraka u embleer hrair" (eat shit you
stinking masses)?

What was weird was to hear the pronunciations of some of the rabbit words:
I'd always put the stress on the first syllable of "elil" and I'd always
pronounced El Arairah as "El-a-RARE-ah" despite Adams' footnote that it's
stressed like "never say die" - somehow it seems un-natural to put the
stress on the last syllable of his name. But the radio version was probably
right and I'm wrong! However I don't think it's right to say El-a-ray-RAH,
like they did, because it needs to keep its derivation of Elil Hrair Rah
(prince of a thousand enemies).

The music. I'm not sure about that. It serves to punctuate the scenes, but
for me it was just a bit too intrusive.

[1] I'd hadn't appreciated what a large area the book covers: from the farm
to Watership Down is quite a journey and the distance from the Down to the
railway line near Whitchurch (where Woundwort's pursuing army were killed)
is a good five miles.

[2] Though I'll never be able to think of Major in the same light now that
it's been revealed that he was bonking Eggwina!


Martin Underwood

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Sep 30, 2002, 9:13:03 AM9/30/02
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"Leon" <Le...@nospam.demon.co.uk> wrote in message
news:zKsDWsCy...@monolith-systems.demon.co.uk...

Actually I thought Kehaar's accent was exactly what I'd imagined from the
book. Woudl you expect a seagull to be able to speak fluent Rabbit without a
"foreign" accent?


Leon

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Sep 30, 2002, 10:08:49 AM9/30/02
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In message <H5Yl9.723$_e6.3...@newsfep1-win.server.ntli.net>, Martin
Underwood <martin.u...@virgin.NO-SPAM.net> writes

The ones on the tip up the road (well 15 miles or so) from me speak with
an Oxbridge command of Rabbit (certainly no estuary speak) and what's
more. they do not even have passports as they are very happy where they
are - apparently.
--

Leon

Leon

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Sep 30, 2002, 10:17:30 AM9/30/02
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In message <D2Yl9.714$_e6.3...@newsfep1-win.server.ntli.net>, Martin
Underwood <martin.u...@virgin.NO-SPAM.net> writes

>"David Buttery" <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote in message
>news:Xns9299166D2DA79...@130.133.1.4...
>> The first half of Neville Teller's radio adaptation of Watership Down
<snip>

>
>[2] Though I'll never be able to think of Major in the same light now that
>it's been revealed that he was bonking Eggwina!

She was always a slut of doe, on the make for any buck that was also on
the ego-trip of hierarchical power.

I wonder when the black bucks from the taxi warren will sell their
stories about her?
--

Leon

Andy Dingley

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Sep 30, 2002, 11:13:17 AM9/30/02
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On Mon, 30 Sep 2002 14:13:03 +0100, "Martin Underwood"
<martin.u...@virgin.NO-SPAM.net> wrote:

>Actually I thought Kehaar's accent was exactly what I'd imagined from the
>book.

Much the same here.

But don't watch League of Gentlemen immediately before it


>Woudl you expect a seagull to be able to speak fluent Rabbit without a
>"foreign" accent?

At least they didn't make it sound like some Captain Birdseye figure.

Andy Dingley

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Sep 30, 2002, 11:13:19 AM9/30/02
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On Mon, 30 Sep 2002 14:02:01 +0100, "Martin Underwood"
<martin.u...@virgin.NO-SPAM.net> wrote:

>Will we get the classic insult "silflay hraka u embleer hrair" (eat shit you
>stinking masses)?

Try uk.rec.sheds


Terrance

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Sep 30, 2002, 2:46:49 PM9/30/02
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"David Buttery" <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote in message
news:Xns9299166D2DA79...@130.133.1.4...
> The first half of Neville Teller's radio adaptation of Watership Down
> was on this afternoon (repeated 9pm Sat 5/10; second half 3pm Sun
> 6/10), something I'd been looking forward to for ages.

David you're right. The production was so nice, it was painful.

Maybe its been designed to be sold to young kids or something, but it was so
nice, even Disney would have shuddered.

The depth, character and caustic sarcasm which usually make BBC productions
so much fun was entirely missing. Characters were predictable and just too
fluffy...

David Buttery

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Sep 30, 2002, 6:42:34 PM9/30/02
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Leon <Le...@nospam.demon.co.uk> wrote on 30 Sep 2002:

<snip>
[Kehaar]


> That's the seagull right? I thought the cod
> Italian/Spanish/Kosovan(?) accent with halting use of English was
> absurdly contrived, and raised a hoot of derision here. Or was it
> implying seagulls are illegal immigrants with a poor grasp of Rabbit
> lingo? :)

<snip>

You're not as far off as you think - rabbits speak Lapine, but gulls
don't. The way Richard Adams gets around this problem is to contrive a
sort of "hedgerow lingua franca" - if you read the book, you'll notice
that the rabbits do the "you think safe?" thing as well while speaking
it. There are no other gulls in the story, so Kehaar never gets a
chance to speak fluently, though communication gets somewhat easier as
time goes on (as you'd expect).

As for Kehaar's accent, Adams has stated that the character is based on
a Norwegian he knew, though personally I think Kehaar sounds more
Dutch. Many fans think that Zero Mostel's performance in the 1978 film
is a very good one, and the Radio 4 one doesn't really match it IMO.
Here's a comment from a fellow member of the "watershipdown" Yahoo!
Group on the matter:

"The voice-over for Kehaar sounded really.... I dunno... wierd. I
couldnt help but burst out laughing at the voice when it first came
on."

GMK

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Sep 30, 2002, 6:44:45 PM9/30/02
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"David Buttery" <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote in message
news:Xns9299166D2DA79...@130.133.1.4...
>I thought being rabbits they should have Welsh accents,
still what do I know,the seagul did remind of how I imagine JAF would sound

Jocko


David Buttery

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Sep 30, 2002, 6:47:25 PM9/30/02
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I've always wondered where you go to actually discuss *sheds*. There
must be somewhere...

David Buttery

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Sep 30, 2002, 6:47:59 PM9/30/02
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"Terrance" <terrance...@hotmail.com> wrote on 30 Sep 2002:

> David you're right. The production was so nice, it was painful.
>
> Maybe its been designed to be sold to young kids or something, but
> it was so nice, even Disney would have shuddered.
>
> The depth, character and caustic sarcasm which usually make BBC
> productions so much fun was entirely missing. Characters were
> predictable and just too fluffy...

...which was exactly the trouble with the TV series, of course. I
dislike the distinction between "adult" and "juvenile" fiction (as does
Adams), but I think it's fair to say that it's not a book for young
children. These are wild animals: "nature red in tooth and claw" is
central to their lives. The violence really is vital to the plot.

Mike Humberston

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Sep 30, 2002, 7:17:23 PM9/30/02
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David Buttery <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote:

>The first half of Neville Teller's radio adaptation of Watership Down
>was on this afternoon (repeated 9pm Sat 5/10; second half 3pm Sun
>6/10), something I'd been looking forward to for ages.
>
>And - well - it didn't really deliver. It was competent, workmanlike,
>efficient, clearly voiced and reasonably faithful to the book, all of
>which virtues are to be praised. But it was mostly devoid of any
>passion or emotion, which was terribly disappointing. I know a lot of
>people dismiss the story as a "kids' fluffy bunnies tale" (which is so
>far wide of the mark it's hitting the adjacent target), but surely
>people doing an adaptation ought to have some sort of feeling for the
>story?

I haven't read the book (or seen the film) and this radio adaptation
didn't make me want to read it (unlike some of the other Classic
Serial adaptations). I thought the wabbits' voices were particularly
bad, sounding just too much like a bunch public school boys out on a
merry jape (or perhaps just a bunch of particularly poor out-of-work
actors). The dialogue also was pretty uninspiring at times. As you
say, there wasn't a trace of passion.
--
Mike Humberston
WARNING: Spam trap in operation. Send any e-mail reply to mike, not oblivion.

David Buttery

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Sep 30, 2002, 7:23:44 PM9/30/02
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"Martin Underwood" <martin.u...@virgin.NO-SPAM.net> wrote on 30
Sep 2002:

[MU's footnote references removed to avoid utter confusion!]


> I've just this minute finished listening to the recording that I
> made of it - after going for a walk on the real Watership Down
> yesterday afternoon!

I keep meaning to go, but as I can't drive it would mean either a
tremendously long day (Efrafa is easy from Overton station, but Watership
itself is a different matter) or staying down there - I don't really
fancy the idea of an organised tour, despite the fact that some parts (eg
the roadless railway arch) are not near rights of way, and that there's
now (apparently) a darn great fence around the beech hanger.

> I thought it was *quite* good - good enough to make me listen next
> week - but I agree that the passion and the excitement has not quite
> been captured. Some bits were good: the Threarah's patronising "go
> away and stop bothering me with psychic rabbits" attitude was just
> as I had imagined it; Bigwig's voice had more authority that the
> other rabbits'; Cowslip's ingratiating Mormon-like manner was
> unexpected but it worked well.

I really don't know how I expect Cowslip to speak. Denholm Elliott in the
film was perfect for the bits pinched from Silverweed (and his version of
"where are you going, stream?" is much better than Adams'), but I agree
that this was perfectly reasonable.

> However I'd expected Fiver's voice to
> be more wimpish and maybe a bit more train-spotterish like John
> Major's!

Interesting: that's not at all how I imagine him. I tend to think of
Fiver as more nervous than wimpish, though it's a fine distinction. After
all, he does speak with some force on occasion ("O embleer Frith!").
That's the trouble with doing an adaptation of a book, though: you can't
win!

> The problem with many radio adaptations is that you really need
> voices which are very easy to distinguish from each other, and I
> found the voices rather too similar.

I tend to agree with that - one of the best features of the film is that
the rabbits are so easily told apart. Actually, the film soundtrack is
not bad as a radio play in itself!

> But the biggest criticism is that it's been condensed far too much:
> it should have been stretched to much more than two hours. We lost
> the reaction of the rabbits in Cowslip's warren to "where?"
> questions (except as a throwaway reference). We lost some of the
> other El Arairah stories - I wonder if we'll get the King's Lettuce,
> Rowsby Woof (dog) and Slugamoon (hedgehog) stories in the next
> episode?

I expect we'll get most of one, as in the first episode. If they're
following the book, it ought to be Rowsby Woof, as Fiver's trance during
the siege uses "Dirty little beasts! Out!" (I paraphrase) from that story
to make Hazel think of using the dog to help. But the film did it much
mroe directly by having Fiver actually say "there's a dog loose in the
wood"[1], and I expect that'll be what happens this time.

> Will we get the classic insult "silflay hraka u embleer hrair" (eat
> shit you stinking masses)?

Er, no, because you've misquoted it... :-P

It's "silflay hraka u embleer rah" (rah = prince, lord, ruler etc. Or
general, I suppose!).

> What was weird was to hear the pronunciations of some of the rabbit
> words: I'd always put the stress on the first syllable of "elil" and
> I'd always pronounced El Arairah as "El-a-RARE-ah" despite Adams'
> footnote that it's stressed like "never say die" - somehow it seems
> un-natural to put the stress on the last syllable of his name.

<snip>

I thought they pronounced practically everything wrong! I say "nye-
Frith", not "nee-Frith". I stress the first syllable of "Inlé" and
"elil". I really don't understand why the radio people said "hruDUdu"
when "HRUdudu" is more obvious. And so on and so forth.

As for El-ahrairah, I pronounce it with the stress as Adams gives it,
with some emphasis on "rah", because that bit is quite important. I also
pronounce the internal H quite strongly. Sort of "Ella-Hrai-RAH", I
suppose. Not that I'm a fluent speaker of the language![3]

[1] Interesting trivia: in the film at this point, when Hazel is
remembering Bigwig's comment, the phrase is "we need to cross because
[pause] there's a dog loose in the wood"[2]. But the bit before the pause
has been removed in the earlier scene, and survives only here!

[2] Did anyone else think that the rather unusual stress pattern used in
"there's a dog loose in the wood" was very reminiscent of that used in
the film?

[3] Though some people really do have that much time on their hands. Zoe
Kealtan (a real live linguist, folks!) attempted in 1999 to construct a
Lapine grammar based on the few clues Adams gives. I'm not sure her idea
of the language is exactly the same as mine, but it's very interesting
nevertheless. Unfortunately she stopped after three posts (I don't know
why). Here they are, though (the group has public archives, so a Yahoo!
ID isn't needed to read them):

a) An introduction, plus a translation of "El-ahrairah and the pike":

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/watershipdown/message/5481

b) Pronunciation guide, plus a link (working last I checked) to a zipfile
which includes a fascinating recording of one of Kealtan's friends
reading the story aloud - as far as I know this is the only extended
piece of Lapine in existence. It sounds vaguely Celtic to me:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/watershipdown/message/5617

c) The first grammar lesson: basic nouns and verbs:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/watershipdown/message/5729

Phew! Should be enough to be going on with...

David Buttery

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Sep 30, 2002, 7:42:29 PM9/30/02
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Mike Humberston <obli...@philomel.net> wrote on 01 Oct 2002:

> I haven't read the book (or seen the film) and this radio adaptation
> didn't make me want to read it (unlike some of the other Classic
> Serial adaptations).

<snip>

Sadly, I can't help but agree with you. There's enough trouble getting
people to read Watership Down as it is, largely because many children
(especially in the USA, it seems) are set it at school at the age of 11
or so, which is asking for trouble. I suggest anyone who wants to know
if it's for them watches the film - though condensed, it's pretty
faithful to the *spirit* of the novel, and - thankfully - doesn't hold
back on the harsher side of lapine life.

> The dialogue also was pretty uninspiring at times.

Again, you're right: Mr Teller surgically removed many of the best
lines, and replaced them with inferior ones. A good example is Fiver's
comment about the field being covered with dead bodies. In the book
(and film), the comment is made to Hazel *before* entering the
Threarah's[1] burrow and takes the form "the field! It's covered with
blood!". It's perhaps the most famous line in the whole novel, so
removing it seems barking mad, frankly.

> As you say, there wasn't a trace of passion.

That's what really hurt. It is (if you're in the right frame of mind)
an intensely moving book at times, and to see it reduced to a
collection of disjointed speeches is heartbreaking.

[1] The book says that he was usually addressed as *the* Threarah,
though convention didn't actually demand that.

Andy Mabbett

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Sep 30, 2002, 7:52:24 PM9/30/02
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>Watership Down

This may also be of interest:

The Archive Hour
BBC Radio Four
Sat 5 October 2002, 8pm

Nick Baker burrows into the warren of time to investigate the
rabbit in fiction.
--
Andy Mabbett
Sign Amnesty International's petition - stop the USA from violating
International Law by obtaining war crime impunity agreements:
<http://web.amnesty.org/web/icc_petition.nsf/action_english>

Andy Dingley

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Sep 30, 2002, 8:16:32 PM9/30/02
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On 30 Sep 2002 22:47:25 GMT, David Buttery
<gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote:

>> Try uk.rec.sheds
>
>I've always wondered where you go to actually discuss *sheds*. There
>must be somewhere...

uk.rec.engines.stationary is about the closest.


I hate to admit that I bought a Murdoch paper, but Saturday's Times
had a book plug in it for "Men and Sheds" - a friend of mine's shed is
in it.

There's no talking to him, now that he's sharing the colour
supplements with Gerri Halliwell

Andy Dingley

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Sep 30, 2002, 9:04:13 PM9/30/02
to
On 30 Sep 2002 23:23:44 GMT, David Buttery
<gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote:

>Phew! Should be enough to be going on with...

Going on with ?

I'm considering abandoning Usenet in favour of Klingon lessons
Esperanto is bad enough, but getting linguistically serious about
_Lapine_ ?

Martin Underwood

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Oct 1, 2002, 4:11:19 AM10/1/02
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"David Buttery" <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote in message
news:Xns929A406FE101g...@130.133.1.4...

> "Martin Underwood" <martin.u...@virgin.NO-SPAM.net> wrote on 30
> Sep 2002:

> > I've just this minute finished listening to the recording that I
> > made of it - after going for a walk on the real Watership Down
> > yesterday afternoon!

> I keep meaning to go, but as I can't drive it would mean either a
> tremendously long day (Efrafa is easy from Overton station, but Watership
> itself is a different matter) or staying down there - I don't really
> fancy the idea of an organised tour, despite the fact that some parts (eg
> the roadless railway arch) are not near rights of way, and that there's
> now (apparently) a darn great fence around the beech hanger.

I wish I could find my copy of Watership Down to check exactly where the
places are. I seems to remember comparing Adams' map with an OS map and
finding that it was surprisingly accurate - until then I'd always thought
that the setting was completely fictitious.

> > However I'd expected Fiver's voice to
> > be more wimpish and maybe a bit more train-spotterish like John
> > Major's!
>
> Interesting: that's not at all how I imagine him. I tend to think of
> Fiver as more nervous than wimpish, though it's a fine distinction. After
> all, he does speak with some force on occasion ("O embleer Frith!").
> That's the trouble with doing an adaptation of a book, though: you can't
> win!

It shows that the best adaptation of the book is the one in your own head:
we all have different mental images of the characters and the locations.

My image of Fiver (probably wrong) is that he was regarded by the other
rabbits as being a bit of a nuisance who gets on people's nerves at times -
but whose big redeeming feature is that he makes predictions which turn out
to be very accurate... making him a useful person have around!

> > Will we get the classic insult "silflay hraka u embleer hrair" (eat
> > shit you stinking masses)?
>
> Er, no, because you've misquoted it... :-P
>
> It's "silflay hraka u embleer rah" (rah = prince, lord, ruler etc. Or
> general, I suppose!).

Whoops! I think I did pretty well only to get one word wrong - even if it
was a critical one! What context was it said in? I've forgotten.

>
> > What was weird was to hear the pronunciations of some of the rabbit
> > words: I'd always put the stress on the first syllable of "elil" and
> > I'd always pronounced El Arairah as "El-a-RARE-ah" despite Adams'
> > footnote that it's stressed like "never say die" - somehow it seems
> > un-natural to put the stress on the last syllable of his name.
> <snip>
>
> I thought they pronounced practically everything wrong! I say "nye-
> Frith", not "nee-Frith". I stress the first syllable of "Inlé" and
> "elil". I really don't understand why the radio people said "hruDUdu"
> when "HRUdudu" is more obvious. And so on and so forth.

Yes, I say HRUdudu as well. I suppose it's a bit like the BBC's first
attempts at reading out email and web addresses, in which they bucked [1]
the trend and said "radio4-at bbc-dot co-dot uk", rather than the de facto
"radio4 at-bbc dot-co dot-uk".

I was thinking the other day about the way that Adams' words have entered
the English language - I heard someone use the word "tharn" to describe a
person who was paralysed and struck dumb with fear. If I'm going for a walk
and I see a group of rabbits, I automatically think "they're siflaying", not
"they're eating the grass".

Somehow I can't see us having this sort of conversation about any of Adams'
other books: Plague Dogs is a damn good story but is spoiled by pages of
turgid pontificating waffle (he addresses the god Pan at one point, I
believe!), dialogue between Snitter and Rowf that is just a bit too
off-the-wall to make sense of and that damn Tod's accent which is probably
perfectly understandable to hear but which doesn't translate well to the
written page. And as for Shardik or The Girl In The Swing - well those were
very hard going: I don't think I finished either of them.


[1] Sorry for that awful and completely unintentional pun - I've only just
spotted what I said!


David Buttery

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Oct 1, 2002, 5:04:58 AM10/1/02
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"Martin Underwood" <ne...@martinunderwood.NO-SPAM.f9.co.uk> wrote on 01
Oct 2002:

<snip>


>> It's "silflay hraka u embleer rah" (rah = prince, lord, ruler etc.
>> Or general, I suppose!).
>
> Whoops! I think I did pretty well only to get one word wrong - even
> if it was a critical one! What context was it said in? I've
> forgotten.

<snip>

It's Bigwig's retort to Woundwort's "why throw your life away?"
question to him in the final attack on the Honeycomb.

David Buttery

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Oct 1, 2002, 5:05:59 AM10/1/02
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Andy Dingley <din...@codesmiths.com> wrote on 01 Oct 2002:

> Going on with ?
>
> I'm considering abandoning Usenet in favour of Klingon lessons
> Esperanto is bad enough, but getting linguistically serious about
> _Lapine_ ?

Well, I'm not sure about *serious*. But the linguistic types tell me
that you can work out a surprising amount from the few bits and pieces
Adams provides... and it's certainly easier to pronounce than Klingon!

Andy Mabbett

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Oct 1, 2002, 5:21:51 PM10/1/02
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In message <IMc+7dy4...@pigsonthewing.org.uk>, Andy Mabbett
<an...@pigsonthewing.org.uk> writes

> The Archive Hour
> BBC Radio Four
> Sat 5 October 2002, 8pm

Immediately following which, at 9pm, is a repeat of part one of
Watership Down.

Francis Burton

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Oct 2, 2002, 12:15:08 PM10/2/02
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In article <Xns9299166D2DA79...@130.133.1.4>,

David Buttery <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote:
>Overall, this was a decent effort, and I'll be tuning in for the second
>half, but you really didn't miss all that much if you didn't catch it.
>The book is still miles above any other version, but if you want a
>"condensed" rendering, watch the film instead.

BBC Radio broadcast a reading of Watership Down a couple
of years or so after the book was published, in 6 or maybe
8 parts (abridged). I found the story and its rendition
captivating at the time.

Does anyone have any more information about this version?

Francis

David Buttery

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Oct 5, 2002, 6:21:49 PM10/5/02
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David Buttery <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote on 30 Sep
2002:

> The first half of Neville Teller's radio adaptation of Watership


> Down was on this afternoon (repeated 9pm Sat 5/10; second half 3pm
> Sun 6/10), something I'd been looking forward to for ages.
>
> And - well - it didn't really deliver. It was competent,
> workmanlike, efficient, clearly voiced and reasonably faithful to
> the book, all of which virtues are to be praised. But it was
> mostly devoid of any passion or emotion, which was terribly
> disappointing.

<snip>

I listened to the repeat tonight to see whether I'd been too harsh,
and in one or two ways maybe I had - the Threarah's character was
just right, for example - but I still stand by my complaints about
the mutilation of the dialogue and the virtual monotone in which some
of the characters spoke.

Bits'n'Bob-stones: http://www.geocities.com/daveb75
(inc. "Frithaes! An Introduction to Colloquial Lapine". Yes, really.)

Leon

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Oct 5, 2002, 7:35:18 PM10/5/02
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In message <Xns929EEDAA76634...@130.133.1.4>, David
Buttery <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> writes

>David Buttery <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote on 30 Sep
>2002:
>
>> The first half of Neville Teller's radio adaptation of Watership
>> Down was on this afternoon (repeated 9pm Sat 5/10; second half 3pm
>> Sun 6/10), something I'd been looking forward to for ages.
>>
>> And - well - it didn't really deliver. It was competent,
>> workmanlike, efficient, clearly voiced and reasonably faithful to
>> the book, all of which virtues are to be praised. But it was
>> mostly devoid of any passion or emotion, which was terribly
>> disappointing.
><snip>
>
>I listened to the repeat tonight to see whether I'd been too harsh,
>and in one or two ways maybe I had - the Threarah's character was
>just right, for example - but I still stand by my complaints about
>the mutilation of the dialogue and the virtual monotone in which some
>of the characters spoke.

I also listened again, and I thought it was worse - I think nostalgia
had buoyed me up at the first listening last week (25 years after
reading it?) - and this second one showed up so many flaws that the
magic disappeared and it appeared comical, childish and weak.

Not a huge fan of Fantasy but quality will out and this apathy (here
evinced by WD) does not happen to me with repeat listening to classic
stuff like - say LotR's. I think, for me, WD is too badly contrived
when it comes to a level of detail - great idea - fair plot - poor
structure - worse detail! Sorry.

I will listen to part 2 later today anyway - but it is not even division
1 stuff really - or maybe I'm prejudiced because I like eating them, but
find they are outrunning me of late. ;)
--
Leon

"Think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so too."
-- Voltaire, Essay On Tolerance

David Buttery

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Oct 5, 2002, 10:55:30 PM10/5/02
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Leon <Le...@nospam.demon.co.uk> wrote on 06 Oct 2002:

> I also listened again, and I thought it was worse - I think
> nostalgia had buoyed me up at the first listening last week (25
> years after reading it?) - and this second one showed up so many
> flaws that the magic disappeared and it appeared comical, childish
> and weak.

Well, as I said after the first broadcast, in agreement to someone
else (possibly in another NG) I very much doubt whether it will have
succeeded in converting anyone who didn't want to be converted -
which is the sign of a really great adaptation. It's just too long a
book, with too many sub-plots, to work in two hours. Though I'm now
going to contradict myself by saying that the 1978 film worked
wonders in 90 minutes.

> Not a huge fan of Fantasy but quality will out and this apathy
> (here evinced by WD) does not happen to me with repeat listening
> to classic stuff like - say LotR's.

As it happens, the two works of fiction I'm reading at this very
moment[1] are... LotR and WD! Both for the umpteenth time. And I'm
very much enjoying both of them, though WD does have the edge, I
think - which comment will get me crucified by the Frodoites, but
there we are...

> I think, for me, WD is too
> badly contrived when it comes to a level of detail - great idea -
> fair plot - poor structure - worse detail! Sorry.

Ah - this is where we part company. I don't think anyone could deny
that Watership Down is flawed, and that at times it feels rather
cobbled together ("oops, best put in a long descriptive bit while we
wait for something to happen"). But I've always held that
masterpieces *need* flaws, to avoid their being cold and impersonal.

And yes, I did say "masterpiece". And I meant it. It's Adams' best
book by miles, far better than the turgid waffling of Shardik and the
heavy-handedness of The Plague Dogs. (After that, with the possible
exception of Traveller, we don't neeed to waste our time, even with
"Tales from Watership Down", which is merely adequate.) You don't
agree with me, and indeed why should you? But in *my* opinion (which
is, of course, the important one...) the text on the front of the
Penguin edition is correct. "One of the great novels of the
century," it claims - rather irritatingly defacing the cover art, but
that's by the by - and it's quite right.

Great idea? With you on that. What makes it so is the clever type of
athropomorphism Adams used - mentally the rabbits are human,
emotionally somewhere in between the two species, but *physically*
they're rabbits. Hazel doesn't get out a penknife to cut the rope of
the punt, or untie it with his paws; he gnaws through it. The rabbits
get Bigwig outof the snare in a way that real rabbits would never do
- but they *could*, physically. And so on.

Fair plot? "Fair" is a bit like "satisfactory" - it can mean "really
rather poor". But it is, in essence, a simple plot: "a lot of rabbits
leave their warren and look for somewhere else to stay. They then
realise there are no does, so it's off to Efrafa. Lots of adventures
along the way". And what's wrong with that? Although it's not a
"children's book" as such (nor is it an "adult's book"), it does well
with children *because* the plot is a simple one.

Poor structure? (I'm assuming you mean plot structure here, rather
than sentence structure.) Why? The four parts are reasonably sensible
chunks, though the breaks between them could mostly be moved a
chapter or two in either direction. And there is certainly
considerable character development - everyone goes on and on about
Fiver/Bigwig and the snare, but you could also look at Pipkin for a
case in point. And the pace gradually quickens, as it should, and
indeed gets quite hectic towards the end, as it should. The only
thing that irritates me slightly is the excessive (I feel) intrustion
of the human world in "Dea ex Machina".

Worse detail? I don't know what you mean by "detail" - what *I* mean
is the close observation of the lapine world, which is almost
uniformly excellent - unsurprising, given his source for such
information ("The Private Life of the Rabbit" by RM Lockley - still
very readable, though out of print). The problems come in when Adams
starts going on about how St Mary Bourne (which doesn't matter a jot
to the story) has watercress beds, or spends half a page yattering
about the First Crusade. So long as he sticks to the world of
rabbits, things are just great.

> I will listen to part 2 later today anyway - but it is not even
> division 1 stuff really - or maybe I'm prejudiced because I like
> eating them, but find they are outrunning me of late. ;)

The adaptation is halfway up Div. 2 and aiming for a playoff place if
it's lucky with the results elsewhere. I rank the original up there
with Real Madrid. But - gasp! - here we are, two members of the same
species, and we don't share exactly the same taste in reading matter.
What will they think of next...? ;-)

[1] Well, not *literally*, because at this very moment I'm typing,
but you know what I mean.

David Buttery

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Oct 5, 2002, 10:59:32 PM10/5/02
to
David Buttery <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote on 01 Oct
2002:

> Well, I'm not sure about *serious*. But the linguistic types tell


> me that you can work out a surprising amount from the few bits and
> pieces Adams provides... and it's certainly easier to pronounce
> than Klingon!

Er... <cough> new sig <cough> Yes, I succumbed, under pressure from
people on the watershipdown Yahoo Group. I must be utterly mad. But
actually it's been great fun, and being the world authority on
something, even something as ridiculous as this, is rather warming...

Bits'n'Bob-stones: http://www.geocities.com/daveb75

Terrance

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Oct 6, 2002, 3:54:37 AM10/6/02
to
I realised what was so wrong about this production.

Almost the entire cast is made up of White, middle to upper class actors,
all speaking in the same accent, in the same way and in the same style.
That's what makes it so weird and unbelievable.

There are no working class or regional accents.

Its New Labour Watership Down.

The whole rabbit warren has been moved to an expensive street in Islington
and takes place in Cafe Rouge.

David Buttery

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Oct 6, 2002, 7:56:12 AM10/6/02
to

Oh dear - I was hoping we could for once have a discussion on this NG
without mentioning New Labour... but unfortunately I have to largely
agree with you. The main protagonists in the book *are* mostly of the
"good show, chaps" school - but they *don't* all talk in the same
manner. And the film even managed to drag in a - gasp! - non-white
actor, admittedly in a small "bad guy" role (Derek Griffiths as
Vervain). Though the Hampshire Downs in the 1960s probably *were*
very white and middle-class...

Mike Humberston

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Oct 6, 2002, 8:01:01 AM10/6/02
to
David Buttery <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote:

>Well, as I said after the first broadcast, in agreement to someone
>else (possibly in another NG) I very much doubt whether it will have
>succeeded in converting anyone who didn't want to be converted -
>which is the sign of a really great adaptation. It's just too long a
>book, with too many sub-plots, to work in two hours. Though I'm now
>going to contradict myself by saying that the 1978 film worked
>wonders in 90 minutes.

How do you think the book compares with what is possibly *the* classic
wildlife novel of the 20th Century, Tarka the Otter?

David Buttery

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Oct 6, 2002, 9:20:14 AM10/6/02
to
Mike Humberston <obli...@philomel.net> wrote on 06 Oct 2002:

> How do you think the book compares with what is possibly *the*
> classic wildlife novel of the 20th Century, Tarka the Otter?

They're both excellent, but they're two different things. "Tarka" is
about as realistic as a novel can get without tipping over into non-
fiction, while "WD" is quite clear about its fictional status. I
don't want to say one is "better" than the other for that reason.

If I had to give my *favourite* out of the two, though, "WD" would
win by a country mile, simply because I find it so deeply moving. I'm
not entirely certain that I *could* explain in entirely logical and
rational terms why "Tarka" doesn't quite manage the same effect:
suffice it to say that "WD" strikes at my heart in a way that
"Tarka" does not. It's probably as close as I'll ever get to a
religious conviction.

Martin Underwood

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Oct 6, 2002, 10:21:36 AM10/6/02
to
"David Buttery" <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote in message
news:Xns929F27EBEA3BB...@130.133.1.4...

> Leon <Le...@nospam.demon.co.uk> wrote on 06 Oct 2002:

> And yes, I did say "masterpiece". And I meant it. It's Adams' best
> book by miles, far better than the turgid waffling of Shardik and the
> heavy-handedness of The Plague Dogs. (After that, with the possible
> exception of Traveller, we don't neeed to waste our time, even with
> "Tales from Watership Down", which is merely adequate.) You don't
> agree with me, and indeed why should you? But in *my* opinion (which
> is, of course, the important one...) the text on the front of the
> Penguin edition is correct. "One of the great novels of the
> century," it claims - rather irritatingly defacing the cover art, but
> that's by the by - and it's quite right.

Yes, Richard Adams' other books aren't a patch on "Watership Down". I'm
surprised that his publisher's editor allowed him to get away with some of
the more off-the-wall, irrelevant passages in "Plague Dogs" - especially the
passage (that I've already mentioned earlier in this thread) where he
addresses the god Pan! A lot of his writing ("Plague Dogs", "Shardik" and
"Girl In A Swing") tries to hard to be "literature" - and it shows: the
phrase "too clever by three-quarters" springs to mind!

But WD is definitely a masterpiece - one of my all-time favourites which
ranks alongside R F Delderfield's "To Serve Them All My Days" and Robert
Goddard's "In Pale Batallions" as books that I can keep coming back to and
reading over and over again. You can read it on various different levels.
When I was little (I first read it just after it was published, so I'd have
been about eight at the time) I thought of it as just being "a good story",
without fully appreciating that it's also a parable about how Utopia
(Cowslip's warren) isn't always what it's cracked up to be.


Martin Underwood

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Oct 6, 2002, 10:30:57 AM10/6/02
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"David Buttery" <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote in message
news:Xns929F289BB8759...@130.133.1.4...

> David Buttery <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote on 01 Oct
> 2002:
>
> > Well, I'm not sure about *serious*. But the linguistic types tell
> > me that you can work out a surprising amount from the few bits and
> > pieces Adams provides... and it's certainly easier to pronounce
> > than Klingon!
>
> Er... <cough> new sig <cough> Yes, I succumbed, under pressure from
> people on the watershipdown Yahoo Group. I must be utterly mad. But
> actually it's been great fun, and being the world authority on
> something, even something as ridiculous as this, is rather warming...

This is great: I like your distinction between formal and colloquial Lapine!

What you need to do now is to turn it into a Lapine equivalent of Bill
Bryson's "Mother Tongue" - comparison of Lapine as spoken by rabbits and
Lapine as spoken by hares (the equivalent of the difference between British
and American English); a description of four-letter taboo words; various
forms of Lapine such as technical jargon and texting abbreviations (come on,
even rabbits have PCs and mobile phones - don't they?); the development of
Lapine over the centuries.

No, I don't really mean it - do I?


oxymel of squill

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Oct 6, 2002, 4:12:01 PM10/6/02
to
can't imagine why they're broadcasting such bollox - is it half term or
something??

Jon


"David Buttery" <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote in message

news:Xns929EEDAA76634...@130.133.1.4...

Andy Dingley

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Oct 6, 2002, 4:10:33 PM10/6/02
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On Sun, 6 Oct 2002 15:21:36 +0100, "Martin Underwood"
<martin.u...@virgin.NO-SPAM.net> wrote:

>especially the passage [...] where he
>addresses the god Pan!

Slipping a guest appearance by the god Pan into a children's book has
a rather impressive precedent though -- it would be a brave editor who
would challenge an author with Adam's bankability over something that
Wind in the Willows had already done.

David Buttery

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Oct 6, 2002, 6:33:42 PM10/6/02
to
"oxymel of squill" <quis...@ntlworld.com> wrote on 06 Oct 2002:

> can't imagine why they're broadcasting such bollox - is it half
> term or something??

Does your criticism refer to the source, the adaptation or both?

David Buttery

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Oct 6, 2002, 6:44:13 PM10/6/02
to
"Martin Underwood" <martin.u...@virgin.NO-SPAM.net> wrote on 06
Oct 2002:

> This is great: I like your distinction between formal and
> colloquial Lapine!

That's an idea I pinched from Welsh, where the literary language is
so conservative as to be almost a different language from the spoken
tongue - it would sound ridiculous in everyday speech. This also
allows me to avoid directly contradicting Zoe Kealtan's original
work, which I can refer to as necessary as "formal language". The
other reason was that ZK's vision of the language is one I find
rather difficult to understand in places.

> What you need to do now is to turn it into a Lapine equivalent of
> Bill Bryson's "Mother Tongue" - comparison of Lapine as spoken by
> rabbits and Lapine as spoken by hares (the equivalent of the
> difference between British and American English)

That's a good point. It would seem from the primary source (ie WD!)
that hares do speak Lapine, as Holly recounts receiving advice from
one on his journey from the destroyed warren. But you're probably
right that the dialects do differ somewhat.

>; a description of four-letter taboo words;

Tricky - it's a Geocities site, you know! In any case, "hraka" can
cover for a multitude of sins!

> various forms of Lapine such as technical
> jargon and texting abbreviations (come on, even rabbits have PCs
> and mobile phones - don't they?);

This is another knotty problem. As I've said elsewhere, one of the
best things about WD is its physical realism - nothing the rabbits do
is impossible, even if it wouldn't happen in reality. So I'm very
loth to introduce txt msgs and the like. Though maybe I could take
something from the way in which the Vatican makes up Latin words for
"hovercraft" and the like...

> the development of Lapine over the centuries.

Bottom few paragraphs here:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/watershipdown/message/10867

> No, I don't really mean it - do I?

I don't know. Do you? ;-)

sbu...@eggconnect.net

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Oct 7, 2002, 8:25:01 AM10/7/02
to
David Buttery <gplscrapya...@yahoo.co.uk> wrote:
> I listened to the repeat tonight to see whether I'd been too harsh,
> and in one or two ways maybe I had - the Threarah's character was
> just right, for example - but I still stand by my complaints about
> the mutilation of the dialogue and the virtual monotone in which some
> of the characters spoke.

I'm not particularly a WD fan, but I read it some years ago (as an adult)
and AFAIR I thought it was reasonably good. However, I gave up on episode
1 after about 40 minutes, it just wasn't engaging me in any way.

--
Stephen Burke

Arkle

unread,
Nov 3, 2002, 8:46:12 AM11/3/02
to
"It was competent, workmanlike,
efficient, clearly voiced and reasonably faithful to the book, all of
which virtues are to be praised. But it was mostly devoid of any
passion or emotion, which was terribly disappointing."

To my mind this is typical of 'The Classic Serial' as a whole. Very
competent scripting and performances and production but all too often lacks
the emotion, passion and drama of the original work.

Testament perhaps to the subtle nature of the artistry in the originals
where often the writers of such classics 'worried for days' over the choice
of one particular word over another.

Arkle


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