Ten More Paranormal Triangles (Located Nowhere Near Bermuda)

Guess what, beautiful watchers! It’s October! And you know what that means; it’s time to delve into the spooky side of things.

You may recall last February when I last talked about so-called paranormal hotspots that were labeled “triangles” thanks to the infamy of Bermuda’s supposed vortex. In the spirit of Halloween, I wish to continue that globe-trotting adventure by looking at ten more lesser-known paranormal triangles, both to tell you the stories and to see whether any of them can hold up to scientific scrutiny. Let’s not tarry about and jump right in.

1. Bass Strait Triangle (Australia)
Map of Australia and Tasmania with Bass Strait marked in blue

Author Jack Loney identified this triangle in his 1980 book Mysteries of the Bass Strait Triangle. The strait has long had a reputation for being treacherous for passing ships, but is this because of supernatural goings-on, or do these disappearances have a more earthly origin? Let us examine some individual incidents to find out:

1797: Bass Strait is first discovered by European explorers after the Sydney Cove wrecks on Preservation Island (its namesake, George Bass, becomes the first European to sail through it the following year while circumnavigating Tasmania, then known as Van Dieman’s Land). Things take a turn for the mysterious when one of the salvage ships, a sloop named Eliza, vanishes during a return trip to Sydney.

February 1858: The Royal Navy brig HMS Sappho vanishes while en route from the Cape of Good Hope to Sydney, with a subsequent search turning up no trace of the ship or her crew. Most scholars believe she foundered in the Bass Strait, either holed by rocks or capsized in a gale (she was last seen off Cape Bridgewater on February 18). HMS Sappho is only one of several ships that went missing in the strait in the 1800s; other notable incidents included the Harlech Castle in 1870.

1901: The SS Federal disappears along with its 22 crew members and its cargo of coal. Its wreck was discovered in 2019.

1906: The German cargo ship SS Frederick Fischer vanishes en route to Tasmania.

September 10, 1920: A schooner named the SS Amelia J disappeared shortly after entering Bass Strait. A barquentine named the SS Southern Cross and an Airco DH.9A aircraft also vanished while searching for her. The wreck of the Southern Cross is the only wreck to have been discovered so far. Witnesses reported strange lights in the skies over Bass Strait around the time of the incidents.

October 21, 1934: A de Havilland DH86 airliner named Miss Hobart inexplicably went missing while flying over Bass Strait, despite being in perfect weather. All eleven people on board were lost with it. Only a small amount of wreckage was ever found on the coast of Victoria. Eerily, much like a similar incident 44 years to the day later, the pilots radioed that the passengers witnessed an “aerial machine” approaching the airliner before all contact was lost.

1935: The Loina, a Holyman airliner, vanishes near Flinders Island with five people aboard. Officially, the cause was human error compounded with the poor design of the craft. However, a small piece on the plane’s floor was among the wreckage recovered, which showed a burned patch several centimeters wide, which someone had attempted to stamp out.

World War II (1939-1945): Several strange incidents were reported by pilots flying over the strait during the war. Seventeen military planes vanished during this period, despite no record of enemy combatants ever coming near the region (official sources blame inexperienced crew flying too close to the ocean’s surface). One Bristol Beaufort bomber flying over the strait in 1944 claimed it was followed by a “dark shadow” for 20 minutes until it suddenly shot up into the sky. A fighter pilot claimed he was followed by a bronze disc-shaped craft in 1942 while investigating local reports of strange lights in the area.

April 6, 1966: Children and school staff in Melbourne witness a huge disc-shaped craft lazily drifting over their cricket field, which they follow until it vanishes over the treeline. Other witnesses later come forward to say that they saw five smaller craft trailing behind it.

1972: A vintage de Havilland Tiger Moth owned by Brenda Hean and Max Price vanishes while en route to Canberra to protest the proposed hydroelectric dam on Lake Pedder. Investigators believe the plane crashed somewhere between the East Coast and Flinders Island and may have been sabotaged by pro-development interests.

October-November 1978: A flap of UFO sightings occurs along the coasts of Tasmania and Victoria. A husband and wife pair of motorists describe a bright light coming down from the sky and following their car on October 9. A month later, a taxi driver in Hobart slams on his brakes when he sees a green light on the road in front of him. The light vanishes when he takes his eyes off the road to tend to his radio, which is suddenly on the fritz. On November 25, a woman reports seeing a “doorway of light” appear in her driveway. Some ufologists have suggested a connection with the following incident in this list…

October 21, 1978: When 20-year-old amateur pilot Frederick Valentich set off from Moorabbin Airport that Saturday evening, he likely had no idea he was about to become the subject of one of the most infamous UFO incidents, not just in Australia but in the entire world. He radioed Melbourne air traffic control at 7:06 to inform them of a strange aircraft that seemed to be following him from about a thousand feet overhead. He described the craft as having a shiny metal surface and had green landing lights on it. Over the next six minutes, he described the craft approaching him from the east and “orbiting” over him. He claimed his Cessna 182 was experiencing engine problems and then said these ominous words about the strange craft: “It’s not an aircraft.” When air traffic control asked Valentich to clarify, all they got in response was what they described as a “metallic scraping sound.” When he failed to arrive at his destination at the King Island Airport, the search was on.

Despite the search covering 1,000 square miles, no trace of the aircraft has been found, although an engine cowl flap belonging to a Cessna 182 washed up on Flinders Island five years later. Theories for what happened to Valentich abound. Some say he faked his death and landed the plane elsewhere. Others say the strange lights he saw were because he was flying the plane upside down without realizing and saw his own lights reflected in the water (something that should have been impossible with the Cessna’s gravity feed fuel system). Others speculate that he may have found himself in a graveyard spiral, in which a pilot thinks he is flying level when they are actually in a banking turn, which they didn’t realize until it was too late. The supposed lights on the UFO were actually the planets Venus, Mars, and Mercury and the star Antares.

True, the graveyard spiral theory is probably far more likely than an alien abduction, but there is still one strange aspect of the Valentich incident that I feel I would be remiss not to discuss. On the same evening as the Valentich incident, a plumber named Roy Manifold was photographing the sunset near the Cape Otway Lighthouse (well within Valentich’s flight path) when he and his son, Jason, heard the sound of a plane overhead. Instead of gradually fading off in the distance, however, Jason claims that the engine’s sound cut off entirely at one point, “as if someone had turned a radio off.” Later, when he and his dad developed the photos, one of them came back like this:

Some other anonymous eyewitnesses came forward later to claim that they saw a plane flying down toward the ground at a 45-degree angle while a green light floated 1,000-2,000 feet above it. They never saw the plane crash. None of this necessarily proves that Valentich was killed or abducted by aliens, but you never know…

December 1979: A yacht named Charleston vanishes while en route to Sydney to join the Sydney-Hobart yacht race. Theories for what happened include wind damaging the mast or a loose container damaging the rudder, leaving the boat helplessly adrift. The family of the owner of the yacht even contacted a clairvoyant who told them the vessel had come ashore on an island south of New Zealand. Whatever the case, no trace of the yacht has ever been found.

Admittedly, the Bass Strait has long held a dangerous reputation for things other than UFOs. The prevailing winds and currents breaking up against King’s Island in the east combined with the strait’s shallow depth (160 feet at the deepest) and numerous reefs and submerged rocks can create very rough seas, especially in bad weather. Still, the strait’s history with UFOs is hard to ignore, especially after the strange phenomena was immortalized in the 2016 TV show The Kettering Incident. The series co-creator, Victoria Madden, has explained in interviews that the show was inspired by several odd incidents that occurred around the north coast of Tasmania while she was growing up. These included missing persons, cars suddenly coming to a halt, “dome objects in the Lake Country,” memory loss, etc. Madden herself recalls a childhood memory where she and her friends witnessed lights hovering over the trees, making a weird noise before they suddenly vanished.

Some have even gone as far as to argue that there may be an underwater UFO base in the region. I’m not going to agree or disagree with this argument, even if I’m a bit on the skeptical side here.

Sources:

https://listverse.com/2018/02/11/10-truly-bizarre-incidents-from-the-bass-strait-triangle/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bass_Strait_Triangle

https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4385

UFO Disappearance-Unsolved Mysteries

UFOs and Strange Vanishings at Australia’s Mysterious Bass Strait Triangle

2. Little Egypt Triangle (Illinois)
The Illinois counties generally agreed to make up the Little Egypt Triangle

Little Egypt is the colloquial name for the southern third of Illinois, bordered by the Wabash, Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri Rivers. Often divided from the rest of Illinois by Interstate 64, the region is often renowned for having a distinct cultural identity from the rest of the state, principally due to its association with the antebellum South (for better or for worse). However, several paranormal investigators have also argued that the area is a hotbed of paranormal activity, with a high concentration of haunted buildings, UFOs, and cryptid sightings.

For example, in Madison County, Alton has often been described as “the most haunted town in America,” hosting such hotspots as McPike Mansion, the First Unitarian Church, the Mineral Springs Hotel, and the Milton School. Other haunted locations that one can find in the triangle include (but certainly aren’t limited to) Cave-In-Rock State Park (allegedly home to buried treasure and moaning cries), the Crenshaw House in Equality (ironically home to a place where free blacks were sold into slavery in a reverse Underground Railroad situation), the Coate Mental Health Center in Anna (a mental hospital that burned down twice. Need I say more?), and Lebanon Road in Collinsville (a local legend says that if you pass under all seven bridges on the road at midnight, a portal to Hell will open up!).

As for UFOs, St. Clair County hosted one of the most infamous so-called “black triangle” sightings when, for two hours starting at four in the morning on January 5, 2000, several eyewitnesses (including four police officers) saw a triangle-shaped object flying overhead. They described it as having three white lights on the vertices and a red light in the center. One officer even managed to photograph the object. Even though Skeptoid podcast host Brian Dunning has built a rather compelling case that the “UFO” was nothing more than an advertising blimp, the incident has remained a mainstay in Illinois urban legend, even being referenced in Sufjan Stevens’ landmark 2005 concept album Illinois.

As for cryptids, southern Illinois has played host to several sightings of animals that seem out of place. Out of place big cats seem to be very common in Illinois. Champaign County was plagued by a particularly vicious one in 1963 that killed a lot of livestock, including dozens of chickens. Shawnee National Forest has also been a historical hotspot for big cat sightings. One of the more dramatic reports to come out of this region happened to Mike Bubsy on April 10, 1970. He was tending to engine problems outside Olive Branch in Alexander County when a six-foot-tall black feline attacked him. It only stopped when a passing semi-truck startled it and allowed Bubsy to catch a ride to the hospital.

Phantom kangaroos have also been reported in the region, as have several Bigfoot-type creatures. One particularly alarming encounter occurred near Cairo in the evening hours of July 25, 1972, when Leroy Summers reported seeing a 10-foot hairy white creature standing near the Ohio River levee. The area also boasts its fair share of lake monsters, the most famous being Du Quoin’s Stump Pond Monster that was sighted several times between 1879 and 1968 when the lake was partially drained.

But by far the most infamous and strangest cryptid to come out of Little Egypt is probably the Enfield Horror, which stalked White County in April and May of 1973. On the 25th of that month, Henry McDaniel went to his front door to examine a strange scratching sound. He claims to have found the culprit squatting between two rose bushes. “It had three legs on it, a short body, two short little arms, and two pink eyes as big as flashlights. It stood four and a half feet tall and was grayish-colored.” McDaniel fired on the creature, but it did not seem to be affected by the bullets. It leaped away, covering a distance of fifty feet in three jumps.

The sighting sparked panic, with the police having their hands full arresting would-be monster hunters for hunting violations. The hysteria quickly vanished as suddenly as it first appeared, and nowadays, several skeptics have argued that the townsfolk mistook an escaped exotic pet like a kangaroo or an ape for “a monster from outer space.”

Sources:

Alton, Illinois-The Most Haunted Small Town in America: Mysterious Universe

The 15 Most Haunted Places in Illinois-Haunted Rooms America

Loren Coleman, Mysterious America (NY, Paraview, 2001)

Skeptoid Episode #435: The St. Clair Triangle UFO

https://copycateffect.blogspot.com/2015/08/10Triangles.html

W. Haden Blackman, The Field Guide to North American Monsters (NY, Three Rivers Press, 1998)

3. Ossipee Triangle (New Hampshire)

This one covers a vast swath of the Granite State if this map is to be believed, with the vertices being in Franconia in Grafton County, Ossipee in Carroll County, and Salem in Rockingham County. The whole area is centered on Lake Ossipee and was a sacred area to the indigenous Abenaki tribes. The lake was surrounded by a 100 million-year-old volcano and several glacier-carved kettle lakes. One of these, Snake Pond (formerly known as Mystery Pond), is reputed in local legend to be bottomless. UFOs have been reported diving into it and other deep ponds in the region, which has led some to argue that underwater tunnels connect the ponds.

Indeed, one of the most famous alien abduction incidents in UFO history occurred around the north edge of the triangle in 1961. Portsmouth residents Betty and Barney Hill were returning from a vacation in Canada on September 19 when they spotted a strange light just outside Lancaster around 10:30 in the evening. The craft, which they later described as “pancake-shaped” and covered in red lights, followed them until it caught up with them around Indian Head, near Franconia, and hovered about a hundred feet above them. They observed several humanoid figures in the craft’s windows.

Suddenly, the Hills realized they had lost two hours and were driving near Ashland, about thirty-five miles south. They later recalled that the aliens had taken them on board their ship and physically examined them. When Betty asked the beings where they came from, they showed her a map that astronomers later identified as being near the Zeta Reticuli constellation. Some astronomers have argued that the Hills inadvertently discovered a new star system in the process, although some skeptics, most notably Carl Sagan, disagreed. Indeed, a fair number of skeptics have argued that the whole incident was a hallucination triggered by the stress of being an interracial couple in the early 1960s (Barney was black, Betty was white).

Another notable UFO sighting occurred near Exeter on September 3, 1965, when a hitchhiker named Norman Muscarello witnessed a large red glowing object descending upon two houses. When Muscarello persuaded a police officer to follow him back to the site, they saw the same UFO hovering about a hundred feet off the ground. The incident inspired the “Exeter UFO Festival,” which started as a fundraiser to benefit children’s charities in 2010. New Hampshire was also the site of what is often considered the very first photo ever taken of a UFO, which was taken over Mount Washington in 1870.

Finally, there is the mystery of America’s Stonehenge in North Salem, a thirty-acre archeological site whose origins are hotly debated. It is reputed in local lore to have a pre-Columbian origin and to have been created either by local indigenous tribes or by monks of the Irish Culdee order or even ancient Minoan or Phoenician explorers. However, most archaeologists disagree, as no artifacts from pre-Columbian times have been found in the area. They conclude that the site was built by white settlers in the 18th/19th centuries for farming purposes and that William Goodwin, who purchased the land in 1937, started the fantastical stories to drum up business. Either way, it certainly seemed to attract the attention of horror literature icon H.P. Lovecraft, who may have based his story “The Dunwich Horror” on the megalith.

Sources:

http://copycateffect.blogspot.com/2015/08/10Triangles.html

Dennis William Hauck, Haunted Places: A National Directory

4. Aroostook Triangle (Maine)

This tiny sliver of Aroostook County, Maine, which occupies a 10x25x25 mile sliver of wilderness south of Presque Isle, occupies a rather prominent spot in the work of local folklorist Michelle Souliere. Aroostook is the largest county in New England, which, in Souliere’s eyes, makes it a perfect spot for a colony of Bigfoot to hide. Indeed, the area which she and fellow Mainer cryptozoologist Loren Coleman have dubbed “the Aroostook Triangle” has long been a hotspot of activity commonly associated with Bigfoot lore: wood knocks, snapped trees, large rocks being thrown about, unidentifiable roars, etc.

What follows are a sampling of alleged Sasquatch encounters in Aroostook County collected by Souliere in her book Bigfoot in Maine, presented in chronological order:

c. 1983, E Plantation: An anonymous John Doe claims that he was camping out in his cousin’s backyard when they were woken up by what sounded like rocks being banged together. They went back to sleep, thinking it was a horse in a nearby barn. But when they checked the barn the next morning, the horse wasn’t there.

They had more sleepovers that summer and more weird encounters. Something followed them while they were walking in the woods and growled and ran off when they tried to get a closer look. They later saw a long, humanoid arm reaching over their tent one night after they were woken up by something brushing up against it.

Later in life, John Doe would learn that his sister had once seen an ape-like face peering through her bedroom window, that his brother had seen what he thought was a rock stand up on two legs and walk away, and that one incident in which his mother had ordered him and his siblings back into the house, shotgun in hand, was because she had seen a black shape lurking around the bushes.

May 1990, near Island Falls on Mattawamkeag River: Mike Dunphy Sr. was out on a Memorial Day fishing trip with his son Mike Jr. when a creature walking on two legs and covered in dark brown hair emerged from the woods and crossed an old logging road. They immediately packed up and left and didn’t speak about the incident for years afterward.

May 2007, Moro Plantation: Jeff Kaine was fishing in Green Pond when the peaceful silence was broken by two loud knocks, followed by what sounded like a small tree being snapped in half. Around 7 p.m., Kaine was getting ready to pack it in when a monstrous roar ripped through the evening air. Scared out of his wits, he immediately made a break for his truck and tore out of there. Kaine would later learn that a friend had had large rocks thrown at him during another fishing trip to Green Pond.

Of course, there are probably others, but that’s all I could find from Souliere’s book. Maybe you have your own. Let me know in the comments!

Sources:

http://copycateffect.blogspot.com/2019/07/Aroostook-Triangle.html

Michelle Souliere and Loren Coleman, Bigfoot in Maine (SC, Charleston, The History Press, 2021)

5. Pag Triangle (Croatia)

This location is a rarity in that it is one of the only paranormal triangles that is an actual, physical triangle. The triangle takes its name from the island that houses it, Pag, and can be found just outside of the small town of Novalja. It was discovered by geologist Zlatko Grabovac in 1999 while surveying the region around Velo Tusto Celo Hill (which means “Big Fat Forehead” in English).

The triangle itself, officially known as the Pag Venture Star, is unusual in several ways. It seems to form a perfect isosceles shape, with two sides measuring 72 feet and another measuring 105 feet. It also consists of rocks of a different structure than those surrounding it, being of a much lighter color. Since science still has yet to explain how the triangle came into existence, many fringe theorists have come up with their own answers.

Some, like Stjepan Zvonaric, have noted that Pag Island seems to be a UFO hotspot and has accordingly suggested that the rocks within the triangle were superheated when an extraterrestrial spacecraft landed on the spot 12,000 years ago, which is the scientists’ best guess on when the triangle was first formed. Some have pointed out the fact that one of the angles of the triangle seems to point to the star Sirius as further proof of this theory.

Others, pointing to a local legend stating that Jesus Himself visited the island after His resurrection, argue that it is a sign from God and that the three vertices symbolize the Holy Trinity. Father Zlatko Sudac, a famous priest with stigmata, even claims that he received his wounds while conversing with a friend about the triangle.

Whatever you believe about the triangle, there is no denying that it is a fairly popular tourist destination, with half a million people having visited in the two decades since its discovery. Several of them have claimed to have experienced unusual activity inside the triangle, including GPS’ turning off or connecting with six satellites at once, batteries on electronic devices spontaneously draining, and overall eerie feelings.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pag_Triangle

https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/pag-triangle

https://croatiaundiscovered.info/en/blog/pag-triangle/

https://unexplainedfile.blogspot.com/2014/01/pag-triangle-ufo-landed-site.html

6. Broad Haven Triangle (Wales)

This UFO hotspot, also known as the Welsh Triangle and the Dyfed Triangle, centers on St. Brides’ Bay in the province of Pembrokeshire, located on the tip of Wales’ southern peninsula. Although it was the wave of sightings that occurred in this region in 1977 that really put this area on the ufology radar, at least one prior sighting has also been recorded.

Taking place near the town of Castlemartin in 1952, it involved a Mr. Thomas who was taking a lunchtime stroll on the sand dunes when he noticed something unusual. A group of men was standing over a metallic object that was partially buried in the sand. When Mr. Thomas approached the men, they warned him not to approach any closer, as he was not adequately protected from the deadly rays that the object was giving off. After warning him that Earth was on a self-destructive path and that they had been monitoring the planet for hundreds of years, they told Mr. Thomas the name of the planet they came from, a detail that Thomas had forgotten by the time he finally came forward with his story.

As for the 1977 wave of sightings, as usual, here’s the most notable incidents recorded in chronological order:

February 4: A group of fourteen schoolchildren are playing football outside of Broad Haven Primary School when a yellow cigar-shaped craft lands in a nearby field. Six of them also see a humanoid figure with long ears and a silver suit emerged from the craft. When the headmaster asks the witnesses to draw what they saw, he is struck by the similarity of their drawings. A teacher later comes forward to say she saw a shiny oval-shaped object with a slight dome departing from the same field, making a humming noise as it did so. The same craft allegedly made a repeat appearance at the school on February 17, witnessed by three teachers.

March 13: 13-year-old Steven Taylor sees a domed object land in the field near his house. When he goes outside to investigate, he is approached by a tall humanoid wearing a shiny one piece suit. After he punches at the figure, it vanishes. That same evening, a 17-year-old Milford Haven resident claims she was menaced by a three-foot-tall humanoid standing on her windowsill.

April 7: 64-year-old Cyril John, another Milford Haven resident, is woken up at 5 a.m. by a light shining through his window. He looks out to see an egg-shaped object about four feet wide floating above a nearby field, colored silver-grey with a reddish-orange light on top. Floating beside it is a faceless humanoid wearing what looks like a silver-grey boiler suit. The being and the object hovered like that for 25 minutes before slowly moving off.

April 19: One of the more infamous sightings to occur during this flap happens to Rosa Granville, owner of the Haven Fort Hotel in Little Haven. She was woken by a light shining through her window around 2:30 in the morning. She looked out her window to see a craft shaped like an upside down saucer in a nearby field, spouting flames of all different colors from its underside. The heat was so intense that Granville claims her face felt burnt afterward. She also sees two faceless humanoids with pointed heads next to the craft. The saucer disappears in the time it takes her to gather other witnesses. She investigates the site the following day and discovers that the grass has been compressed and scorched.

April onward: Whatever was behind these incidents seems to have held a grudge against the Coombs family, the owners of Ripperston Farm. The family consisted of Billy, his wife Pauline, and their three children. They experienced numerous incidents throughout 1977 that some paranormal enthusiasts have compared to Utah’s infamous Skinwalker Ranch. These include lights that chased Pauline as she drove the nearby country lanes, whole herds of cattle being transported to different fields in the time it took Billy to brew a cup of tea, electrical items in the house constantly going haywire, and perhaps most disturbingly, a seven-foot faceless humanoid staring through their living room window.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, as there were also several cases of people claiming to have been abducted by the aliens that were haunting the region at the time. The reports were compelling enough that the British Ministry of Defense sent an investigator to see what he could find. He became convinced that the sightings were all the work of a practical joker, something that seems to be backed up by local businessman Glyn Edwards coming forward in 1996 claiming that he was the silver-suited spaceman.

Even so, sightings of cigar-shaped UFOs have continued to trickle out of the region sporadically, and several witnesses have continued to stick by their stories, including the boys from the primary school incident and Rosa Granville.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Broad_Haven

BROAD HAVEN-THE WELSH TRIANGLE: sjhstrangetales

https://www.specialaccesspodcast.co.uk/post/broad-haven-the-welsh-triangle

https://www.ufoinsight.com/ufos/close-encounters/broad-haven-school-ufo-incident

7. Falkirk Triangle (Scotland)

This sliver of the Scottish lowlands covers the area between the towns of Falkirk, Stirling, and Bonnybridge and lies rather close to the capital at Edinburgh. It has been described as the UFO capital of the world, with 300 sightings being recorded every year!

The sightings in the area seem to date back as far as 1979 in the nearby town of Livingston, when a forestry worker named Robert Taylor was chased by a metallic black flying dome in Dechmont Wood and may have been the victim of alien abduction (he reported being grabbed by metal rods around his hips that pulled him toward the ship before he blacked out). The sightings in the triangle itself would begin in earnest about ten years later:

1989: A firefighting crew is battling a blaze in Gradrum Moss when a red object approaches them. It hovers over them for several minutes before speeding away. Suddenly, a second object approaches them, this time glowing white before it too hovers and then speeds off.

November 12, 1991: Two photographers at the Polmont Reservoir see two flashing lights over Kincardine Bridge. Despite thinking it was a helicopter at first, the pair noticed that it made no sound. The craft approached them, and the pair reported hearing a quiet, pulsing hum.

1992: Local businessman James Walker becomes the subject of the most famous encounter to come out of the triangle. On his way home from work, he encounters a star-shaped UFO that starts following him and eventually cuts him off. As he gets out of his car to take a closer look, the UFO shoots off at blinding speed. It never makes a sound at any point during the encounter.

March 1992: The Sloggett family is out on an early morning walk outside Bonnybridge when they spot a ring of strange lights over a nearby moor. When the family books it back toward their house, a blue football-shaped craft lands in front of them and opens a door, out of which a howling roar bellows.

August 1992: Gary Wood and Colin Wright are driving along the A70 highway through West Lothian near the Harperring Reservoir when a UFO intercepts their car. They suddenly experience a case of missing time lasting two hours. Under hypnosis, they claim to have been taken to an underground base, where they were experimented upon and saw walls lined with people frozen in glass jars.

January 19, 1994: A motorist in the town of Larbert is chased by a white light, which a bystander manages to capture on tape in an 18-second film.

September 1996: An airforce family reports a truly bizarre encounter in Falkland when they claim to have seen a field swarming with ant-like beings seemingly being commanded by taller white entities to make nests out of saliva and hay. They also claim these beings were being teleported out of a black triangle the size of a stadium via an array of bizarre lights.

1999: The town of Gorebridge is claimed to have been placed under siege by UFOs. Reports range from a 737 jet being buzzed by three glowing objects while approaching Edinburgh Airport to two men being chased by a “floating green eye” while looking for Christmas trees near Blinkbonny Mine to an apparent alien being who was photographed standing on someone’s roof.

Again, those are just some of the more infamous sightings. As the 300-a-year figure noted above indicates, there are far more sightings where those came from. There are, of course, many theories as to why this area is such a significant hotspot.

Some have seized upon the Wood-Wright account to posit that there is indeed an underground base in the region out of which the UFOs are operating. Others argue that the area’s rich history has something to do with the sightings. For example, not only did the celebrated Battle of Bannockburn occur within the confines of the triangle, but some legends state that the town of Camelon was the site of the Battle of Camlann, in which King Arthur fought his battle to the death with his bastard half-son Mordred. Not only that, but Midlothian also houses Rosslyn Chapel, which is popularly believed to hide the Holy Grail, among other holy artifacts, within its walls. This legend was popularized by Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, although most scholars agree the story has no basis in fact.

Many ufologists have noted the similarities between alien abduction stories and old legends of encounters with fairies and elves, suggesting that the fair folk were just how people in the Middle Ages and before conceptualized extraterrestrial beings. Indeed, Scotland and other Celtic countries have a long history of fair folk traditions.

Then again, many local residents have accused local leaders of making it all up to turn Bonnybridge and other towns into tourist traps, arguing that the strange craft are just experimental military technology being tested on one of several military bases in the region. That is, admittedly, the most plausible explanation, but one can never really know for sure…

Sources:

https://www.ufoinsight.com/ufos/close-encounters/falkirk-triangle-rosslyn-chapel

http://www.andrewhennessey.co.uk/STA1/falkirktriangle.html

UFO’s and High Strangeness at Scotland’s Falkirk Triangle- Mysterious Universe

https://www.parkdeanresorts.co.uk/discover-more/places/the-falkirk-triangle/

8. Molyobka Triangle (Russia)
The village of Molyobka: population 374

This town is nestled within the southern reaches of the Ural Mountains in the Kishertsky District of Perm Krai. The town is located on ground that was sacred to the indigenous Mansi people, who believed it was a gathering place for gods and spirits. Maybe that explains the wealth of paranormal phenomena that has been recorded in this triangle, also often known as the Perm Anomalous Zone or the M-Zone.

The M-Zone first gained international attention from ufologists in 1983, when Russian UFO enthusiast Emil Bachurin led an expedition into the village’s thick forests. Not only did he witness a purple light rising out of the trees that left behind a patch of melted snow 206 feet across, the team was also chased by orbs of light that burned them with rays and even knocked one of them unconscious.

Over the years, various people have reported mysterious lights in the sky, luminous translucent beings stalking through the trees, sightings of Chuchunya (Russia’s answer to Bigfoot or the Yeti), weather anomalies like strange-colored lightning, disembodied singing voices, malfunctioning compasses and electronics, and watches stopping or even ticking backwards.

Another ufologist expedition in 2005 reported seeing a giant glowing ball above the trees. Chillingly, one of the team members went missing afterwards, and the last photograph taken of him allegedly shows a beam shining on the man from the UFO.

The American TV series Sightings also filmed a segment on the Perm anomalies in the early 90’s, and allegedly had their camp surrounded by orbs of light later that evening. Not only did locals confirm that the mysterious phenomena had long since been accepted as a fact of life among them, but the TV crew was also warned beforehand by government officials that staying more than 24 hours in the M-Zone might be hazardous.

Despite this, there are also several people who believe that the region has healing properties. Sure, ill health effects like headaches, nosebleeds, muscle aches, nausea, and dizziness have been reported. But others have claimed that the unique energies have a refreshing and enlightening effect and can even cure various ailments.

Perhaps the most famous case of the M-Zone’s alleged healing abilities comes from journalist and cosmonaut Pavel Mukhortov. After being turned away from the cosmonaut program due to physical disabilities, Mukhortov traveled to the M-Zone to do a possible story on it. While he didn’t see any UFOs, he and his traveling companions did fall ill. But soon after, they became filled with “an intense sense of well-being,” and claimed to have suddenly had their heads filled with visions and knowledge that seemingly came from nowhere. Mukhortov claims that these effects allowed him to pass the Soviet Space Program with flying colors when he reapplied, and thus finally fulfilled his dream of becoming a cosmonaut.

Whether or not this is because UFOs are drawn to the strange electromagnetic forces endemic to the region, or it’s the electromagnetism combined with infrasound that is causing hallucinations of UFOs, one cannot deny that there is something weird going on in the woods around Molyobka. However, if you want to check it out for yourself, be forewarned; the area is apparently overcrowded with other “pilgrims” seeking answers to the phenomena. Just make sure you’re not placing too much strain on the locals.

Sources:

Molebka’s triangle- MYSTICAL RUSSIA

A Bizarre Anomalous Zone in the Wilds of Russia- Mysterious Universe

9. Great River Triangle (New York)

This is certainly the smallest triangle I’ve covered in either triangle list in terms of the total area it covers. It spans only a tiny 4 1/2 square mile area of Suffolk County on Long Island, New York, between the towns of Islip and Oakdale and Heckscher State Park. What sets this area apart, according to local urban legend, is its history of UFO sightings. Indeed, with 554 sightings recorded between 2001 and 2015 alone, Suffolk County has been described as the UFO capital of New York. Some notable sightings include:

May 1908: Several residents witness what they describe as “a string of lighted beads” flying across the sky. At one point, the lead UFO stops, causing the others to merge with it and “spin like a Fourth of July pinwheel” before taking off at great speed.

July 1954: An Oakdale resident calls his wife and son, named Tom, out to the yard. They witness three glowing objects in a V formation up in the night sky. Tom remembers seeing a discharge that reminded him of Christmas tinsel pouring out of the back of the objects before they disappeared behind the trees.

May 1997: A female motorist, as well as several police officers and many persons in a nearby building, witness six golden-colored lights hovering in the sky. Oddly enough, several other people in the area later claim they saw nothing unusual.

July 2014: Several Islip residents report seeing a bright orange fireball traveling east-southeast around 10:30 in the evening.

According to ufologist Cheryl Costa, there have been 40 sightings of UFOs within the perimeter of the Great River Triangle between 1918 and 2014. What attracts them to the region is unknown.

Sources:

Syracuse New Times- The Great River Triangle UFOS

NBC New York- Suffolk County Leads NY State in UFO Reports

UFO Digest- Long Island’s Great River Triangle UFOs

10. Romblon Triangle (Philipinnes)

This one comes to us from the Philippines. With its three points resting on the Conception municipality in the north, Sibuyan in the southeast, and Dos Hermanos in the southwest, the triangle encompasses the entirety of the Romblon island archipelago, hence the name. The Sibuyan Sea that surrounds the archipelago has gained a nasty reputation over the years for being involved in several of the worst maritime disasters in history, wartime or peacetime. For example:

October 24, 1944: The Battle of the Sibuyan Sea was part of the larger Battle of Leyte Gulf, which is often considered not just the largest naval battle during World War II but the largest battle in the entire history of naval warfare. Out of the 200,000 naval personnel involved in the battle, 15,500 died, all but three thousand on the Japanese side. The Allied Forces’ victory in this battle allowed them to take the Philipinnes back from the Japanese and left the Japanese navy as but a shell of its former glory.

One big reason for this was the loss of the Musashi in the Sibuyan Sea, the first of four major engagements in the Leyte Gulf affair. The Musashi, alongside her sister ship Yamato, was the largest battleship ever constructed, displacing 72,000 tons. Not that it did her much good in the end, as she was sunk by 19 torpedos and 17 bombs in 4430 feet of water with the loss of 1376 of her 2399 man crew. The Yamato would suffer a much worse fate off Okinawa on April 7, 1945: struck by 11 torpedos and six bombs, she capsized and exploded with the loss of 3055 of her 3332 crew.

April 22, 1980: A ferry called the MV Don Juan, belonging to the Neros Navigation shipping company, collides with the oil tanker MT Tacloban City at 1 p.m. between Dos Hermanos and Conception islands. The Don Juan sank with the loss of only 18 lives, although 115 were reported missing. Still, 745 survivors were recorded, which is far more than I can say for the next shipping disaster on this list…

December 20, 1987: The severely overcrowded ferry MV Dona Paz sets out from Tacloban on Leyte en route to Manila. Around 10:30 that evening, the ferry collided with the oil tanker MT Vector in the Tablas Strait off the island of Marinduque and subsequently burst into flames. The ships sank within two hours and four hours, respectively. Although the ferry’s official capacity was 1424 passengers, survivor testimony places the actual number of people aboard closer to 4000. Indeed, out of the only 24 passengers who survived (plus one crew member), only five were recorded in the ship’s manifest. Current estimates place the death toll over 4300, making the Dona Paz incident the worst peacetime shipping disaster in history.

June 21, 2008: The Romblon archipelago suffers another deadly ferry disaster, this time thanks to Typhoon Fengshen. The MV Princess of the Stars was on a voyage from Manila to Cebu City when the typhoon, then a Category Two storm, unexpectedly changed course. The ferry was caught in the middle of it, and after being battered by the stormy seas for twelve hours, it capsized around one p.m. off the municipality of San Fernando on Sibuyan Island. The heavy seas prevented any rescue ships from reaching the foundering vessel for another twelve hours. By the time help finally came, only 56 of the 870 people on board were left alive.

So far, there doesn’t seem to be anything particularly mysterious about this triangle. Indeed, as the Philippine Coast Guard has pointed out, there hasn’t been much we’ve talked about in this entry that couldn’t have been caused by typhoons, high tides, hidden rocks or reefs, or navigational errors. That is unless you think Lolo Amang is somehow involved.

Lolo Amang can be described as the Philippines’ answer to the Flying Dutchman. He reportedly sails the waters around Romblon in a golden ship so shiny that it can be seen from a mile away. Those who approach close enough have reported seeing a massive party on the decks, full of food, music, and fair-skinned dancing women. Indeed, if we believe some eyewitness accounts from the MV Don Juan incident, the ships collided because the Don Juan’s captain was steering to avoid colliding with Lolo Amang’s ship.

Of course, many are inclined to believe that the Lolo Amang legend is nothing more than a sailor’s fairy tale born either from booze or an attempt to escape liability for a shipping accident. Still, legends of strange incidents in the region seem to date back to the Spanish colonies in the 16th century, with many galleons plying the Manila-Acapulco route leaving offerings to the spirits and mermaids living in the cursed seas around Sibuyan.

Who knows? Maybe the age of myths from the indigenous tribes of the Philippines is still alive and well in the seas around Romblon.

Sources:

https://www.esquiremag.ph/long-reads/features/romblon-triangle-a00289-20210104

https://www.wattpad.com/18533801-urban-legends-romblon-triangle

https://statusbookph.blogspot.com/2012/03/romblon-triangle.html

https://manilastandard.net/news/-provinces/139634/the-curse-of-the-romblon-triangle.html


And there you have it; ten more paranormal triangles profiled and examined! I will most definitely be returning to this subject again at a later date. I’d like to determine whether the Vile Vortices are really that vile and to examine some famous incidents in the Bermuda Triangle to see if they really are all that strange. But for this Halloween, be prepared for me to introduce you to one of the most mysterious and terrifying Satanic black metal bands ever to exist.

Until then, stay spooky, you beautiful watchers!

A Complete Noob’s Guide to the Left, Pt. 1: Anarcho-Primitivism

Welcome to my new multi-part series on this blog! You could view this in some ways as a continuation of my “How Anarchism Works” post that I wrote way back around the time I first started this blog. I still think it holds up splendidly as an excellent introduction to the kind of things that anarchists like myself believe in.

However, I do feel there is one big issue with the piece as a whole: It’s far too narrow in scope, as it doesn’t cover the beliefs of every different strand of anarchist thought. In “How Anarchism Works,” I mostly only covered the strand known as “anarcho-communism” and its closely related partner “anarcho-syndicalism.” That’s not necessarily a bad thing. For starters, social anarchism, of which the above-stated ideologies are a part, is the most popular anarchist ideology. And, of course, trying to cover the beliefs of all anarchist doctrines would turn the post into a book, and that would be far beyond the scope of someone like myself who only discovered this stuff mere months before I started this blog.

For these reasons, I have decided to start a series dedicated to individually examining the different ideologies of the political left to see how they compare and contrast with one another. This won’t be restricted to just the libertarian socialist left, however. I also want to examine several leftist ideologies that don’t fall under the anarchist umbrella. I want to understand, for example, how the Marxist-Leninists differ from the Maoists, or Stalinists from Trotskyists, or what separates collectivist anarchism from mutualism. This is just as much for my benefit as for my readers since I’m still a complete noob at this myself. I fear that my affinity for anarcho-communism might make me somewhat biased in my coverage of several of these ideologies, especially non-anarchist ones. However, I still need to know, and I want to share whatever knowledge I have gained with whoever might be interested in hearing it.

But enough about explaining my motivations for starting this series. For now, let us begin with the very first ideology I wish to profile in this series: anarcho-primitivism.

General Beliefs

Anarcho-primitivism is often considered to be the most extreme wing of the larger “green anarchism” movement. Green anarchism (which also includes schools of thought like anarcho-naturism, green syndicalism, and social ecology) is often contrasted with classical anarchism (sometimes referred to as “red anarchism”). Green anarchists tend to argue that classical anarchists do not place enough emphasis on the human relationship with the natural world and that we must think about how we may liberate the non-human plants and animals of the world from the same hierarchical forces that led humans to dominate other humans.

Anarcho-primitivists (who I will call “an-prims” for short from this point) go a bit further than that. Their basic thesis is that the problems with human civilization are rooted in the very creation of civilization itself. Specifically, they believe that the shift from hunter-gatherer to agricultural societies during the Neolithic Revolution is at the root of the widespread coercion, social alienation, and social stratification that socialists of every stripe want to see eliminated from human society.

As such, an-prims advocate for eliminating all technology developed after the advent of agriculture and especially after the Industrial Revolution in favor of hand tools, minimalist housing, and wild food sources. It is from an-prims, as well as the green anarchist movement as a whole, that we get the term “rewilding,” which refers to the process of undoing not only the domestication that humans inflicted on wild plants and animals during the Neolithic Revolution but also the domestication that agricultural (and later industrial) societies have inflicted on humanity.

Suppose you want a picture of what an ideal an-prim society might look like. In that case, one essay I found in The Anarchist Library quotes a passage from Chuck Palahniuk’s classic novel Fight Club:

Picture yourself planting radishes and seed potatoes on the fifteenth green of a forgotten golf course. You’ll hunt elk through the deep canyon forests around the ruins of Rockefeller Center, and dig clams next to the skeleton of the Space Needle leaning at a forty-five degree angle. We’ll paint the skyscrapers with huge totem faces and goblin tikis, and everything what’s left of mankind will retreat to empty zoos and lock themselves in cages as protection against the bears and big cats and wolves that pace and watch us from outside the cage bars at night.

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club, 1996 (pgs. 125-126)

Now, eliminating technology doesn’t necessarily mean “literally everything we’ve created since 12,000 BCE needs to be destroyed.” The primitivist view of technology tends to be more ambiguous than outright evil. They don’t tend to think that it’s their duty to take the destruction of modern civilization into their own hands. They tend to believe that our current technology-based society is inherently unsustainable and prone to collapse any day now. When that happens, they see themselves being there to lead the wayward sons and daughters of Mother Earth into a new and more harmonious age.

History and Prominent Figures

Some have argued that the roots of anarcho-primitivism go back to Henry David Thoreau’s classic Transcendentalist work Walden which advocates for a self-sufficient lifestyle in harmony with nature in opposition to the then-current Industrial Revolution. Thoreau’s work (and that of Leo Tolstoy and Elisee Reclus) would influence the anarcho-naturist movement in the early 1900s, which shocked more conservative onlookers in Europe and Cuba with their proclivities toward nudism and free love.

In the United States, an-prim is generally best known for its association with the Philadelphia-based MOVE organization and Ted Kaczynski, better known as the Unabomber. MOVE, founded in 1972 by John Africa (born Vincent Leaphart), can be understood as the missing link between the Black Panthers and the naturalist communalism of the hippie movement. It is especially infamous for its involvement in the May 13, 1985 incident in which the Philadelphia Police Department dropped C-4 explosives on a house with thirteen MOVE members (six of them children) holed up inside, John Africa being one of them. Not only did the ensuing fire kill all but two of the MOVE members (Africa being one of them), but the fire department simply let it burn until sixty-five houses in the surrounding neighborhood burned with it. Unsurprisingly, subsequent investigations and lawsuits found that the city had used excessive force and violated the MOVE members’ Fourth Amendment rights.

As for Kaczynski, his writings, especially the 1995 essay “Industrial Society and Its Future,” were embraced by an-prims for its core thesis that the Industrial Revolution ushered in a harmful process that destroyed nature and human freedom by making them slaves to advanced technology. As such, his bombing campaign was his way of attempting to topple this industrialized society to mitigate the devastation it wrought. However, even though he was friends with prominent an-prim John Zerzan for several years, Kaczynski has criticized the primitivist movement as having an overly romanticized view of hunter-gatherer cultures, as well as leftists politics as a whole for, in his view, trying to replace the current organized, technological society with a different, collectivist one. As such, several eco-fascists like the Christchurch and El Paso shooters have cited Kaczynski as an inspiration, although Kaczynski has also condemned fascism as a “kook ideology.”

From what I’ve gathered, the most popular writers in the field of anarcho-primitivism are the aforementioned John Zerzan and Derrick Jensen (Daniel Quinn’s 1992 novel Ishmael also seems to be highly regarded amongst their ranks). Zerzan is best known for his essay collections, including a 1994 compilation of his own writings titled Future Primitive and Other Essays and 2005’s Against Civilization: Readings and Reflections, which collects writings of others who have influenced primitivist thought.

Derrick Jensen, for his part, is probably best known for his two-volume book Endgame, published in 2006, in which he advocates for the overthrow of our unsustainable civilization through violence, in a similar manner to the 1917 Bolshevik revolution. I confess that I haven’t read either of these men’s work, although even with the somewhat cursory research I’ve done on this philosophy, I feel comfortable in sharing my opinions on what I’ve seen.

Personal Thoughts

As someone with strong romanticist leanings, I will admit that there is a certain appeal in the prospect of going back to a bygone age where humanity lived in harmony with nature instead of trying to strangle it into submission. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen abandoned houses or other buildings on the side of the road during a drive in the country and wished we would just let the buildings rot and let the lots they lie on be reabsorbed back into Gaia’s bosom. But when looking at the primitivists’ ultimate end goal, my rational side immediately kicks back and says, “Now hold your horses there, buddy”!

First of all, there’s no way of getting around the fact that achieving the kind of civilizational collapse that an-prims seek would undoubtedly condemn millions, if not billions, to premature death. True, an-prims generally don’t want to perpetrate deliberate genocide to achieve a Malthusian cull of human overpopulation. Still, the simple fact remains that they want to abolish the current technological infrastructure that has made modern living standards possible. Do an-prims seriously believe that humanity will just give up indoor plumbing just like that?

This brings me to my second significant objection: I find the entire foundation of the primitivist worldview, that all technological development since the Neolithic Revolution has been nothing but bad for humanity and the world, to be ridiculous on the face of it. I mentioned indoor plumbing above, and the modern medical system is another thing that has benefited humanity (well, at least when it’s not driven by profits like here in America). Yes, technology has several bad effects, like war and the harmful effects of social media, but it’s not civilization itself that is to blame here. It is the capitalist perversion of it, seeking human suffering and misery and ecological collapse on a scale we’ve never seen for the sake of the ruling class’s bank accounts.

Finally, an-prims don’t seem to realize (or don’t care) that systemic racism and classism inherent in the capitalist system would mean that marginalized communities would be disproportionally affected by the kind of civilizational collapse that the primitivists advocate for. Indeed, not only has the an-prim movement as a whole faced several accusations of transphobia in the past, but it often seems disturbingly easy to draw a direct line between anarcho-primitivism and eco-fascism, even if, as stated above, an-prims aren’t seeking deliberate genocide or to deny certain ethnic groups resources so the “superior race” can keep them for themselves.

All that said, though, I generally don’t think the an-prims are a significant threat to the world in the same way that fascism as a whole is. Even many an-prims seem to be self-aware that their philosophy is far too extreme even for most leftists and that it has more utility as a critique of late-stage capitalism than a practical alternative to it.

I’m still doggedly in the anarcho-communist camp myself, but I’m by no means dogmatic about it. Anyone who wants to make their own communes based on their own philosophies are free to do with them as they wish. Make it Marxist-Leninist if you want, or black separatist, or even anarcho-primitivist. I really don’t care. I just care about overthrowing the capitalist system so we can finally be free to make those choices for ourselves.


So that was my first entry in this new series about leftist ideologies. Let me know how well I did, and join me for the next episode in the series. I haven’t decided what the next philosophy I will discuss is yet, although I have been leaning toward Marxism-Leninism. We’ll see about that, but first, Halloween is coming, so I will be delving back into the mysterious world of paranormal triangles for the next blog post. Until then, stay golden, my beautiful watchers!

P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist #5: “Atrocity Exhibition” by Joy Division

From left to right: Peter Hook, Ian Curtis, Stephen Morris, Bernard Sumner

Today on P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist, we cover one of the most (in)famous bands to come out of the late seventies post-punk movement. Post-punk is an umbrella term used to describe several different styles of music that tried to apply punk rock’s energy and DIY stylings to genres not necessarily within the parameters of rock, like electronica, jazz, funk, dance music, etc. The movement produced numerous bands of note, from Siouxsie and the Banshees, Public Image Ltd., and Pere Ubu to Devo, the Talking Heads, The Cure, The Fall, and Gang of Four. It was not only the starting point of a surprising number of commercially successful bands, like U2, R.E.M., and Depeche Mode, it also helped influence even more experimental genres like goth rock, no wave, and industrial.

However, the band I want to focus on today is best known for the life of its lead singer, who died tragically at a far too young age and thus cast a shadow not just on the band member’s reputations but also on the history of post-punk as a whole. So let’s talk about Ian Curtis and the genre he helped define.

Backstory

The band was conceived in the town of Salford in Greater Manchester, England, after childhood friends Bernard Sumner (guitars) and Peter Hook (bass) attended a Sex Pistols concert on June 4, 1976. After acquiring the talents of Stephen Morris on drums and Ian Curtis on vocals, the group initially chose the name Warsaw, after the David Bowie song “Warszawa.” However, the group soon decided to rename themselves to avoid confusion with an obscure punk group from London called Warsaw Pakt. Their new name, Joy Division, raised some eyebrows at the time since it was inspired by sex slavery programs run in Nazi concentration camps. This, combined with the illustration of a Hitler Youth prominently displayed on the cover of their debut EP, An Ideal for Living, led to accusations of Nazi sympathies.

But this minor controversy didn’t deter local TV personality Tony Wilson from signing the band to his independent Factory Records label shortly after. The band would go on to release two albums with Factory. Unknown Pleasures was released on June 15, 1979, followed by Closer, released on July 18, 1980. The non-album single “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” released the previous month, became their first chart hit, reaching the 13th spot on the UK singles chart.

Sadly though, Ian Curtis would not live to experience this success. Ian had epilepsy, which would often cause him to experience seizures in the middle of a concert. This condition did not mix well with the band’s relentless touring schedule, and Ian quickly drove himself to exhaustion. Bouts of insomnia, alcoholism, and a failing marriage finally combined to send him beyond the breaking point. His wife, Deborah, found his body hanging in his apartment on May 18, 1980, with the album The Idiot by Iggy Pop playing on the turntable and Werner Herzog’s Stroszek playing on the TV. He was only 23 when he died.

Both albums would go on to influence the alternative rock scenes on both sides of the Atlantic. Joy Division itself had made a pact to change their name if any member left. Thus, after recruiting Stephen Morris’ partner Gillian Gilbert as a new guitarist/keyboardist, they regrouped as the seminal new wave group New Order.

But what exactly was it about Joy Division’s sound that made them so influential to future bands as diverse as The Smiths, Radiohead, the Pet Shop Boys, and the Smashing Pumpkins. Maybe I can do my best to explain as I examine the opening track of Closer, a stark and riveting piece of music titled “Atrocity Exhibition.”

The Song

The song takes its title from the experimental anthology novel The Atrocity Exhibition, written by J.G. Ballard and published in 1970. Inspired by recent tragedies like the Kennedy assassination and his own wife’s sudden death from pneumonia, the book attracted controversy for its sexually charged nervous breakdown of a plot, which sees the narrator fantasizing his way through several different roles and scenarios to try to make sense of the chaotic world events he’s living through. Ian Curtis only read the novel after he had written the majority of the lyrics, however.

When listening to the song, one may scratch their head, wondering why the band chose this of all songs to open the album. It sounds nothing like anything that Joy Division has done before, be it the straight punk of An Ideal for Living or the dirges on Unknown Pleasures that sound like Black Sabbath minus Tony Iommi’s heaving metallic crunch. Granted, the calm and steady bass riff sounds like business as usual, as does Ian Curtis’ vocals (albeit a bit more strained than usual).

Stephen Morris’ drums, on the other hand, sound much more tribal and African inspired than the more straight-ahead beats of “Shadowplay” and “New Dawn Fades.” This chaotic atmosphere is further reinforced by the guitar work, which dispenses with recognizable riffs and instead simply bangs away with random screeching, clattering, and scraping sounds that might sound more at home with future noise rock groups like Swans, Big Black, or The Jesus and Mary Chain. This may have something to do with the fact that bassist Peter Hook and guitarist Bernard Sumner switched instruments for this track. The result, as TV Tropes put it, sounds “like a chorus [read: cacophony] of deformed souls moaning in agony.”

Martin Hannett’s production, which shaped the sound of both albums, is the final piece that brings it all together. His cavernous and atmospheric production style has been widely praised for how well it complements Ian’s tales of isolation and mental torment. However, Sumner and Hook hated it at the time mainly because they thought it was too far a departure from their more aggressive live sound. On the other hand, Morris and Curtis liked what they heard and thought it would be asking a bit too much for Hannett to make an exact copy of their live sound.

The Lyrics

The lyrics seem to be Curtis spelling out his view of society and human nature, with a chorus that solely consists of the phrase “This is the way, step inside.” What exactly is Curtis beckoning the listener to see? Allow the first verse to illustrate:

Asylums with doors open wide,
Where people had paid to see inside.
For entertainment they watch his body twist;
Behind his eyes, he says, "I still exist."

This verse likely references the practice of 19th century Englanders to visit mental asylums to watch the struggles of the mentally ill inmates, as if they were animals caged up in a zoo. It also has a much more personal meaning for Curtis related to his epilepsy. While he was initially open about his diagnosis, he started to become paranoid that much of the band’s audience was there hoping Curtis would have a seizure on stage. It’s certainly not hard to see how Ian could draw a connection between such sick ways of getting entertainment, given the continued stigmatization of those with mental and developmental disorders.

The darkness and nihilism only grow more in scale as the song progresses. The second verse adds to the asylum inmate’s ordeal:

In arenas he kills for a prize,
Wins a minute to add to his life,
But the sickness is drowned by cries for more;
Pray to God, make it quick, watch him fall.

Here, Ian reaches further back in history to the gladiator games of ancient Rome for another case of humans being entertained by atrocities, especially those the ruling class considers so far beneath them as to be barely even human.

After this point, Ian’s narration seems to take the form of a godlike outside observer, watching with glee as the lower classes of humanity struggle against the powers that be, only to be knocked back down into the stations their rulers have chosen for them and slaughtered if they refuse to stay put.

You'll see the horrors of a faraway place,
Meet the architects of law face to face,
See mass murder on a scale you've never seen,
And all the ones who try hard to succeed.

The song ends with this spine-chilling parting message from the omniscient narrator:

And I picked on the whims of a thousand or more,
Still pursuing the path that's been buried for years.
All the dead wood from jungles and cities on fire,
Can't replace or relate, can't release of repair.
Take my hand and I'll show what was and will be.

Here, the narrator seems to admit that he’s been orchestrating these atrocities from behind the scenes and argues that these atrocities will always plague humanity for as long as they continue to exist as a species. The verse takes even darker personal implications for Ian’s mental health at the time if one interprets the last line as an answer to this line from the Unknown Pleasures track “Disorder”:

I've been waiting for a guide to come
And take me by the hand.
Should’ve been more specific.
Personal Thoughts

Those familiar with my political beliefs probably already know where this is going: late-stage capitalism and America’s cultural takeover of the world. It’s hard not to draw parallels between the third verse and America’s forever wars (“See mass murder on a scale you’ve never seen”), its ongoing problems with racism and police brutality (“Meet the architects of law face to face”), and the rigid class divides enforced by the moneyed classes (“And all the ones who tried hard to succeed”).

I can certainly relate to the last line of the first verse (“Behind his eyes, he says ‘I still exist'”) as a person on the autism spectrum. In a society that looks down on the neurodivergent, it’s hard for me not to be self-conscious about my disorder. I usually keep it secret from my coworkers and friends out of fear that they may simply dismiss me as a “retard.”

I feel like Ian Curtis might have been having the same thoughts I’m having right now when he wrote this song. Indeed, many of the lyrics in the last two verses seem to be referencing various capitalism-induced crises that have only gotten worse in the four decades since his death, from the cycle of poverty to the destruction of the environment (“All the deadwood from jungles and cities on fire”). He had previously talked about the bloody history at the roots of the current global order in “Dead Souls”:

Where figures from the past stand tall
And mocking voices ring the halls.
Imperialistic house of prayer;
Conquistadors who took their share.

Fortunately, I have faith that there is a way out, and it lies in what the fourth verse refers to as “pursuing the path that’s been buried for years.” You can call that path whatever you want; Daoism, anarchism, socialism, paganism, the indigenous peoples’ ways buried by the tides of imperialistic conquest. There is no need to surrender to the defeatist attitude that Mark Fisher named “capitalist realism.” We can fight this, and we should.

And that’s all I have to say about the song “Atrocity Exhibition.” Next time, I will be starting a new series where I will dive into various leftist ideologies to teach my readers (and myself) how they would run a post-capitalist world. So until next time, stay safe, beautiful watchers, and rest in peace, Ian Curtis, wherever you may be.

An abyss that laughs at creation/A circus complete with all fools/Foundations that lasted the ages/Then ripped apart at their roots- Heart and Soul

Top Ten Myths About 9/11- Debunked!

It was, without a doubt, one of the worst tragedies to happen to the United States since the end of World War II. Twenty years ago, on September 11th, 2001, 19 Islamic extremists, employed by the terrorist organization al-Qaeda, wrested control of four American jet airliners from their pilots and proceeded to cut a swath of destruction that would leave nearly 3,000 innocent Americans dead. Two of the jets slammed into New York City’s iconic Twin Towers at the World Trade Center, both of which soon collapsed. Another jet crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia. Yet another was presumably headed for a target in Washington D.C. but ended up crashing in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania after the passengers heroically fought back against their captors. In the aftermath, the U.S. government took the offensive, declaring war on terror that resulted in some successes, not the least of which was the assassination of al-Qaeda’s founder, Osama bin Laden.

That is the official story, but some Americans believe the whole event was a false-flag operation; that is, an operation made to look like it was perpetrated by someone other than the actual perpetrator. In other words, the U.S. government carried out the attacks, not Middle Eastern terrorists. In honor of the twentieth anniversary of the attacks, I would like to take some time to debunk some common myths about that infamous day, mostly from the 9/11 Truth movement but also some myths spread by the U.S. government itself in the wake of the attacks.

First of all, though, I feel it is important to examine what the Truthers think the government’s motives were in murdering its own citizens in such a barbaric manner. According to Monte Cook in his book The Skeptic’s Guide to Conspiracy Theories, “a poll in 2007 indicated that about 5% of Americans believed that the U.S. government was involved with the attacks in some way.” One page on 911truth.org titled “40 Reasons to Doubt the Official Story of 9/11” lists several possible motives, including but not limited to “The Need for a New Pearl Harbor” (the government had been waiting for an excuse to invade the Middle East and achieve “worldwide military hegemony”), “Perpetual War on Terror” (so the government can attack anyone it perceives as an enemy), and “Resource Wars” (so that the government can more easily obtain oil from the rich fields of the Middle East). But as the old saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and unfortunately, much of the Truthers’ so-called “evidence” simply does not hold up to scrutiny.

1. Flights 11 and 175 were unmanned military drones.

According to the official story, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower at 8:46 a.m., leading to its collapse at 10:28. United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower at 9:03, leading to its collapse at 9:59. This led to the deaths of over 2,700 people, including the terrorists and other occupants of the planes. This account is backed up by cockpit recordings, mobile phone calls from passengers, and the simple fact that none of those passengers or crew returned home.

But that hasn’t stopped Truthers from arguing that several photographs of Flight 175 show an anomaly under the base of the right wing that could be construed as a missile, bomb, or piece of equipment consistent with something one might find on an air-refueling tanker. One of these photographs is Rob Howard’s infamous photograph of Flight 175’s final descent toward the South Tower (pictured above).

However, when Popular Mechanics sent the photograph to be analyzed by Ronald Greely, director of the Space Photography Laboratory at Arizona State University, he came away with a much different conclusion. He discovered that the “pod” was actually the right wing faring, a pronounced bulge common to all Boeing 767s which contains the landing gear. It was simply a trick of the sunlight glinting off it that gave it an exaggerated look.

Some other Truthers have seized on statements by witnesses of Flight 175’s crash, perhaps most notably that by FOX employee Marc Birnbach, to claim that there were no windows on the planes that crashed. They also point to video footage that apparently shows that the planes had no windows.

Of course, these claims ignore the fact that a) Birnbach was nowhere near the WTC site when the plane crashed, b) that the video footage only seems to show no windows because of low resolution, and c) we have photographic evidence of windows in the plane wreckage.

This photo was taken by a FEMA team led by W. Gene Corley on the roof of WTC 5. It clearly features a section of fuselage from Flight 175 with windows.
2. Flight 93 was shot down.

United Airlines Flight 93 was the last plane to crash that day, slamming upside down into a field that had once been a coal strip mine at 10:03 a.m. The official story was that the passengers fought back against the hijackers, sacrificing themselves to stop the plane from reaching Washington D.C.

But the Truthers have come to believe that inconsistencies in the evidence suggest that Flight 93 was brought down by a heat-seeking missile. For example, they argue that there was no way that one of the plane’s engine fans could have ended up 300 yards south of the crash site unless there was a pre-crash breakup. This ignores the fact that the plane was heading south at the point of impact, meaning that it’s perfectly reasonable to suspect that the force of the impact threw it that far.

Other Truthers have pointed out the presence of wreckage floating in Indian Lake, which they claim should be impossible because a) Indian Lake is six miles from the crash site, b) the plane crashed west southwest of the lake, and c) a cold front moving from south to north was passing through the area, meaning that the wreckage would have had to travel perpendicular to the wind.

The problem is that none of these statements are true. Indian Lake is only 1 1/2 miles away from the crash site, the plane came down to the northwest of the lake, and the wind was blowing in the same direction in which the plane was traveling. Therefore, lightweight debris finding its way to the lake’s surface is perfectly consistent with the official account.

As this map should hopefully demonstrate.

Of course, if Flight 93 was downed by a heat-seeking missile, one must wonder if any other planes were around to fire it. Truthers have pointed to two candidates: a mysterious white jet seen in the area shortly after the crash and a General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon piloted by North Dakota Air Guard Major Rick Gibney. Retired Army Colonel Donn de Grand-Pre made the latter accusation on Alex Jones’ radio show in 2004.

Because we all knew he had to show up in this story at some point.

First of all, the white jet was a Dassault Falcon 20 business jet owned by the apparel and footwear company VF Corp. that happened to be in the area at the time and was asked to survey the crash site by the FAA.

As for Lieutenant Colonel (not Major) Rick Gibney, he was indeed flying an F-16 that morning, but he was nowhere near Shanksville. He first traveled from Fargo to Bozeman, Montana, to pick up Ed Jacoby Jr., the director of the New York State Emergency Management Office, and then flew him to Albany so he could coordinate the 17,000 rescue workers engaged in the state’s response to the attacks on the Twin Towers. Jacoby, in particular, had some nasty words for those implicating Gibney in the plane’s crash:

It disgusts me to see this because the public is being misled. More than anything else it disgusts me because it brings up fears. It brings up hopes- it brings up all sorts of feelings, not only to the victims’ families but to all the individuals throughout the country, and the world for that matter. I get angry at the misinformation out there.”

Ed Jacoby Jr., Interview with Popular Mechanics, Feb. 3 2005.

So basically, the theory that Flight 93 was shot down has itself been shot down. Ironic, isn’t it?

3. The military was ordered to stand down.

This myth comes from the Truthers’ lack of comprehension of how the U.S. military could have possibly let these attacks go unimpeded. Indeed, considering the fact that there were no less than 28 Air Force bases within range of the four hijacked flights, it’s no wonder that some conspiracists suspect foul play. The only logical explanation, they say, is that NORAD either issued a stand-down order or deliberately delayed the scrambling of the fighter jets to allow the attacks to proceed.

The problem with this theory is that it assumes that NORAD and Air Traffic Control had systems in place to automatically warn those on the ground of planes going off course. The truth was that there was no such system in place before the events of September 11th, especially since there had been no hijackings in American airspace since 1979. As Major Douglas Martin, public affairs officer of NORAD said, Air Traffic Control “had to pick up the phone and literally dial us.”

Not helping matters was the fact that, except for Flight 175, the transponders on all the planes were turned off by the hijackers, which made it extremely difficult for ATC to track down the missing planes, especially in some of America’s busiest air corridors. Not to mention that NORAD’s radar only looked outside of U.S. airspace for threats (remember: not since 1979).

That should also explain why no military jets intercepted the flights before they crashed, and even if they could actually find the planes, they wouldn’t have reached them in minutes, as conspiracists claim. Take the only NORAD intercept of a civilian plane in the previous decade, for instance. In October 1999, a Learjet belonging to golfer Payne Stewart experienced a cabin decompression, rendering all six passengers and crew unconscious. It took an F-16 intercept about one hour and 22 minutes to reach the derelict plane, mostly because supersonic flight was forbidden on intercepts. The plane eventually crashed in a field in Edmunds County, South Dakota, after it ran out of fuel.

Keep in mind that there were only 14 fighter jets on alert over U.S. airspace on September 11th. Also, keep in mind that the warning time that NORAD got before each flight reached their targets was eight minutes for Flight 11, nothing for Flight 175, three minutes before for Flight 77, and three minutes after for Flight 93. It really shouldn’t be a mystery why the military was so slow to respond.

4. The Twin Towers’ collapse was a controlled demolition.

The reason why the Twin Towers eventually collapsed should seem fairly straightforward. Two large jet airliners loaded with fuel crashed into them, virtually gutting the interiors and starting fires that weakened the structures to the point that they could no longer stand. But conspiracy theorists are convinced that the crashes alone could not have brought the towers down. They insist that the crashes were covering for a controlled demolition project.

One piece of evidence they cite is the extensive damage documented in the lobbies of both Towers shortly after the planes hit, especially by Jules Naudet in his acclaimed documentary 9/11 that came out the following March. At first glance, it doesn’t make sense how impacts on the 94th-98th floor of the North Tower and the 78th-84th floor of the South could wreak havoc on the buildings’ lobbies. But keep in mind that the burning fuel carried by both jets would have inevitably started flowing downward after the initial impacts. Also, the impacts would have most certainly severed elevator cables, leading to several of them plunging all the way down to the ground floor. Indeed, Naudet even saw people on fire in the lobby, which didn’t make it into the final film for obvious reasons.

Conspiracists also insist that the fire couldn’t have brought down the Towers because the melting point of steel (2,750 degrees Fahrenheit) was higher than the highest temperatures recorded in the buildings (1,832 degrees). However, experts agree that the steel frames didn’t need to melt to make the Towers give way; they just had to lose their strength. At 1,832 degrees, the steel in the frames lost 90% of its strength, which wasn’t helped by the fact that the impact of the jets likely blasted the fireproofing insulation off the beams.

20010911NKM 1/X A view along Sixth Ave. shows One World Trade Center collapsing nearly an hour after a terroristic attack in New York City. NOAH K. MURRAY-THE STAR LEDGER 9/11/01

Other conspiracists point to strange puffs of debris being ejected from the Towers as they collapsed, like in the above photo. They insist that only explosive devices, not the force of the collapsing buildings, could have created those puffs. However, as Popular Mechanics points out, “Like all office buildings, the WTC Towers contained a huge volume of air. As they pancaked, all that air, along with concrete and other debris pulverized by the force of the collapse, were ejected with enormous energy.”

Yet another piece of evidence cited by conspiracists is the presence of iron-rich spheres found among the dust clouds kicked up by the collapse. They claim that these spheres could only have been produced by temperatures hotter than a typical office fire, such as a thermite charge explosion. However, other engineers have pointed out that thermite reacts far too slow to be a practical tool in building demolition. Also, the type of iron-rich spheres found in the dust of the Towers can be produced by temperatures much lower than Truthers claim.

5. WTC 7 is the smoking gun for the demolition theory.

A little-known fact about the World Trade Center complex was that it didn’t just consist of the Twin Towers. There were seven buildings at the WTC site, all of which were destroyed or damaged beyond repair by the attacks. WTC 7, in particular, interests conspiracists because of how it collapsed without the aid of burning jet fuel. Indeed, it’s not unusual to see Truthers claiming its collapse as the smoking gun for their controlled demolition theory.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) begs to differ: “…[T]here was, in fact, physical damage to the south face of building 7. On about a third of the face to the center and to the bottom-approximately 10 stories- about 25% of the depth of the building was scooped out.” The problem was exacerbated by an unusual design which caused columns and trusses near the damaged areas to support an impossibly large amount of weight. And if that wasn’t bad enough, a fire on the fifth floor burned for seven hours until the building collapsed at 5:21 p.m., fed by diesel fuel that many tenants in the building used for their generators.

Perhaps Popular Mechanics puts it best: “WTC 7 might have withstood the physical damage it received or the fire that burned for hours, but those combined factors- along with the building’s unusual construction- were enough to set off a chain reaction collapse.”

6. The fact that no steel-framed building had ever collapsed due to fire proves demolition was involved.

There are two main reasons why this argument doesn’t hold up. First of all, the argument that no steel-framed high-rises have ever collapsed due to fire is simply not true. There have been plenty of steel-framed buildings that have collapsed due to fire, even before 9/11. Some examples, in chronological order, include:

1967: The heavily steel-constructed McCormick Place exhibition hall collapsed only 30 minutes after a small electrical fire broke out.

February 1991: Firefighters evacuated the 38-story One Meridian Plaza in Philadelphia due to fear that the fire compromised the structure. While it did not collapse, it was still written off as a total loss and remained abandoned until it was demolished in 1998. Three firefighters died of smoke inhalation.

December 20, 1991: Four firefighters are killed when part of a floor from a burning unprotected steel-frame building in Brackenridge, Pennsylvania, collapses on top of them.

May 10, 1993: The Kader Toy Factory fire in the Sam Phran district of Thailand’s Nakhon Pathom province claims 188 lives and injures a further 469, thus making it the worst industrial factory fire in history. The disaster is exacerbated by the fact that the doors were locked and fire escapes not even built, but by the fact that the steel frames holding up the facilities’ three buildings were uninsulated, causing one of them to collapse.

January 28, 1997: The state-of-the-art Sight and Sound Theater in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, collapsed due to fire despite having similar fireproofing insulation to the Twin Towers, albeit newer and higher quality. And yet, it still managed to be knocked off the steel beams by normal renovation work. It makes you wonder how it would have fared against a crashing 767, doesn’t it?

The second reason why this argument doesn’t hold up is that the conspiracists aren’t taking certain abnormalities of the Twin Towers’ construction into account. They assume that the Towers were built with a steel web like most steel-framed buildings.

Like in this photo here.

The Twin Towers were instead built with what is called a “tube within a tube” design, with most of its steel web built into the skin and around a central core to make more room for office space.

As shown in this computer simulation

This just goes to show the obvious: the Twin Towers weren’t constructed like other steel-framed buildings, so it’s not reasonable to assume that they would behave like other steel-framed buildings given the unique factors that led up to their collapse. Indeed, none of the other buildings had their fireproofing insulation sheared off by an errant Boeing 767, as well as had its vertical load-bearing columns removed in such a violent manner.

7. The Pentagon was hit by a satillite-guided missile.

American Airlines Flight 77 smashed into the first floor of the Pentagon’s west side at 9:37 a.m. 189 people were killed as a result; 64 on the plane and 125 in the building itself. There are dozens of witness testimonies and well-publicized security footage showing a passenger plane crashing into the Pentagon. But again, the Truthers insist on a different set of events, mainly that a radar-guided missile hit the Pentagon.

One thing that the conspiracists seem to have trouble wrapping their heads around is the fact that the holes left by the crashing aircraft seem to be way too small for a Boeing 757. For example, the hole in the exterior wall was 75 feet wide, which seems awfully small for a plane with a 155-foot wingspan. A hole left in Ring C seemed even smaller, at only 16 feet across.

One of the clearest photos I could find showing the damage to the building in the thirty minutes between the impact and the section collapsing on itself.

Several experts justifiably ask if the conspiracists expected the plane to leave an “impact silhouette,” which is TV Tropes.com’s name for the cartoon trope involving a character or object passing through a solid leaving a perforation shaped exactly like that character or object.

As depicted in this Garfield comic dating from July 2, 1999.

Indeed, given that the holes left by the planes that hit the Twin Towers were shaped like planes, wings and all, you might be forgiven for seeing this as a logical complaint… until you factor in that a) the plane had struck the ground before impact and thus had reduced its speed, b) one wing had been partially severed by hitting the ground, and c) unlike the Towers, the Pentagon’s concrete walls are specifically designed to withstand being shelled at point-blank range by enemy battleships, meaning the wings likely just disintegrated on impact.

Meanwhile, the fuselage “flowed into the structure in a state closer to liquid than a solid mass,” as Popular Mechanics puts it. This can help explain the 12 ft. (not 16 ft.) hole in ring C; it wasn’t made by the whole fuselage, merely a piece of the plane’s landing gear.

Conspiracists are also puzzled about how some windows even right above the impact point remained intact even though they’re part of a military facility and were obviously designed to be blast resistant. Indeed, if they were still intact after an outside impact from a derelict Boeing 757, that means they were doing exactly what they were designed to do.

Finally, for any Truther who insists that there was no plane wreckage found at the site, take the testimony of blast expert Allyn E. Kilsheimer, the first structural engineer to arrive at the crash site to coordinate the emergency response:

It was absolutely a plane and I’ll tell you why. I saw the marks of the plane wing on the face of the building. I picked up parts of the plane with airline markings on them. I held in my hand the tail section of the plane, and I found the black box. I held parts of uniforms of the crew members in my hands, including body parts. Okay?

Allyn E. Kilsheimer, CEO of KCE Structural Engineers PC, Washington D.C.

Or if you want a more concrete example, try this photograph on for size:

Unless you want to say that the Secret Service raided a nearby scrapyard, which… I mean… whatever, I guess.
8. Insider traders knew in advance.

This is admittedly going to be tricky for me to comment on since, at least for me, trying to understand the stock market is like trying to understand how people think Donald Trump was in any way qualified to be President of the United States. Snopes.com summarizes the gist of the theory like this: “In the days just prior to the September 11 attacks, large quantities of stock in United and American Airlines were traded by persons with foreknowledge of the upcoming 9/11 attacks.”

Market analysts have indeed confirmed that unusual trading activity involving the two airlines was noted in the month before the attacks, with put and call options being 25 to 100 times normal. Bloomberg’s electronic trading system also registered the options volume of UAL (United Airlines’ parent company) as 36% higher than normal. These abnormalities reached their highest spike on September 6th, when the number of options on UAL jumped from 27 the previous day to 2,000. And if that wasn’t weird enough, the investment firms Merryl Lynch and Morgan Stanley, which were significantly damaged by the attack, experienced a downturn in value.

But is this necessarily evidence of foul play? According to investigators, no. Per the 9/11 Commission’s official report:

…[F]urther investigation has proved that the trading had no connection with 9/11. A single U.S. based institutional investor with no concievable ties to al-Qaeda purchased 95% of the UAL puts on September 6 as part of a trading strategy that also included buying 115,000 shares of American on September 10. Similarly, much of the seemingly suspicious trading in American on September 10 was traced to a specific U.S. based options trading newsletter, faxed to its subscribers on Sunday, September 9, which recommended these trades.

The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States

Once again, I must admit, I don’t know jack about how the stock market works, so I have no way of checking whether this is true. But considering that most of what the 9/11 Commission seems to be verified by what I’ve debunked so far, I’m tending to think they may know what they’re talking about here as well.

9. Israeli employees knew in advance.

Here’s where the conspiracy theories take an uncomfortable turn into anti-Semitic territory. Once again, Snopes.com summarizes the basic gist of this theory: “Four thousand Israeli employed by companies housed in the World Trade Center stayed home on 9/11, warned in advance of the impending attack on the WTC.”

This rumor apparently started with a September 12th report from the Israel-based newspaper The Jerusalem Post commenting on how there were 4,000 Israelis believed to be in the area of the WTC and the Pentagon around the time of the attacks. Somehow, Syria’s state-owned Al Thawra newspaper spun that into the “4,000 Israelis mysteriously failed to show up for work” claim as little as 3 days after the attack. The Lebanon-based television news station al-Manar soon followed suit.

However, if Israel really was that bent on making sure no Jews died due to terrorist attacks it knew in advance about, they did a rather poor job. Estimates of the number of Jews who died in the World Trade Center run from as low as 270 to as high as 400. At least five have been confirmed to have been Israeli citizens, and at least one Manhattan synagogue reported to have lost six members. It just goes to show that the 9/11 attacks affected everyone equally. Be they Christian, Muslim, Jew, atheist, or agnostic, no person of any faith (or lack thereof) was spared the wrath of the hijackers that day.

10. The government had advance knowledge of the attack but chose not to act on it.

Perhaps one of the more reasonable conspiracies to come out of the Truther movement is the theory that the government didn’t directly perpetrate the attacks, but they knew the attacks were coming and didn’t do anything about it. It’s very similar to the conspiracy that Franklin Roosevelt’s administration knew in advance that the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor but chose not to act because they wanted to join World War II.

Indeed, Wikipedia lists several potential warnings about the possibility of terrorists using planes as missiles that the government received in the years before 9/11. A lot of conspiracists are baffled as to why the Bojinka plot didn’t ring any alarm bells. For those who are curious, the Bojinka plot was another planned al-Qaeda escapade involving planes set to go forward in January 1995. The plan was to assassinate Pope John Paul II, destroy 11 airliners en route from America to Asia to shut down air travel and crash a plane into CIA headquarters in Fairfax County, Virginia. Fortunately, the plan was foiled by an inopportune chemical fire drawing the attention of the Philippine National Police, but not before one of its architects, Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, was able to escape and help plan the 9/11 attacks.

Indeed, that seems like a major oversight, especially in the eyes of the conspiracists. However, while this may just be my inner anarchist talking again, I think these people are vastly overestimating the competence of the U.S. government, as well as its ability to keep a secret. Former National Security Advisor Sandy Berger testified that “We heard of the idea of planes being used as weapons, but I don’t recall being presented with any specific threat information about an attack of this nature, or highlighting this threat, or indicating that it was more likely than any other.” NORAD, for its part, reported that “The threat of terrorists hijacking commercial airliners within the United States and using them as guided missiles was not recognized by NORAD before 9/11.”

Perhaps it would be wise for conspiracy theorists to keep Hanlon’s Razor in mind before they go accusing the government of hiding things: “Do not attribute to malice that which can be easily explained by stupidity.”

Conclusion

But still, out of all the different ways that we can debunk the conspiracies of the 9/11 Truth movement, I don’t think any is more devastating than the sheer number of people who would have to be sworn to secrecy to stop the truth from coming out. As this writing, the list includes President Bush’s administration, the NYC firefighters, the NYPD, the courts, the NYC Port Authority, everyone who works at the Pentagon, the more than 1,600 widows and widowers of 9/11, the media, the photographers, Popular Mechanics, PBS Nova, the NIST, then New York Governor George Pataki, the NYC scrapyards, every single structural engineer in the world, the CIA, FBI, FEMA, NORAD, the FAA, the American Society of Civil Engineers, American Airlines, United Airlines, every airport that the planes took off from…

Yeah, I think you get the idea. I think Jason Pargin, writing about the Truther movement for Cracked.com, put it best when he wrote that “Covering this [controlled demolition of the Twin towers] up would be like trying to keep the atomic bomb a secret after Hiroshima.” He especially questions the common Truther narrative that everyone in on the conspiracy could possibly be paid enough to keep quiet about the whole affair, especially the NYC fire department who, need I remind you, lost 343 firefighters in the attacks.

Indeed, when you really examine the implications of the Truther conspiracists, it really seems that they think everyone except them is willing to take any amount of money to cover up a deadly false-flag operation and subsequent government cover-up. It really makes them seem to have a view of humanity as a whole so cynical that it would make even Thomas Hobbes go, “Dude, that’s messed up!”

Indeed, when viewed through that light, it’s probably easy to see how the 9/11 Truth movement may have led to the proliferation of even darker conspiracy theories like the QAnon movement. Pargin even mentions in the Cracked article how the infamous Truther documentary Loose Change was funded by a man who “says the world is run by a massive Satanic cult that enslaves prominent politicians by delivering kidnapped boys for them to molest and then blackmailing them about it later.” Did I mention this article was written in 2007?

Perhaps the most succinct summary of everything wrong with the 9/11 Truth movement comes from this 2006 interview with Noam Chomsky:

I think the Bush administration would have to be utterly insane to try anything like what is alleged, for their own narrow interests, and do not think that serious evidence has been provided to support claims about actions that would not only be outlandish, but that would have no remote historical parallel.

Noam Chomsky, 2007, What We Say Goes, Allen & Unwin, New Zealand

He even speculated that the government itself might be secretly fueling the conspiracy theories to draw attention away from more pressing humanitarian concerns. What sort of humanitarian concerns, you may ask? To answer that question, let us examine another 9/11 related myth, one that we know for sure the government has been pushing for years:

Bonus Myth: The terrorists did it because they hate our freedom.

Americans are asking, “Why do they hate us?” They hate what we see here right in this chamber- a democratically elected government. Their leaders are self-appointed. They hate our freedoms- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other.

President George W. Bush, Address to a Joint Session of Congress and the American People, September 20, 2001

It certainly is a nice thought that Bush is expressing here- that the terrorists attacked us simply because we’re the good guys. But it’s a blatant lie that relies on us believing that the real world operates on fantasy novel “black and white morality.” But, as even CIA operative Michael Scheuer (leader of the agency’s bin Laden unit) was quick to admit:

Bin Laden has been precise in telling America the reasons he is waging war on us. None of the reasons have anything to do with our freedom, liberty, and democracy, but everything to do with U.S. policies and actions in the Middle East.

Michael Scheuer, quoted in Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen

In a 1998 fatwa titled “Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders,” bin Laden listed three main grievances against the United States. First, he criticized the U.S. occupation of the Arabian Peninsula, the Muslim holy land. Second, he criticized its embargos against Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq. Third, he criticized America’s continued support of the state of Israel in the face of its continued persecution of the Palestinian people.

Let me make something explicitly clear here: I am not saying that the September 11th attacks were in any way morally justifiable. Bin Laden and his recruits willingly murdered innocent Americans who had nothing to do with his people’s oppression in the course of committing these attacks. Plus, his characterization of all Jews as morally responsible for Palestinian oppression rather than just the Israeli government is wildly anti-Semitic and wrong on so many levels.

But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t right about the United States’ culpability in horrific crimes of imperialism in the Middle East. The U.S. has been ruining democracy overseas ever since the Age of Imperialism, as has been documented as early as 1935’s War is a Racket, where former Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler recalls his services in Mexico, Central America, the Caribbean, and China helping American corporations secure profits in foreign markets through the art of war. Indeed, September 11th is also the anniversary of the fall of Salvador Allende’s government in Chile in 1973, engineered by the CIA to install the murderous right-wing junta of Augusto Pinochet, who was more amenable to U.S. corporate interests. It happened in the Middle East, too, most infamously when the U.S. and U.K. teamed up to oust Iranian prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh after he moved to nationalize Iran’s oil fields in 1953.

And to whoever 9/11 Truthers who may still be reading this, I want to ask you: Why do you think the U.S. would need to engineer 9/11 to justify blowing up brown kids overseas? When has the United States ever needed an excuse like that to maim and kill nonwhites? Do you forget that this country was literally built on the backs of African slaves? Do you forget that America only has as much land as it does because we slaughtered the indigenous populations to get it? Do you forget that these peoples are still overwhelmingly kept in poverty because we refuse to acknowledge that the racist ideas of our forefathers are still enshrined in our laws and institutions, and our lionized view of them means we are still, after two and a half centuries, unwilling to face up to this fact?

To this, I have only one thing to say, my friends.


And that’s the end of this article. I actually based it on an essay I wrote for a high school English class in May of 2012. It was very loosely based, though; for instance, one of the sources I cited in the original was a book called 48 Liberal Lies About America. It was written long before I managed to extricate myself from the philosophical cul-de-sac that is American neoconservatism, so don’t judge me!

As for the sources of this article, those include:

Popular Mechanics’ excellent series of articles examining the myths from an engineer’s perspective.

Jason Padgin’s Cracked article “Was 9/11 an Inside Job?” which focuses on the sheer lunacy of the conspiracy theories (be warned, though: the writer is a bit cavalier with the word “retard.” Did I mention this article was written in 2007?).

The website Debunking911.com, which has sadly gone defunct in the nine years since I wrote the original essay.

www.911truth.org, which was my main resource for the Truther side of the argument.

And, of course, good old Wikipedia.

Join me next time for another installment of P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist. See you soon!

It’s Good to Be Back!

Hi there, blog watchers! I just wanted to let you know that I’ve finished the Divine Conspiracy project on DeviantArt and am ready to return to PrestonPosits. I just started on the 9/11 Truther conspiracy list I promised all the way back in July. My plan is for that to come out on Saturday the 11th, exactly twenty years to the day after the tragedy. My plans to revisit paranormal triangles in October are also still on the table, as are other potential supernatural subjects that I won’t spoil here.

I also mentioned something involving a list of anarchist philosophies that I wanted to do sometime in the future. I have given that subject some more thought, and I think a project like that might be better accomplished as an individual examination of each philosophy rather than a comparative list. Anarcho-primitivism would get its own articles, as would Proudhonian mutualism, egoist anarchism, collectivist anarchism, etc. I’d also be willing to examine some leftist philosophies that don’t fall under the anarchist umbrella, like Marxist-Leninism, Stalinism, Maoism, Luxemburgism, etc.

But that’s all for me to figure out once the 9/11 article is finished. I hope you’ll stay tuned for that. Otherwise, this is Preston, signing off.

Taking a Break

So, my big retrospective on Watership Down is finally complete. You may ask, “Preston, what’s next as far as writing on the blog goes?” And my answer to that would be…

Yeah, I think I deserve to have a break from this blog after completing such a big project.

Don’t get me wrong; this doesn’t mean I won’t be doing anything with the blog for the next several weeks. I still need to check up on it regularly to see if any of the plugins need updating. Plus, there are a few more modifications I’d like to do on the technical side. For example, I need to figure out why the address bar still says this site is “not secure,” even though I know I have SSL certification. I also need to decide which of my articles on here I want to enshrine as “cornerstone content.” Maybe there are some other things I’ve forgotten about, but for now, let’s discuss what I’ll be doing in the interim.

I won’t be taking a break from writing altogether during this period. I’ve been neglecting my DeviantArt profile for a while now because of how this retrospective has consumed my spare time for the last two months. Indeed, I haven’t posted any of my writing there for the last five months, despite constantly promising my watchers that I would have the first part of my Divine Conspiracy pilot out by the end of the month. I wish to remedy that sometime between now and September, and The Divine Conspiracy is what I will be primarily working on during that period.

So, yeah. The remainder of July and the whole of August is how long this break will last. I will still be writing throughout that break (barring a week-long family camping trip the last week of July), just not on Preston Posits. I may still find some room to slip a smaller, less work-intensive article here or there. I’ve particularly been interested in doing a “P.J.’s Ultimate Playlist” post on a Joy Division song I heard not too long ago, so you may expect something like that in August.

As for when the longer articles return in September, you might expect that essay I proposed at the end of May, where I compare different anarchist philosophies to see which ones I like best. I was originally going to do it as a ranked list similar to my “Problem of Evil” article, but I decided against formatting it that way because I don’t want to contribute to leftist infighting. Also, aside from anarcho-primitivism to a certain extent, I don’t really have any moral objections to any anarchist philosophy, because they basically all want the same thing I do; death to all unjust hierarchical systems, be they centralized governments, multinational corporations, and unjust law enforcement apparatuses.

I also want to make a top ten list like my one about climate change myths, this time debunking 9/11 Truther conspiracies, as the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attack comes upon us, so probably expect that one first. Of course, October is not that far off either, so maybe you can expect me to make a continuation of my paranormal triangles list, as well as other spooooooky subjects.

But yeah, the long and short of it is, don’t expect to see me much on this blog before the end of August. But maybe stick around my DeviantArt page to finally get a taste of what The Divine Conspiracy has to offer. Here’s a link to follow for those who are interested: https://www.deviantart.com/pjdominy.

That’s all for now, beautiful watchers. Until next time, take care.

Watership Down Retrospective Pt. 5: The Netflix Series

Our final entry in this retrospective takes us to 2018 when the third screen adaption of this classic tale of bunny heroics was unveiled to us by Netflix on December 23rd (it was released a day earlier on the BBC network in the U.K.). The BBC had announced a new adaptation in July of 2014, with Tom Bidwell of My Mad Fat Diary, Eastenders, and Casualty fame being hired to write four hour-long episodes.

Further announcements came in April of 2016 when Netflix announced that they had purchased the global distribution rights for the series. Also announced were the other production companies involved, including 42 and Biscuit Films, the production company of the series director, Noam Murro. The announcement also included several of the voice actors set to participate: James McAvoy as Hazel, Nicholas Hoult as Fiver, John Boyega as Bigwig, Gemma Arterton as Clover, Freddie Fox as Captain Holly, Anne-Marie Duff as Hyzenthlay, Miles Jupp as Blackberry, Olivia Coleman as Strawberry, and Ben Kingsley as General Woundwort. I can remember reading that Christopher Lee had been attached at some point, but he died in June 2015, aged 93.

Two other deaths would hang much more gloomily over the project shortly after. First, Richard Adams passed away at the ripe old age of 96 on Christmas Eve, 2016. The next month, on January 25th, John Hurt, the original voice of Hazel, died just three days after his 77th birthday after a 14-month battle with pancreatic cancer. Naturally, this led to many utterances of “My heart has joined the Thousand, for my friend stopped running today” among the Watership Down fandom.

Maybe this created expectations for the new miniseries that the producers and animators couldn’t reach. When the series finally came out in December of 2018, it received some rather mixed reviews. It did manage to receive a score of 77 and 76 on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic, respectively, with the summary on the former reading, “Though its animation leaves something to be desired, Watership Down is a faithful adaptation that will resonate with viewers of any age.” Reception among the fandom seems to be much more divided, with some liking it and others hating it.

As for me, this adaptation really isn’t anything to write home about. It’s definitely not terrible, and the creators clearly did have a vision that they were committed to. But not only is the animation woefully outdated and stilted, but some of the directorial choices and changes that the writers made left me scratching my head. Allow me to explain.

My Thoughts

Perhaps the best place to start would be the thing that most viewers will notice right away: the lackluster animation. Even most positive reviews tended to agree that the animation itself was the series’ weakest link, especially in comparison to the film. Whereas the film’s animation remains just as vibrant and colorful in 2021 as it was in 1978, many reviewers unfavorably compared the animation style here to the animated cutscenes from early 2000s video games. True, the animation isn’t anywhere near the godawful level of quality offered by the likes of Video Brinquedo. Even so, the rabbits’ movements feel jerky and robotic, like they’re not properly interacting with their environment.

Not helping the poor animation is the hyper-realistic style that the artists used for the character designs. For one thing, it’s often hard to tell which rabbit is which. Looking at the picture I used as a header for this article, I can tell that the three rabbits in the middle are Fiver, Bigwig, and Hazel. I can’t remember which of the other three rabbits are which, though.

Another problem with hyper-realism is that the rabbits aren’t allowed to emote like they could in the two previous adaptations. This often creates a disconnect between the often lively performances from the voice actors and the muted facial expressions on the rabbits, especially in far-away shots. Indeed, Bigwig barely seems to react in the third episode when the Efrafans catch him in an escape attempt with Hyzenthlay and her does.

Perhaps now would be a good jumping-off point to discuss my problems with how several characters were portrayed in the series. I didn’t particularly enjoy what the series did with Hazel, for instance. Hazel, in this version, is much less confident in his role as a leader, which annoyed me to no end. He constantly second-guesses himself and just awkwardly stands around while others make decisions for him. It gets especially egregious when, during the Efrafa operation, he seems far more worried about Clover than Bigwig or the other does imprisoned in Efrafa (we’ll talk more about her in a bit).

Bigwig also gets the shaft in this version, as he becomes much angrier and confrontational, constantly arguing with every decision Hazel makes. He even threatens to kill Fiver for making a nuisance of himself at Cowslip’s warren in this version. I get the sense that Bidwell did this because he thought it would make his character development in Efrafa more noticeable, but it just made me want to make hasenpfeffer out of him. Also, Hazel’s plan to get Bigwig into Efrafa hinging on making their best fighter into a storyteller was stupid, especially since they didn’t even give Bigwig time to memorize a few stories beforehand.

Another character who gets the full asshole makeover is Kehaar, who becomes much more selfish and rude, flatly refusing Hazel’s offer to help them find more does and even abandoning them shortly afterward, only returning when he finds out that his wing isn’t fully healed yet. True, he does eventually pull through for the Watershippers in the end, but his behavior up to that point doesn’t make his arc in warming up to the rabbits feel natural or earned. Not helping this is that Peter Capaldi decided to use his natural Scottish accent to voice Kehaar instead of affecting an Eastern European/Scandinavian accent like in the other adaptations. I can understand not even wanting to try to top Zero Mostel or Rik Mayall, but it still feels like one of Kehaar’s major defining traits has been gutted as a result.

I feel like Bidwell tried to sell the unnaturalness of Cowslip’s warren a bit too hard in this version. For example, Cowslip himself is introduced dancing on his hind legs, which I feel is way too unrealistic for a story that grounds itself so firmly in realism. The fact that several rabbits in the warren are seen worshipping a crystal formation also doesn’t sit right with me, as it pretty much throws all the slow-burning subtlety of the sequence right out the window.

Bidwell’s interpretation of Efrafa also feels very wrong to me, not the least because he put the enemy warren in the ruins of a human-made factory. Doesn’t that kind of defeat the whole purpose of Efrafa? In the novel, the warren was specifically designed by Woundwort and his council to be hidden from human eyes. True, this factory is clearly not in use by humans anymore, but what’s to stop them from knocking down those smokestacks one of these days and basically nuking the warren even worse than Sandleford?

Some of the ways in which Woundwort’s character is handled also rubbed me the wrong way. Episode Four starts with a retelling of Woundwort’s backstory that just feels all wrong since it deviates from the story told in the novel, and not for the better. For example, Woundwort’s warren is not killed by a farmer in this adaptation, but rather a pack of foxes that he was too tharn to warn them about (since when did red foxes hunt in packs?). We don’t even get to see Woundwort’s time as a hutch rabbit, even though that’s a major reason why he is so attracted to Clover when she appears at Efrafa. Even with Ben Kingsley giving a performance every bit as menacing as Harry Andrews and John Hurt’s portrayals, his character still feels a bit flat in this iteration, especially since the writers didn’t really do anything with his backstory to try to flesh his character out.

Speaking of Clover, though, here’s where I get into my issues with how the does are portrayed, especially her and Strawberry. Yes, this time, Strawberry takes his turn to be the token gender flip, being something of a hyper-active Genki girl who leaves Cowslip’s warren because she wants to live in a place where she doesn’t keep losing her friends to the shining wires. Unfortunately, once she gets to Watership Down, she ends up being consigned to almost singlehandedly digging the new warren because, in this version, does are inherently better at digging than bucks. Not only is this biologically untrue (the only reason does dig more than bucks in real life is because they need the burrows for their litters), this also goes against the novel, where Hazel even pointedly says that the problem is that “Bucks won’t dig. Not can’t, won’t.” Even if we ignore the digging issue, though, the fact that Bidwell chose a sheltered and naive rabbit with little to no survival skills as the token female is… a bit poorly thought out if you ask me.

Clover, on the other hand, is a whole different can of worms. It is understandable on a meta-level why she was made Hazel’s love interest instead of Hyzenthlay. James McAvoy and Anne Marie-Duff, their respective voice actors, had gotten divorced shortly before the series went into production, so Bidwell probably figured he shouldn’t pair them together. The problem is that the series tries way too hard to sell the two as a couple, practically turning Clover into a Mary Sue in the process.

In this version, for example, it is Clover who rescues Hazel from the drainpipe instead of Fiver, which I feel robs the story of the one moment that really solidifies his and Hazel’s brotherly bond. Not helping this is that Clover chooses this moment to utter the famous line, “Man will not rest until he’s spoiled the Earth,” which feels really out of place coming from her since she’s lived in a very well-kept hutch her whole life. True, Lucy’s father seems much more callous in this version, as he indiscriminately shoots at Hazel and his own daughter’s pet rabbits during the breakout. Still, there’s no indication that Lucy herself treats them any worse.

Clover’s expanded role in Efrafa also comes at the expense of Hyzenthlay’s character. Hyzenthlay here is much more beaten down and defeatist and far less trusting of Bigwig. Indeed, at one point, Clover is forced to try to bargain with Woundwort to save her from execution, offering to become his queen if he agrees to spare Hyzenthaly’s life (he rather rudely declines). She consequently seems to take Hyzenthlay’s place as a leader in the group, much to the detriment of the latter’s character.

There are a few elements that I did like from this adaptation. For instance, Fiver’s visions are suitably eerie, with objects and even live rabbits floating motionless in mid-air. The way Fiver’s “the roof is made of bones” comment is visualized in Cowslip’s warren was especially creepy. I also thought this series’ depiction of Bigwig’s close encounter with the snare was appropriately intense, even though the only blood we see in the scene comes from Fiver of all rabbits, from cutting his lip trying to chew through the peg.

The fight scenes were the only time where I felt that the rabbits actually moved like real rabbits, their quick movements showing what real damage a rabbit’s claws can do to an opponent. Again, though, the series seems strangely reluctant to show any blood except during Bigwig and Woundwort’s climactic battle, which is weird since it doesn’t seem to be aiming for that young of an audience. Still, the confrontation with Woundwort under the railway arch was a definite highlight, especially when Kehaar comes flying in with a genuinely awesome slow-motion shot.

I think that this series’ reinterpretation of the Black Rabbit of Inle is fascinating. Instead of the fearsome harbinger of death we saw in the book and previous adaptations, he is presented here as a doe with soft-black hair and a soothing voice provided by Rosamund Pike. It really helps to illustrate how death isn’t really all that scary when you get right down to it, especially given how the Black Rabbit has been portrayed in all Watership Down adaptations. That said, though, I really don’t like how the final scene where she takes Hazel was handled. I don’t really feel like Hazel earned his spot in the Black Rabbit’s Owsla since the writer undermined his leadership skills with the way he wrote the character. Also, it seems like his death occurs only months after Woundwort’s defeat, which feels cheap to me. Still, his and Fiver’s final conversation is suitably emotional, especially since it’s clear that Fiver knows what’s coming and has no power to stop it.

Even if the script didn’t really give them good material to work with, the voice cast was solid. McAvoy and Boyega were especially undersold, as I felt their performances could have been even better if their characters were closer to how they were portrayed in the book. Nicholas Hoult was great as Fiver, perfectly capturing the vulnerability of the character. Lee Ingleby and Freddie Fox’s performances as Campion and Holly, respectively, were also highlights. Here’s an interesting piece of trivia about Cowslip’s voice actor, Rory Kinnear: he’s the son of Roy Kinnear, the voice of Pipkin in the film adaptation (who, along with Silver, is Sir Not-Appearing-in-This-Adaptation).

Finally, I feel I should give a shout-out to “Fire on Fire,” the theme song composed by Sam Smith for this version. It is a pretty good song, tapping into the themes of love, friendship, and hope present in the story. Even so, I can’t help but agree with Mike Batt’s criticism that it doesn’t really have much to do with the actual content of the series itself, and it definitely isn’t nearly as memorable as “Bright Eyes.” The score by Argentian composer Federico Jusid also didn’t really leave much of an impact on me, as it didn’t really have the folksy charm of the film and ’99 series scores and felt like generic film music.

So yeah, overall, this adaptation was just a disappointment in my eyes. Even the few elements I did like (the voice acting, the background animation, the fight scenes, etc.) were often overcome by the series’ faults dragging them down. The characters often felt like downgrades from their book counterparts. The pacing often felt much faster than the film (despite having a runtime three times as long). The deviations from the novel’s story almost always felt like changes for the worse (seriously, why was the boat escape cut? I sincerely doubt the Watership rabbits could simply outrun Efrafa’s Owsla). And the lack of colors just makes the whole series look lifeless and drab. I give the series a 4/10. I think the series’ creators really were trying to make something good but were too caught up in giving their adaptation its own identity and missed much of what made the original story so good in the first place.

Epilogue

So now we come to the end of this retrospective. It took a lot longer to finish than I initially anticipated. When I first announced it in May, I definitely didn’t think it would take me until July to finish it. Am I going to put myself through something like this again next May when I turn 27? Maybe. We’ll wait and see.

For now, though, I want to close off this retrospective by answering one last question. Say I actually did manage to achieve a professional writing career and decided that I wanted to have a go at my own adaptation of Watership Down. What would I want to see in my own adaptation?

Obviously, the best place to look would be what I liked and didn’t like about all three screen adaptations. The film was definitely the closest to the original story and did an outstanding job at hitting all the plot beats and staying true to the characters and the dark tone. At the same time, though, the ninety-minute runtime often made it feel like it was merely scratching the surface of the plot and themes and is barely able to let any characters other than Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, Woundwort, and maybe Cowslip and Hyzenthlay to have much of an impact.

The 1999 series makes up for this by having three seasons of 13 episodes each, allowing more room for the plot and characters to stretch their legs. Unfortunately, the writers on that show somewhat shot themselves in the foot by stretching the Efrafa conflict out over two seasons and including filler episodes that forced themselves between very plot-relevant episodes, often leading to adult viewers developing arc fatigue. While season three somewhat remedies this by having the Woundwort take over a meaner and scarier warren after Efrafa is destroyed, the writers reshot themselves by suddenly introducing supernatural elements that allowed them to resolve the conflict with a bloodless deus ex machina. Plus, since the series creators were aiming for a younger audience, much of the violence that gave the original story its identity was stripped away, along with much of the sense of danger that followed the protagonists everywhere they went.

There isn’t really much from the Netflix series that I feel inclined to emulate, aside from the voice cast. I would be interested in having James McAvoy, Nick Hoult, John Boyega, and Ben Kingsley back to have another go at voicing Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, and Woundwort again this time with the characters acting far closer to their book counterparts.

With all that in mind, I think my perfect adaptation of Watership Down would be a three-season TV series like the 1999 series. The first season would cover the original novel’s story, ending with Woundwort’s defeat at the beech hanger. Season Two would explore what would happen if Woundwort actually survived his fight with the dog, defied the Black Rabbit’s call to follow him to the spirit world, and secretly worked behind the scenes to rebuild his empire; his refusal to follow the Black Rabbit causes the Watership Down rabbits to deal with strange supernatural events as the spirit world is thrown out of balance. Season Three would feature Woundwort retaking Efrafa only to lose it again and be forced to return to his original home in Darkhaven. I would like to redo Campion’s arc from the ’99 series, hopefully better this time, especially better developing his romance with Blackberry in the second season (yes, she’s a doe again in my version. Sorry to all the purists out there, I just liked Doe! Blackberry best).

I especially would prefer not to do that thing that both television adaptations did where the Sandleford rabbits reach Watership Down at the end of the first episode, as I feel it cheapens the arduous journey that the rabbits have to go through to reach their destination. Also, would it kill the creators of these adaptations to have Watership Down actually look like the real Watership Down?

For reference, here’s what Watership Down looks like in the film and TV adaptations…
…and here’s what Watership Down looks like in real life (from the north side).

Not really sure if there’s much else to say on this subject or if I’m just tired of working on this project after two months, but I think this is where I finally close the book on the subject of Watership Down. Be sure to stay tuned for updates in a few days, where I’ll explain where this blog is headed next after this project comes to an end. Remember to be cunning and full of tricks, and I’ll see you next time. Thank you, buh-bye!

Watership Down Retrospective Pt. 4: Fall of Efrafa

Parasitic ape/Spills his black blood/Blotting out the sun/Wither to sallow flesh- Pity the Weak

We’ve talked about the subject of Watership Down’s supposed political and/or religious allegories in previous entries in this retrospective. Richard Adams, as noted before, insisted that it was simply a story that he made up for his children that they finally persuaded him to write down one day. Still, it seems that people keep reading their own political opinions into the novel. I tend to believe that what is going on with Watership Down is the same thing that J.R.R. Tolkien suspected was happening to The Lord of the Rings whenever people started reading political allegories into his work as well:

I think that many confuse “applicability” with “allegory,” but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.

J.R.R. Tolkien, Forward to The Lord of the Rings

Indeed, while Tolkien readily admitted that his experiences as a soldier in World War I certainly influenced his worldbuilding, he denied that he was consciously making commentary on the political affairs of the real world in his work.

As for Adams, we’ve discussed how characters like Hazel, Bigwig, and Kehaar were inspired by characters he met during his service in World War II. Therefore it’s definitely not much of a stretch to assume that Hitler or Stalin may have influenced General Woundwort and Efrafan society in general. As for the journey undertaken by Hazel and his band of hlessil, I think author Rachel Kadish, in an essay talking about how she compares the novel to the founding of Israel after the Holocaust, puts it best:

Turns out plenty of other people have seen their histories in that book. Turns out some people see it as an allegory for struggles against the Cold War, fascism, extremism. Or a protest against materialism, against the corporate state. Watership Down can be Ireland after the famine, Rwanda after the massacres. A quick online search for “Watership Down allegory” definitively proves that the book is an adaptation of Homer and Virgil, or of the life of Jesus, or of Native American religion.

Rachel Kadish, “Whose Parable Is It Anyway?”, Moment Magazine, September/October 2011

And this is where Fall of Efrafa comes in.

Background
We will not go quiet! We will not be restrained! We will not be slaves to an impotent regime!- Republic of Heaven

This band’s history begins in the southern coastal city of Brighton, East Sussex, in 2005 with two friends, Alex Bradshaw and Steve McCusker. McCusker was a touring musician, playing guitar with several local punk bands. Bradshaw was a graphic artist struggling with chronic fatigue syndrome, from which he would derive his future stage name, Alex CF. Steve happened to be reading Watership Down, and the two began discussing the political allegories they saw in the story. As their discussions continued, they hit upon the idea of starting a band based on the concept of examining the mythology of the book through their own radical left-wing viewpoints, with a heavy emphasis on promoting atheism and animal rights. And thus, Fall of Efrafa was born, with the lineup being completed by Neil Kingsbury on second guitar, George Miles on drums, and Michael Douglas on bass guitar.

No, not the “greed is good” guy!

With the quintet in place, the band entered the studio in May and June of 2006 and, with producer Peter Miles at the helm, released the first of three albums in their Warren of the Snares trilogy in October of that year via the German indie label Alerta Antifascista.

The Warren of the Snares Pt. 1: Owsla
Digger, dig deep! Feel for sights and sounds! Press your ear against the earth, upon the ground! Runner ride out, against the turning tide! The sun beats down upon the land set aside!- Last But Not Least

Before we discuss the actual music on the three records, I should probably give you an idea of what kind of music to expect from this band. One might expect music based around a bucolic setting like Watership Down to be more similar to the laid-back folk-rock tunes that Mike Batt wrote for the movie and TV show. Fall of Efrafa could not be further from that if it tried. The music here exists at the intersection between the grimy crust punk of bands like Amebix and Discharge, the slow and atmospheric post-metal of Pelican and Cult of Luna, and the sludgy and plodding doom metal of Crowbar and Neurosis. This may seem strange to the uninitiated, but it makes sense given what kind of story the band creates off of the source material.

The story told in the Warren of the Snares trilogy is a deeply dark and cynical allegory that examines the tyranny of organized religion, the rise and fall of empires, and humanity’s seeming inability and/or unwillingness to learn from its mistakes. Efrafa, as represented here, seems to represent humanity, taught from birth to see themselves as superior to their animal brethren because God supposedly gave them a soul. Meanwhile, the titular Owsla are kept as the elite warriors of the rabbit hierarchy, with much emphasis placed on how they are often portrayed in the book as pushy and abusive to their underlings, far more concerned with showing off their power rather than dealing with the threat of the Efrafa.

Interestingly enough, Owsla is actually the story’s finale, documenting nature’s last stand against the Efrafa. We see the animal populace begin to question their leadership in the opening tracks, “Pity the Weak” and “A Soul to Bear,” noticing that humanity is inching closer and closer to wiping them out entirely. They are the fastest and most intense tracks in the band’s discography, being the most punk-influenced, although the cello playing on the tracks helps keep subtle hints of post-rock present. After the short instrumental “Lament,” the band launches into the much slower but still punchy “Last But Not Least” and “The Fall of Efrafa,” running a total of ten and fifteen minutes, respectively (although ambient rain sound effects take up the last five minutes of the latter).

These two tracks follow the Owsla populace as they take a final stand against the Efrafa, charging into a hopeless battle to halt the advance of humanity’s mechanized capitalist empire that is inevitably doomed to failure. The animals are left as nothing but bloodstains on the ground and ragged clumps of fur hanging from the hedgerows. The warren is empty.

The Warren of the Snares Pt. 2: Elil
Frith lies still in charred soil/We silflay upon his bones/Dance in his carrion eyes/Tear his flesh with ideas/Bore within him like worms!- For El-ahrairah to Cry

Whereas Owsla dealt with themes of extinction and apocalypse and explored the punk side of the band’s sound, Elil, released in September of 2007, explores the band’s post-metal influence and consists of three tracks that all run over twenty minutes in length. As one familiar with the Lapine language might expect, this album deals with the theme of predators, especially in the form of institutions and religious beliefs that tell us to keep our eyes on some faraway paradise while said institutions pollute and rape all our earthly paradises.

True to the style of post-metal, the three songs (“Beyond the Veil,” “Dominion Theology,” and “For El-ahrairah to Cry”) are slow-burning arrangements that rely heavily on crescendo and atmosphere to evoke despair and hopelessness instead of the brutal crust punk pummeling of the previous album. There are several faster and more punk-oriented passages in all three songs, but they are still slower and darker than anything that Owsla had to offer.

The elil of the title are El-ahrairah, Frith, and the Black Rabbit of Inle, portrayed here as capricious and uncaring masters unwilling to help their subjects in their hour of need, instead demanding the animals take part in outdated and archaic rituals that have no bearing on their present situation. Thus, the populace rebels against the three-headed godlike elil and slays them down as punishment for their dereliction of duty.

These atheist morals are further accentuated by the latter two tracks, which feature recordings of speeches by the notorious atheist philosopher Richard Dawkins. “Dominion Theology” features the speech that begins with “The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all of fiction.” “For El-ahrairah to Cry” features Dawkins trying to make the case that numerous coincidences lining up at once to bring us into existence is far more meaningful than us being willed into existence by some outside intelligence.

The cello player left between Owsla and Elil, as he was frustrated that the band couldn’t figure out how to balance their sound in a live setting so he wouldn’t be drowned out. Alex stated in an interview that this helped the band become better musicians, as they couldn’t rely on the cello player to carry their sound anymore. And it definitely shows, as the band is in fine form here.

The Warren of the Snares Pt. 3: Inle
The accent of piety! The idiot prince! Pigheaded! Exalted and guilty as sin!- Woundwort

The third and final album in the Warren of the Snares trilogy was released in October of 2009. Perhaps fittingly, considering the theme of death on this album, the music here explores Fall of Efrafa’s doom metal side, with occasional flashes of the shoegaze-influenced black metal of bands like Alcest and Agalloch. The music is slow and gloomy while still containing classic punk energy, with songs ranging from ten to seventeen minutes. This album is the beginning of the saga, taking place right before the society of the Owsla self-destructs. The leader of the theocratic dictatorship, represented by General Woundwort, is murdered in a populist uprising, leaving the populace free to face humanity’s threat. Of course, as Owsla demonstrates, their battle against humanity is ultimately doomed to failure.

The music here is probably the most varied out of any Fall of Efrafa album. We start with “Simulacrum,” a lightly instrumented piece that features a morbid poem about the Black Rabbit of Inle that Silverweed could easily have easily composed. We then transition into the heaving “Fu Inle,” told from the point of view of the Black Rabbit himself as he takes a rabbit (Hazel?) to join his Owsla.

After that comes what is probably my favorite Fall of Efrafa song, “Republic of Heaven.” The powder keg lying under the proletariat of the Owsla society finally detonates as they decide to end the torment that Woundwort keeps inflicting on them. The driving arpeggiated guitar riff is what really makes this song for me (some editions of this album include another track after this one called “The Burial,” originally released as a single about six weeks after Inle).

“Woundwort” tells the story of how the leader of this theocracy finally falls and features Alex’s vocals at their most strained and desperate, especially in the chorus (“Where we lay! We will build! Though we may falter! We will build!”). After a short instrumental interlude called “The Sky Suspended” (named after the chapter in the book where Woundwort is defeated), the trilogy concludes with the seventeen-minute epic “The Warren of Snares,” with the newly-liberated populace reflecting on the battle ahead, both with the remnants of the theocracy trying to salvage their empire and with the much greater threat of the Efrafa, which they know they are not likely to survive.

In addition to being told in reverse order, the story is also cyclical, especially demonstrated by the cello playing at the end of the album echoing the cello in the intro to Owsla. This really helps drive home the trilogy’s themes of how humanity keeps building oppressive empires (Rome, Britain, the United States) and never learning from their past mistakes.

Where Are They Now?

In an interview with the Aristocrazia webzine in May of 2020, Alex revealed that he had ideas for a fourth album, tentatively titled Zorn (Lapine for “destroyed”), telling how the system dies and is then reborn in a sort of Satanic ouroboros situation. By this time, the rest of the band had had enough, however, and, after their final concert in Brighton on December 5, 2009, formally disbanded.

As far as I’m aware, Michael and George haven’t done much of note in the music industry since. Neil Kingsbury and Steve McCusker formed a stoner/sludge band called Blackstorm that lasted from 2007 to 2014, and Kingsbury has performed guest work with several other stoner bands, perhaps most notably Orange Goblin since 2013 as a live guitarist. He also recorded a demo for a project called Charybdis in 2015, in which he played all instruments.

Alex CF has been the busiest out of all of them, having founded several other concept bands in the decade-plus since Fall of Efrafa. He started immediately after with Light Bearer (musically similar to Fall of Efrafa except with more influence from prog rock and ambient music), inspired by Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series of books. Other bands he was involved in include Momentum and Carnist. Encyclopedia Metallum currently lists him as fronting four bands: Pnakotus, Anopheli, Morrow, and Archivist. I’ll admit that I haven’t listened to material from any of these bands (except Light Bearer, but that was a while ago). However, I do find the concepts behind Morrow and Archivist fascinating. The former follows a tribe of humans trying to make their way in a post-apocalyptic world. The latter follows the sole survivor of an ecological disaster on Earth as she ponders what led to humanity’s extinction alongside the artificial intelligence named Construct that controls the spaceship she is traveling on.

In addition to these musical projects, Alex has not only continued his graphic arts career (perhaps most notably with the fictional museum based on fictional cryptozoologist Thomas Merrylin), but he also took the unused concepts from Zorn and repurposed them into his own work of xenobiological mythology, featured in the books The Orata and Seek the Throat from Which We Sing, with another titled Wretched is the Husk on the way.

Personal Thoughts

This band likely influenced my development in my later teenage years almost as much as the novel that inspired them. While I was a pretty firm metalhead at the time, I tended to avoid more extreme subgenres like black metal, death metal, and anything to do with hardcore punk. It all just grated on my ears, and I didn’t have much of a desire to see the messages hidden under all that sonic grime and muck.

Fall of Efrafa definitely changed that for me. Knowing that my favorite novel inspired them helped me to know what I was getting myself into when I first looked up the band on YouTube. And it turned out to be an enriching experience. I remember being annoyed at the Richard Dawkins speeches sampled in the Elil tracks, as I was much more devoutly Christian back then. Nowadays, having grown more aware of the abusive nature of organized religion (as well as hierarchical power structures in general), I find myself much more sympathetic to the general ideas behind them… even if I still think that Richard Dawkins is a pretentious jerk.

Though not so much for the atheism stuff as much as for… other opinions he’s expressed in the past.

As for the band being a gateway to more extreme and experimental forms of music, I ended up checking out a lot of the bands that Fall of Efrafa cited as influences on their sound, like Neurosis, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and Agalloch. Agalloch especially has become one of my favorite music artists in any genre.

Thanks to Fall of Efrafa, I was also able to stop worrying and form healthy respect for black metal artists like Immortal, Enslaved, and Deathspell Omega; death metal groups like Bolt Thrower, Death, and Arch Enemy; and hardcore punk outfits like Dead Kennedys, Black Flag, and Discharge. Although I still tend to prefer power metal over any of these subgenres.

Speaking of which…

Epilogue: Rabbit’s Hill Pt. 1 & 2 by Trick or Treat

Before I end this article, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t mention another rock n’ roll concept album experience inspired by Watership Down. This two-part series comes to us from the city of Modena in northern Italy’s Po Valley, courtesy of power metallers Trick or Treat. Parts One and Two were released in November of 2012 by Valery Records and July of 2016 by Frontiers Records, respectively. Rather than the political allegory approach that Fall of Efrafa took with the source material, Trick or Treat’s adaptation is a simple, straightforward retelling of the book. Part One follows the story from Fiver’s vision of doom at Sandleford to Hazel’s near-death experience at Nuthanger Farm. Part Two tells the rest of the story from that point, centering on the conflict with Efrafa and ending with Hazel surrendering himself to the Black Rabbit of Inle.

Is it any good, though? As someone who is already a power metal convert, I think it’s pretty damn good. The genre is rather prone to being very cheesy, though, and these records are no exception. Indeed, the cheese factor here is pretty high, not the least because of lead singer Alessandro Conti’s performance and songwriting. The guy’s Italian accent is very thick, and it’s clear from reading the lyrics that his grasp of English isn’t all that good, at least at this point in the band’s career. It gets especially hilarious when American vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens, singing as Woundwort on the Part 2 track “They Must Die,” sings the line “They have defeat me, now they must pay” exactly the way Conti wrote it. I don’t know about you guys, but that makes me sic.

If you can look past all that, though, the music here is pretty solid. The instrumentalists are excellent (what else would you expect from a metal band?), the solos on the title track from the first album being a special highlight. Aside from Owens (best known for his stints in Judas Priest, Iced Earth, and Yngwie Malmsteen’s band), the albums have several other notable guest stars from the power metal world, including the late, great Andre Matos (Angra, Viper, Shaman), Davide “Damnagoras” Moras of Elvenking, Sara Squadrani of Ancient Bards, and Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica.

I might especially recommend this band to the nerdier side of the metal fandom, as the band seems to have an affinity for anime and cartoons. Not only did they release a metal cover of the Disney anthem “Let It Go” as a single in December of 2014, but they also released an album called Re-Animated in 2018, consisting entirely of covers of anime and cartoon theme songs. In addition, their most recent album, The Legend of the XII Saints, was inspired by the anime Saint Seiya, which I have not seen but heard good things about (I think it’s on Netflix).

And that’s all I have to say about the world of rock operas and concept albums inspired by Watership Down. Join me next time when I complete this retrospective with a look at the 2018 Netflix miniseries. Until next time, beautiful watchers!

Watership Down Retrospective Pt. 3: The TV Series

Title card for seasons one and two of the 1999 series (featuring from left to right: Pipkin, Bigwig, Hazel, Blackberry, and Fiver)

The 1999 TV series, which ran from September 28, 1999, to December 4, 2001, on YTV in Canada and CITV in the UK, occupies an interesting and controversial place within the Watership Down fandom. It was created as a co-production between Martin Rosen’s Nepenthe Productions company, another British company called Alltime Entertainment, and a Canadian company called Decode Entertainment (now known as DHX Media Toronto). Mary Crawford and Alan Templeton would head the writing team.

The explicit aim of the show’s creators was to create a version of the Watership Down story that was more family-friendly, avoiding the baggage that the film carried with it. As such, the creators toned down much of the violence and changed several of the characters. Perhaps the most infamous of these changes was turning Blackberry into a doe, as well as turning Pipkin into a child instead of a timid runt rabbit. Some characters were removed entirely (most notably Silver), while others were replaced with original characters. Hyzenthlay, for instance, was replaced by a character named Primrose, presumably because they thought kids would have too hard a time pronouncing her original name. For similar reasons, El-ahrairah was shortened to El-ahrah (which, amusingly enough, changes his name to “enemy prince” in Lapine).

With all of those changes, one might expect the series to be kiddie nonsense, right? And yet, several Watership Down fans argue that this series is even better than the film adaptation. I remember agreeing with them back when I first watched all 39 episodes on YouTube the first time. Rewatching it for this retrospective, on the other hand… it’s definitely not terrible, and the writers were still clearly trying to stay true to the mature storytelling of the novel as best they could, even with the younger audience in mind. However, it was also clear that the series still has some major problems holding it back. Perhaps the best way to explain how would be to examine all three seasons individually to show how the series evolved.

Season One

The first episode, “The Promised Land,” launches somewhat abruptly in the middle of the action with the rabbits already on their journey, with Sandleford Warren nowhere in sight. Indeed, Sandleford Warren is practically a ghost during the entire series, mentioned several times before and after its destruction but never seen in person. This is somewhat understandable given that Sandleford’s fate would probably the hardest sequence to make into family-friendly given the wholesale mass slaughter, but it does make the series start off rather awkwardly.

We are then introduced to our rag-tag band of hlessil for this adaptation, consisting of seven rabbits: Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, Blackberry, Pipkin, Dandelion, and Hawkbit (making his adaptation debut).

Pictured from left to right: Fiver, Pipkin, Bigwig, Blackberry, Hawkbit, Dandelion, Hazel

Right away, one may notice the changes that several of the characters have gone through. The main trio of Hazel, Fiver, and Bigwig are still relatively unchanged (although Fiver seems less melancholic and more at peace with himself). As noted above, though, Pipkin was aged down to become more of a kid-appeal character while Blackberry was gender-flipped, presumably to add more diversity to the cast. Dandelion has become much more of a comical figure (possibly having been combined with Bluebell, also absent for this adaptation), while Hawkbit has a completely new personality. While described as “a rather slow and stupid rabbit” in the book, here he is a grouchy and sarcastic pessimist who rarely lets a situation pass without a sarcastic remark. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he seems to be a fan favorite among people who actually like the series.

Another thing one might notice is that the animation is a lot more vibrant and colorful than the film adaptation. It’s also definitely TV quality, meaning that it’s often limited and sometimes goes off-model. Still, it does get the job done, at least.

There’s also the voice cast for this adaptation, which dispenses with the wary and urgent tone taken by the actors in the film adaptation and uses a more standard delivery. Some voice actors are better than others at capturing the spirit of their characters. Ian Shaw and Andrew Falvey were well cast as Hazel and Fiver, respectively, and Lee Ross’s nasally sharp voice lends itself extremely well to Hawkbit’s biting sarcasm. Steve Mangan’s performance as Bigwig seems a little off at first, given how he seems to follow a more exaggerated drill instructor-type performance, but his interpretation still grows on you. Phil Jupitus as Dandelion, on the other hand, tends to get on a lot of fans’ nerves thanks to how high-pitched and screechy his voice is. While I don’t dislike his performance as much as others, I still never really got used to it since it seemed way too cartoonish and exaggerated even for this show.

Another criticism I have of this episode is that it ends with the rabbits reaching Watership Down by the end, which I feel cheapens the drama around the actual journey, especially since Cowslip’s warren is completely bypassed. Granted, it does show up two episodes later, but I still think placing it after the arrival on the Down was a mistake.

I do kind of like the idea of Kehaar meeting the rabbits before they arrive at the Down, and it certainly works with the more friendly and less acerbic personality that the gull gets in this adaptation. A part of me wonders if keeping his more brash and confrontational side would have made much better use of Rik Mayall’s comedic talents, but his voice work for the character still gets a few laughs. His early arrival also helps establish the new talent that Pipkin was given in this adaptation, making friends with practically any animal species that isn’t elil.

Insert any Fluttershy related jokes here (Artwork by MetalPandora on DeviantArt)

Kehaar is also joined by a new character named Hannah, a spunky field mouse voiced by Jane Horrocks. There’s not a lot to say about her. She gets in fights with Bigwig. She befriends other animals alongside Pipkin. She takes advantage of her small size to help the rabbits spy on Efrafa later on. I’ll have a bit more say when we get to what the writers did with her in season three, but that’s a ways off.

As for Doe! Blackberry, I tend to believe that she gets a lot more hate than she deserves. Many fans argue that making her a doe undermines the whole reason why the rabbits had to infiltrate Efrafa in the first place. Since the warren now has a doe, they’re all set, right? Not really. Do you really expect one doe to be able to populate an entire warren? Plus, just one doe would mean that the bucks would constantly be at each other’s throats trying to win the right to mate with her. Indeed, in the book, even after Hazel nearly kills himself getting the two hutch does from Nuthanger Farm back to the Down, he’s still worried about the bucks getting in fights and decides to raid Efrafa anyway.

That being said, though, it quickly becomes clear that once Blackberry finishes designing the new warren and discovers the boat that helps the Watershippers outrun Woundwort, the writers had no idea what to do with her. She never joins the other rabbits on their various misadventures and pretty much fades into the background until Woundwort’s attack on the warren at the end of Season Two. But, again, more on that later.

Speaking of Woundwort, though, let’s talk about how Efrafa is portrayed in the series. Hazel’s voice actor from the film, John Hurt, returns to voice Woundwort.

Insert appropriate Internet memes here.

Many of the characters introduced in Efrafa are vibrant and interesting, especially this series’ version of Vervain, Woundwort’s chief enforcer. Here he is portrayed as a cowardly sleazebag with a strong vendetta against Captain Campion, Woundwort’s chief Owsla officer. Woundwort himself is appropriately savage and intimidating, even with more kid-friendly restraints placed on him.

However, his motivations become somewhat muddled when it comes to the reasons he wants Watership Down destroyed. In the book, it was because he was angry at Bigwig for betraying his trust and “kidnapping” some of his subjects. Here, Hazel and Fiver introduce themselves to Woundwort before Bigwig and, aware of Efrafa’s vicious and bloodthirsty reputation, ask Woundwort which he prefers: War or peace? Life or death? He tells Hazel and Fiver to reveal the location of their warren or be executed, and the two are only saved when Fiver has a vision of Woundwort’s past that enrages but also intrigues the General. We don’t get any sense that Woundwort is doing this because he thinks he’s protecting rabbits from men and elil. Here he seems to be doing it simply because he’s a power-hungry bully.

In any case, the main conflict for the next two seasons is the rabbits trying to keep Woundwort from finding Watership Down. They accomplish this way too easily, considering that the distances between the warrens have obviously been shrunk down from what they were in the book. The rabbits even find a cave system under the Down at one point that they use as a secret passage to and from Efrafa, meaning that the rival warren is literally just down the hill from them!

As this map from the opening titles clearly illustrates.

Another change related to Efrafa that definitely wasn’t for the better was what the writers did with Hyzenthlay, or Primrose, as the writers renamed her. Hyzenthlay is a smart and cunning rabbit who proves her leadership capabilities by helping Bigwig orchestrate the breakout from Efrafa, has visions similar to Fiver’s, and is later promoted to co-chief rabbit alongside Hazel. On the other hand, Primrose often comes across as selfish and manipulative, especially when she drags Hazel on an adventure to her old warren, Redstone, in episode nine, even after Fiver has a vision that the warren is empty. They find it to be true, except for the aging former Owsla Captain Broom. While it is nice to hear Richard Briers (Fiver’s voice actor from the film) again, I’ll admit that the character doesn’t really do much, even when he’s given more screentime in season three.

Also, one more thing about Efrafa that really bugs me in the show: Whenever the series comes back to Efrafa, there are these animalistic noises that sound nothing like its rabbit inhabitants echoing through the runs. Where are these sounds coming from? Is there a portal to the Amazon rainforest hidden somewhere? Did Woundwort make a deal with Bunny Satan, and the sounds are the devil’s minions watching over him to make sure he keeps up his end of the bargain? Seriously, what the hell are they?! Obviously, I know it’s the sound designers trying way too hard to show us how eeeeeevil Efrafa is, but I feel like there were far more subtle ways to accomplish it.

Also, Woundwort not blind eye is red, because villain.

If there is one thing that the writers of the series improved on compared to the film, though, it would be Cowslip’s warren. This version of the story has Captain Holly leading Hazel, Bigwig, and Fiver back to the warren to retrieve his friend Pimpernel. Once there, the group slowly starts getting seduced by the “easy life” offered by the rabbits’ seemingly symbiotic relationship with the local farmer… until Bigwig nearly dies in a snare, and the rabbits quickly put two and two together.

With the show dedicating a whole 20+ minute episode to the Warren of the Snares, as opposed to the five minutes the film gave us, we get to see the true existential horror of Cowslip’s warren, which still carries its potency even if they aren’t allowed to show blood during Bigwig’s strangulation (indeed, the only time blood shows up at all in the series is when Hazel gets shot during the hutch rabbit breakout in episode six, whereas all the rabbit fights only leave red scratches that don’t bleed).

Also helping the creepy atmosphere is how Cowslip, voiced by Stephen Fry in this version, is portrayed. Toward the end of the episode, after the Watership rabbits confront Cowslip, Cowslip reveals how insane living under the shadow of the shining wires has turned him. “They won’t get me! They might get others, but never me!” he cries after Hazel tells him he doesn’t need to surrender to the wires and backs slowly into a burrow, laughing like a hyaena. The Watershippers book it out of there, along with Strawberry, tired of living under the shadow of the wires.

In all, the series so far is a fairly faithful adaptation of the book, even if the writers somewhat butchered the original tone to appeal to a more general audience. The characters are enjoyable, the voice cast is good, and the story is fairly consistent, even if the main villain’s motivations are somewhat muddled. I’ll give season one a 7/10.

Season Two

Season Two starts well enough in the first episode with Pipkin becoming a prisoner in Efrafa, with Woundwort using him as a bargaining chip to get Hazel and company to surrender. However, things become complicated when Woundwort starts bonding with Pipkin over their shared backstory of losing their parents to a weasel, even coming to view Pipkin as something of a son to him.

One would think something like this would develop into a major plot thread given how much of a disruption it would be to the two warrens’ dynamic. But this is not to be, since their relationship is practically forgotten about after Pipkin stops Bigwig from killing Woundwort at the end of the episode. Indeed, the only time it comes up again is in the series finale twenty-five episodes later, when Pipkin explains to Hazel and Primrose’s kittens why he thinks Woundwort is so driven to sow chaos and destruction wherever he goes.

Indeed, Season Two is often considered the worst season by most fans of the series, mostly because over half of the episodes this season can be considered filler episodes. Indeed, out of the thirteen episodes broadcast this season, eight (!) have little to nothing to do with the main conflict with Efrafa.

Some of these filler episodes are better than others. “The Orchard,” for instance, has Fiver befriending a lonely badger named Bark living in an apple orchard near Nuthanger Farm and even has a cute running gag where she keeps offering Fiver apples even long after he’s grown sick of them. The two-part Christmas special is also an enjoyable adventure, even if the idea of the rabbits having a solstice holiday (hell, the thought of them having holidays at all) seems rather far-fetched. The writers could have easily had them go on this adventure without a Christmastime-type feast hanging over their heads.

More often than not, though, the plots for these filler episodes seem rather inane and contrived. There’s an episode where the rabbits travel with Kehaar to the “peeg vater” on what looks like the Cliffs of Dover, which should be impossible since the Cliffs are over 100 miles away from the Hampshire Downs. There’s another episode where a pair of con-artist rabbits arrive at Watership Down claiming to be messengers of Prince Rainbow who manage to convince Pipkin he can fly, leading to predictable shenanigans. Another one manages to include the “leading a dog onto Watership Down” plot point from the novel, only instead of leading onto Woundwort it’s to chase away an escaped flock of sheep that are ruining the ecosystem on the Down.

All of this filler tends to make the actual plot feel far more dragged out than it should. One major flaw of the episode with Bark the badger is that it is plopped between two episodes where Captain Campion is being held prisoner in Efrafa under suspicion that he is spying for the Watershippers (he has been since the Season One finale, but the Efrafans don’t know that yet). That problem is resolved in the next episode where the Watership rabbits stage an elaborate plan inspired by “The Story of the Trial of El-ahrairah” to make Vervain (an enemy of Campion’s who’s leading the interrogation) look insane so that Woundwort will let Campion off the hook. After that conflict is resolved, the series goes through five more filler episodes before the Efrafans finally find the cave system under the Down and attack in the second season finale.

There are several positives to this season that save from being a total loss, however. There’s an interesting subplot where two rabbits from Cowslip’s warren named Hickory and Marigold seek the Watership rabbits’ help in establishing a warren of their own. They settle in at the former Redstone warren, but are almost taken by Efrafa when Cowslip and Woundwort briefly join forces. Captain Broom manages to scare the Efrafans away by convincing them that the “great sickness” that decimated his warren years ago is still active. This eventually leads to Campion’s arrest when Woundwort, enraged that Cowslip apparently lied to him, leads the Efrafans to attack the Warren of the Shining Wires, only for Campion to warn him of said wires. It’s a fairly well-executed subplot, even if hearing Hickory and Marigold speaking with American accents is rather jarring (Hickory is even voiced by Keifer Sutherland of all people).

Yes, that Keifer Sutherland.

The season finale is definitely the best episode of this season. Woundwort finally leads his army up the caves to attack the Watershippers, only to give up the attack after Campion seemingly sacrifices himself to save Woundwort from a falling boulder. It’s got the drama and stakes that any Watership Down adaptation worth its salt should have, even if, again, blood is absent for the benefit of the younger audience.

Overall, this season has some good ideas that expand nicely on the source material. But on the other, it has several filler episodes filled with inane and contrived ideas that definitely stretch the bounds of credulity. And I’m giving this season a 6/10 (it’s closer to a 5 than a 7).

Season Three

Season Three has somewhat divided fans of the TV series due to the completely different direction that both the art style and writing took. A lot of fans tend to agree that the third season is undoubtedly the best thanks not only to the story being far more consistent and straightforward than the previous two seasons (with little to no filler to be seen) but also because the series took a much darker and more dramatic turn that brought it much closer to the original tone of the book (though still no blood, because kid show). On the other hand, others tend to dislike the characters’ redesigns, the fact that none of the celebrity voice actors returned (aside from Richard Briers), as well as some admittedly far-fetched story elements revolving around magic. While I mostly fall into the former camp, I still have plenty of problems with this season that keep me from ranking it any higher than “good.”

Perhaps we should start with the most obvious change one observes when watching the first episode of the season: the art style change.

Courtesy of owsalfa.tumblr , featuring Campion, Spartina, Hawkbit, Dandelion, Fiver, and Hazel (compare to the S1E1 still I posted above)

The character designs became more angular, and the animation became much cleaner, although some animation slip-ups still occur from time to time, like this one from S3E11.

Uh, Silverweed, how are you doing that with your feet?

Another thing one might notice right away is the change in voice actors. As mentioned before, Richard Briers is still there voicing Captain Broom, although his voice sounds oddly deeper than in the previous seasons. But, sadly, John Hurt, Stephen Fry, Rik Mayall, Jane Horrocks, and many others are gone, likely victims of budget cuts. Not that any of their replacements are bad (Woundwort’s new voice actor manages to make his own menacing spin on the character, even if his line delivery feels off at points), but their respective talents are definitely a big loss.

Let’s talk about the story. Efrafa finally falls in the first episode after Hazel gathers an army consisting of rabbits and several other animals that the Watershippers have befriended since coming to the Down, including Bark, the badger. Woundwort is presumed dead but comes back, eventually bringing his former toady Vervain back under his command. He briefly manages to take over Redstone Warren but is forced to leave when a human road crew plows it over to make room for a new highway (Hickory, Marigold, and co. manage to make it out just fine). Woundwort makes a bargain with Cowslip to attain the services of his seer, Silverweed, and he takes his followers to his former home, a warren called Darkhaven, where a group of warlike rabbits live in a junkyard awaiting the arrival of the “Dark One.”

Much to his surprise, though, he finds his former captain of Owsla, Campion, waiting for him there. Campion has been secretly nursing himself back to health in the wilderness surrounding Watership Down, with only Pipkin knowing he’s there. Woundwort welcome him back, much to Vervain’s chagrin. But little does he know that the Black Rabbit himself has tasked Campion with stopping Woundwort’s threat to the world of the living. He manages to liberate Silverweed from Darkhaven’s clutches and deliver him to the Watershippers, although he and Blackberry manage to escape suspicion for their role in this.

Oh yeah, speaking of Blackberry: By this time, the Watershippers have learned Pipkin’s secret, and Blackberry, who very suddenly fell in love with Campion during Woundwort’s invasion at the end of season two, is determined to bring him back to Watership Down. She ends up becoming a prisoner of war in Darkhaven instead, with a warrior doe named Spartina, chosen by Woundwort to spy on the Watershippers, using her as a chess piece to keep Campion in line. She threatens to have her companion Granite kill Blackberry if she doesn’t return by the next full moon.

But this plan is complicated by two factors. First, Blackberry ends up saving Granite’s life when he’s badly wounded by a falling rock, even though this is against Darkhaven law, and she nearly gets herself executed over it. He resolves to help her and Campion escape, but Woundwort catches them in the act and threatens to execute Blackberry himself if Campion doesn’t lead him to Watership Down. Second, Spartina ends up enraptured by Watership Down and even falls in love with Bigwig. Unfortunately, she is also marked for execution after Vervain catches her trying to break Campion and Blackberry out. And so Woundwort finally comes to Watership Down to wipe Hazel’s warren from existence forever.

But before we discuss how the series resolves this storyline, let’s examine where it succeeds and fails.

One element that I liked was that Pipkin finally showed signs of aging. The fact that he remained a kitten for two seasons that spanned across a year really doesn’t make sense when you consider that European rabbits usually reach sexual maturity at only three months. True, he’s technically still a kitten here, but he’s definitely more adolescent here than he was in previous seasons.

There’s also been a clear development in Vervain’s character here, as he’s grown slightly more of a backbone. For example, when Woundwort tries to attack a poacher that is menacing Redstone Warren and gets himself and Vervain captured, Vervain lets loose on Woundwort, berating him for likely getting them killed with his mindless pursuit of his “destiny.” Sadly, Woundwort’s delusions of grandeur are only reinforced when a police officer arrests the poacher and releases them. Vervain also shows visible disgust at the joy Woundwort and Cowslip take at watching Redstone fall to man’s bulldozers, not lifting a finger to help fellow rabbits in distress.

Darkhaven is a fascinating plot point, especially due to the hints we get to their past as escapees from “man’s hutches.” A part of me wonders if the Darkhaven rabbits’ backstory is like that of the rats in Don Bluth’s The Secret of Nimh, where they gained their large size, musculature, and aggressive temper from experiments that human scientists did on them. They work well as new enemies for the Watership rabbits, allowing the writers not to overextend the Efrafa subplot any more than they already had.

There are a few issues I have with several characters in this season. One example is Spartina, the Darkhaven rabbit with the most characterization. After Blackberry is taken as a hostage, Spartina gets her enrolled in a sort of class with the Speaker of the Past (a quasi-shamanistic character who teaches about the history of Darkhaven), so she doesn’t have to participate in the warren’s frequent fighting matches. When Blackberry asks Spartina why she’s helping her, the Darkhaven doe replies, “Because no one helped me when I came here.” You would think the writers would use this as a jumping-off point to discuss her backstory eventually, but nope! We never learn anything more about her past, even after switching sides and joining Hazel and co. Speaking of which, her conversion is so sudden it almost induces whiplash. She spends most of episode 36 firmly supportive of Woundwort, gets enraptured by Watership Down’s beauty at the end, and then is fully on the good guys’ side by the next episode. It’s enough to make you wonder if you missed an episode.

The romance between Campion and Blackberry also tends to be a sticking point for series fans, mostly because it came right the hell out of nowhere in the season two finale. Blackberry and Campion suddenly experience love at first sight when Campion warns Hazel that Vervain has found the cave system. When Campion seemingly dies under a large boulder, she mourns his death as if she’s known him for years, as does Campion whenever he’s around Pipkin. Sure, some of their moments together in the third season are kind of cute, but the way the writers set the whole situation up in the first place kind of makes it feel hollow, as if they were just trying way too hard to find something for Blackberry to do since she did so little in the previous two seasons.

But both of those elements pale in comparison to the controversial way the writers decided to end the series and to talk about that, we need to talk about season three’s magic subplot. One thing I didn’t mention in that plot summary up above is that Hannah the mouse, feeling bad because she has no way to help Hazel and the others, learns about hedge wizards from Yona, the local hedgehog, and ends up receiving magical powers from an ancient turtle that lives on an island in the middle of a lake. She ends up having it taken away from her by Silverweed at the end, however, so she doesn’t have to suffer the horrible fate he has foreseen for those who use the magic…

Now I know what you’re thinking: “Wait, this is supposed to about a bunch of normal-ass rabbits trying to make a living in the English countryside, right?” Well, yes, but remember, this is a kid’s show, and the only other way to resolve the final battle with Woundwort and his army would be a bloody brawl like in the book, and we can’t have that, no sir! So what better way than to have one of the rabbits do a ritual chant to summon the Black Rabbit of Inle to suck Woundwort and his soldiers through a portal to the spirit world, where that can’t harm a living soul ever again.

I’ve come to punish sinners and chew bubblegum, and I’m all out of bubblegum.

Granted, this wasn’t the only supernatural element that appeared in the series. There was also a subplot where Woundwort was using Silverweed to spy on Watership Down by having him exploit a psychic trick where he can see through someone Fiver’s eyes. Fiver later turns this trick back on him to help Blackberry and Campion break him out of Darkhaven. This seems a bit far-fetched compared to the book, but psychic abilities exist in both works, so I was willing to forgive it. The subplot with Hannah’s magic was a bridge too far from the source material’s realistic approach, however, and just felt like the writers distancing themselves from any elements of the book they thought might make kids uncomfortable.

The way the ending of the last episode immediately following the Black Rabbit’s departure plays out also leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The episode goes on for literally only a minute afterward, with the other rabbits learning that Silverweed was rapidly aged by the magic he took from Hannah. He tells the other rabbits that he’s happy because Watership Down is finally safe, they return to their burrows without saying anything, and the whole series just ends right there! As the Angry Video Game Nerd would say, “What a shitload of fuck!”

Also, the fortifications the rabbits make around Watership Down before Woundwort’s arrival feel way too sophisticated.

Seriously, where did they get those sharpened stakes of wood from? They can’t have been smart enough to make them themselves.
Final Thoughts

When I first watched the series back in my high school years, I thought it was a masterpiece of TV animation. Having seen shows like Avatar: The Last Airbender, Gravity Falls, and Fullmetal Alchemist since then, however… yeah, this series definitely doesn’t hold a candle to those shows at all. The story often feels like it’s working against the source material, the violence that was so essential to its lasting impact has been excised, and the animation really isn’t something to write home about.

The Watership Down purists will definitely look down upon the show for these reasons, but it still has plenty to offer for less demanding fans. The characters are still likeable, the stakes still feel real, the writers were clearly trying to avoid talking down to their audience, and the voice cast was excellent.

Also, the soundtrack made for the series by Mike Batt, the original writer of “Bright Eyes,” is absolutely gorgeous. The orchestral suite sounds like it wouldn’t be out of place in a Lord of the Rings adaptation, with soaring tracks like “The Beginning Overture,” “On Watership Down,” and “Fantasia on a Flying Theme,” tense and harrowing tracks like “Military Theme and Development” and “Chase Adventure,” and the Christmas cheer of “Winter on Watership Down.” Be forewarned, though; some of these tracks tend to be overplayed in the series itself, most notably “Chase Adventure.”

There are also several new songs that Batt composed for the series. Batt himself performs “The View from a Hill,” Paul Carrack of Mike and the Mechanics fame performs “Winter Song,” and Cerys Matthews of the Welsh alternative band Catatonia performs “Thank You, Stars.” “Bright Eyes” also makes an appearance, this time performed by the late Stephen Gately of the Irish boyband Boyzone. All of these tracks are great folksy pop pieces worthy of the Watership Down legacy. However, I didn’t really find Gately’s version of “Bright Eyes” as emotionally impactful as Art Garfunkel’s version.

It’s definitely not perfect, but if you’re willing to give the TV show a chance, you might find it was all worthwhile in the end. The show gets a 7/10; quite a bit of wasted potential, but it definitely had a lot of heart and soul put into it.

Watership Down Retrospective Pt. 2: The Movie

U.S. theatrical release poster

The film adaptation was the brainchild of two producers hailing from California and Quebec, respectively, Martin Rosen and Jake Eberts. Rosen had previous experience in film producing an obscure Canadian feature called A Great Big Thing in 1968, as well as the more well-known Women in Love the following year, directed by Ken Russell (best known for The Devils, Altered States, and the 1975 adaptation of The Who’s Tommy). Eberts, a merchant banker at the time, was completely new to the film industry and was only there to help Rosen purchase the film rights from Richard Adams, which went for 50,000 pounds.

If TV Tropes is to be believed, Rosen and Eberts considered adapting the novel into a ballet and an opera before settling on producing an animated feature film. They chose legendary animator John Hubley as director, who quickly left the project after disagreements with Rosen. Any hopes of getting him back were dashed when he died while undergoing heart surgery in February of 1977, and Rosen decided…

Some of Hubley’s work did make it into the final film, most notably the introduction, which tells the rabbits’ creation myth, narrated by Michael Hordern, in a pseudo-aboriginal art style.

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first, they must catch you…

Rosen’s direction went for a more detailed and life-like portrait of the story in the film proper, meticulously studying the maps Adams provided of the countryside in the original book to recreate them faithfully in the watercolor backgrounds, especially around Efrafa. Some artistic license was taken in regards to Watership Down’s actual appearance (basing its look more on nearby Beacon Hill, which Rosen apparently found more photogenic) as well as for streamlining the story, especially in regards to Captain Holly’s journey to the Down (more on that later). The naturalistic tone of the art style also reflected in the rabbits’ appearance, making them look as much like real-life rabbits as possible, albeit giving them human-like paw gestures and facial expressions to make them more relatable to the audience.

The film was produced in a studio founded in London by Rosen over a period of three years for a budget of $2.4 million. The film would be released to theaters on October 19, 1978, distributed by Rosen’s own production company, Nepenthe Productions, as well as the Cinema International Corporation. It would be rated U (equivalent to G in the U.S.) by the British Board of Film Classification, which would quickly prove controversial since Rosen did not hold back on the more violent scenes, especially the flashback to Sandleford’s destruction, the scene of an Efrafan rabbit named Blackavar getting his ears shredded for trying to leave Efrafa, Blackavar later getting his throat torn out by General Woundwort, Bigwig’s very bloody showdown with the General shortly after, and the Efrafan rabbits getting mauled to death by the Nuthanger farm dog shortly after that, leading to this lovely image of Woundwort charging at the dog.

“Whilst the film may move children emotionally during the film’s duration, it could not seriously trouble them once the spell of the story is broken and a U certificate was therefore quite appropriate.”- The BBFC.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Motion Picture Association of America chose to rate the film PG, although it almost certainly would have earned a PG-13 had they come up with that rating yet. The film’s violent nature has also earned it a memetic status on the Internet from clueless viewers expecting a cute Disneyesque tale of talking rabbits, often provoking responses of “I just wanted a movie about bunnies!”

Notwithstanding all the quibbles about child-unfriendly content, the film was both a critical and financial success. According to Eberts, some investors received a return of as much as 5,000 % on their investments. The film scores an 82% critic approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a 64% rating on Metacritic.

Is It Any Good, Though?

It most certainly is!

Perhaps the best aspect of this film is how well-chosen the voice cast is. They managed to perfectly capture a perpetually wary tone well befitting a cast of small herbivorous prey animals while at the same time playing to each of their characters’ strengths. Possibly the biggest name to appear in the film is John Hurt, his distinctively smooth and reedy baritone voice lending itself well to Hazel’s understated charisma as the band’s leader. Richard Briers lends a suitably high-strung performance as the waif prophet Fiver, and Michael Graham Cox’s gruff voice plays nicely into Bigwig’s no-nonsense tough-guy persona.

Other standout performances include Roy Kinnear (who plays well into Pipkin’s shy and timid nature), Denholm Elliot (as the shifty and secretive Cowslip), Harry Andrews (who probably captures General Woundwort’s savage bloodlust a little too well), and especially Zero Mostel, who’s hammy and bombastic performance of Kehaar lends the story some much needed comic relief. It also would sadly be his last film performance, as he died about a year before the film came out.

The animation style is perfect for the type of story it wants to tell. It’s a bit rough around the edges (not surprising, since a lot of beginners were working on it), but that’s only appropriate since this film isn’t telling a slick, escapist tale like a Disney Animated Canon film. The specter of the Black Rabbit of Inle is never far from the rabbit’s minds, and Rosen’s retelling never loses sight of the inherent bittersweet melancholy of the rabbit’s existence.

The music in this film is excellent. Mostly composed by Angela Morley (the original composer, Malcolm Williamson, also left early in production due to falling behind schedule), the score manages to give the rabbits’ journey an appropriately epic feel similar to Howard Shore’s score for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Standout pieces include “Kehaar’s Theme,” which features one of the best saxophone solos I’ve ever heard, “Fiver’s Vision,” a creepy and foreboding piece that perfectly captures the horror Fiver feels as his visions show him the dark future of his home warren, and any piece in the soundtrack that includes Morley’s Watership Down theme, which appears most prominently in tracks like “Crossing the River,” “Climbing the Down,” and “Final Struggle and Triumph.”

Another piece of music worth mentioning is “Bright Eyes,” written by Mike Batt and performed by Art Garfunkel. The song appears in the film during a hallucinogenic sequence after Hazel is shot during the Nuthanger Farm raid, when Fiver, convinced his brother is still alive, sets out to look for him. The lyrics reflect his disbelief at how quickly someone like Hazel, so full of life and spirit one minute, can become cold and lifeless in the next. The audience also gets to see the world from Fiver’s perspective as the boundaries between the living world and the dreamlike realm of the dead become blurred.

There’s a fog along the horizon/A strange glow in the sky/And nobody seems to know where it goes/And what does it mean?/Oh, is it a dream?

It is a wonderful song and would practically become the franchise’s theme song for the next several decades… much to Richard Adams’ chagrin, as he reportedly hated the song.

As for the story of the film, I do think it’s difficult to argue with Arizona Daily Star critic Phil Villarreal’s assertion that “Martin Rosen did a superb job cutting through Adams’ book… to get to the beating heart.” However, in condensing the almost 500-page novel to film script running slightly over 90 minutes, Rosen made some noticeable sacrifices. For example, Captain Holly’s plight, facing the destruction of Sandleford Warren and getting captured by Efrafa, is condensed into a single harrowing ordeal. This makes no sense if you follow the original maps Adams provided in the novel (shown below), as they clearly demonstrate that Sandleford and Efrafa are located miles from either side of Watership Down.

This is more of a nitpick, though, since it doesn’t really have much of an effect on the story (plus, John Bennett’s performance is so good that it kind of makes you forget all that). I’ll admit that I was also disappointed that Rosen didn’t delve into Woundwort’s rather tragic backstory, which makes him rather more of a generic evil dictator, even if Harry Andrews’ performance does somewhat make up for it.

A cut that does have a significant impact, though, is how rushed over Cowslip’s warren is in the film. I could not make out just what the deal was with Cowslip and his rabbits just watching the film. Maybe it’s just that my autism makes me disturbingly blind to subtext, but I never realized that the farmer was farming the rabbits at the Warren of the Snares at the warren until I read the book, where Fiver’s epic speech spelling out what’s going on was a lot more than simply, “That’s warren is nothing but a death hole. Yes, let’s help ourselves to a roof of bones!” It kind of robs that scene of its impact if you have no idea what’s going on in the first place. It answers the “how” of what’s wrong with Cowslip’s warren but not the “why.”

Another flaw with the climactic battle that I overlooked until TV Tropes pointed it out to me is that it doesn’t give us any resolution on Fiver or Bigwig. Fiver completely disappears from the film after a vision of his gives Hazel the idea to bring the Nuthanger Farm down upon Woundwort’s troops, and the last we see of Bigwig is him standing bloody and battered after his fight with Woundwort, with the film giving us no indication if he survived or not. Indeed, the only character who does get a resolution is Hazel, who is shown flying through the sky with the Black Rabbit on his dying day years later after the Black Rabbit invites him to join his Owsla.

Despite all this, though, the film is a very worthy adaptation of Richard Adams’ novel. It stands as one of those unique animated features of the period that you can’t really tell if it’s for kids or not (like Who Framed Roger Rabbit or Don Bluth’s early films) thanks to the frankness with which adult subjects are tackled. If you think you or your child is up to it, definitely give this film a watch. And I’m giving this one a 9/10.


Before I wrap this up, however, I feel I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Martin Rosen’s second adaptation of a Richard Adams novel, The Plague Dogs.

Fair warning: this film is an adventure in the same way that Grave of the Fireflies is an adventure.

This film was released on October 21st, 1982 by MGM, and once again starred John Hurt as the put-upon fox terrier Snitter, who has been sent away to an animal testing lab in Cumbria (colloquially known as the Lake District) after his master dies saving him from an out-of-control truck, where experiments on his brain have caused him to experience hallucinations. One night he escapes the lab alongside Rowf (voiced by Christopher Benjamin), who has a crippling fear of water thanks to being repeatedly drowned and resuscitated by the lab’s resident “whitecoats.”

Once out in the countryside, however, they discover that life in the wild is far from easy. They manage to get by with the help of an unnamed Geordie-accented fox (voiced by James Bolam), but their repeated killing of livestock quickly attracts the ill will of local farmers and rumors that they may be carrying bubonic plague soon cause a military company to join the hunt (whose leader happens to be voiced by Patrick Stewart in one of his earliest film roles).

The film was equally if not more controversial than Watership Down when it first came out. Perhaps the biggest reason was how the violence this time ends up extending to humans. Two especially infamous scenes involve a hunter accidentally getting himself shot in the face when Snitter climbs over his gun…

I think you’ve got a little something in your eye, dude. Buckshot, by the looks of it.

…and another scene where, after the coming winter limits their food supply, Rowf and Snitter decide to eat a dead hunter after the fox scares him into falling off a cliff, and we get to see this lovely close-up of his half-eaten corpse afterward.

Hey Mr. Rosen, Cannibal Corpse called. They want their album cover back.

Another source of controversy was the overall depressing nature of the film. Unlike Watership Down, where the protagonists eventually earn their happy ending, The Plague Dogs ends with the dogs swimming out to sea to escape the military, hoping to eventually find an island where they can be free from the whitecoats. This is in stark contrast to the novel, where Snitter’s owner is revealed to be alive and adopts both him and Rowf (although admittedly, Adams only added this happy ending because his publisher wouldn’t touch it otherwise).

Since it doesn’t seem to give the protagonists any reason for having gone through all this suffering in the end, the entire film may seem pointless to some viewers. However, I think it still has worth because of the commentary on animal testing, especially since every test on animals depicted in both the film and the novel happened in real life. Yes, even the experiment where Rowf swims laps around the tank until he drowns and is resuscitated. I don’t know why, of course, but it did happen.

In summary, while some children definitely can watch Watership Down if they’re old enough and/or mature enough, it’s probably best to keep this one as far away from your kids as possible. This is an especially harrowing watch if you’re a dog lover, but it’s all worth it if it can give you a deeper appreciation of the hurt that animals have to go through because not enough humans care. And I’m giving this one an 8/10.


And that’s all I have to say about the Watership Down film adaptation. Join me next time when we look into all three seasons of the 1999 TV adaptation and see whether its attempt at a more family-friendly approach to the source material worked out. Until next time, beautiful watchers.