The Rabbits By John Marsden And Shaun Tan Essay Writing
The Rabbits, written by John Marsden, is partly allegorical fable about colonisation, told from the viewpoint of the colonised. An unseen narrator describes the coming of ‘rabbits’ in the most minimal detail, an encounter that is at first friendly and curious, but later darkens as it becomes apparent that the visitors are actually invaders. The style of the book is deliberately sparse and strange, with both text and image conveying an overall sense of bewilderment and anxiety as native numbat-like creatures witness environmental devastation under the wheels of a strange new culture.
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> Click here for a interview about The Rabbits from 1998.
‘The meeting on the hill’ acrylic, gouache, ink and coloured pencil.
‘They came by water’ Oil on canvas.
‘The building of the houses’ acrylic, gouache and coloured pencil.
‘They ate our grass’ gouache and coloured pencil.
Comments on The Rabbits
The parallels with a real history of colonisation in Australia and around the world are obvious, and based on detailed research, in spite of the overt surrealism of the imagery and the absence of direct references. It was named Picture Book of the Year by the Children’s Book Council, which in part generated some controversy due to it’s confronting themes, and was attacked on several occasions for being ‘politically correct propaganda’, but only by right wing conservatives of course. In spite of this (or because of it), the book went on to win numerous awards in Australia, the US and UK, and is studied widely in secondary schools. It would seem that some of my concepts and designs were unacknowledged inspiration for a section of the opening ceremony of the 2000 Sydney Olympics, although I’ve never been able to find out if this is true.
One reason for the initial controversy is that The Rabbits is a picture book, and therefore thought to be children’s literature, and wrongly assumed to be didactic, whereas it had been originally conceived as a book for older readers, and generally difficult to categorise. Some children may get a lot out of it, but generally it defies most picture book conventions and is not necessarily a good choice for pleasant bedtime reading!
‘The great billabong’ acrylic, gouache and coloured pencil.
I can’t add anything that hasn’t already been said about The Rabbits elsewhere. Except, perhaps, for a closer look at the story structure. John Marsden has done a couple of interesting things with the traditional story structure, especially in the final two steps.
Shaun Tan writes about his work on his own blog. I highly recommend taking a look at Tan’s entry on The Rabbitsif you haven’t already.
STORY STRUCTURE OF THE RABBITS
The native creatures are not very numerous. They are vulnerable to invasion.
At first they want to get to know the rabbits. There aren’t many rabbits. But after a while too many rabbits come.
Now the rabbits become the opponents.
Unfortunately for the native creatures, there is no real plan other than to try and protect themselves.
“Sometimes we had fights … We lost the fights.”
The main battle page is the double spread in which the children are stolen. The reader has already realised that this tale is an allegory for the white invasion of Australia and the decimation of Aboriginal peoples. The stolen children remains one of the most egregious politically sanctioned crimes in Australia today, so this part is treated very carefully: Each word is separated within the illustration, giving it due weight.
Instead of a typical self-revelation, we have a few double spreads of reflection:
Where is the rich, dark earth,
Brown and moist?
and so on.
Unusually for a story, this one ends with a question. “Who will save us from the rabbits?” Despite the question, the new equilibrium is clear: The native creatures are in trouble.