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Literature / A Rustle In The Grass

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"At a distance the countryside appears to stretch quietly and idyllically under the blue sky. Peaceful and untroubled, far from the wars and woes of man, nature moves through her timeless cycles. But look closer. For there in the secret world beneath the grasses lies an empire in turmoil."
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A Rustle In The Grass (1985) is a work of xenofiction and the first novel by British actor, theater director and playwright Robin Hawdon. A peaceful colony of black ants awakens from winter hibernation and finds that not only has their great leader died, but that an army of red ants is heading their way. A young soldier ant called Dreamer is sent as part of an envoy to try and reason with the red ants, while back at the colony the workers threatening revolt after being pushed to the limit of their endurance after a devastation bird attack that nearly destroys the mound.


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A Rustle In The Grass contains examples of:

  • An Aesop: Still One's stories are all Aesops relevant to the problems the characters are facing.
  • Animal Naming Conventions: The ants all have simple, descriptive Meaningful Names - Dreamer, Still One, Fleet, Joker, Dew-Lover, The Spider, Five Legs, etc.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Queen, and therefore the colony survives, but all the other characters except Dreamer perish. And Dreamer himself is left terribly burned and blind.
  • Bookends: The book ends with Dreamer telling the story of the colony, beginning with the first line of the book.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The ants observe a human lighting a campfire; when the red ants have almost overwhelmed them, Dreamer uses fire to defeat them.
  • Denouement: The last chapter takes place in the summer after the red and black ants are almost totally wiped out by fire, and shows the colony - consisting entirely of young ants, except for Dreamer and the Queens - beginning to rebuild.
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  • Dreaming the Truth: As his name implies, a wise and mysterious Voice speaks to Dreamer when he sleeps, that challenges and questions him.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Dreamer survives the conflagration that wipes out the red ants, and the colony rebuilds, but Dreamer is horribly scarred and blinder and all the adult ants except the Queens die.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave: Dreamer's colony survives, and there is no more division between the workers and the upper class - but at the cost of every ant except for Dreamer and the Queens dying.
  • Fantastic Medicinal Bodily Product: Aphid honeydew, to the ants. It's not only an important food source, it has medicinal properties and is a mildly addictive narcotic.
  • Friendly Enemy: The red ant Fleet, who tries to understand the ways of the black ants. He's a decent person and Dreamer feels that under different circumstances they could have been friends.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: Humans, or Giant Two-Legs, are a legend in the colony, and the appearance of one (a fisherman camping out) only adds to the tension as they wait for the army of red ants to arrive. The man's campfire is almost a supernatural power to the ants, omething so far beyond their ability to comprehend and react they can only observe it.
  • Insect Gender-Bender: Averted, in a roundabout way. The worker and soldier ants are referred to with male pronouns despite the real thing being sterile, wingless females. However, later in the book the Queen relates the mythologized history of the ants - males became too aggressive, greedy and arrogant, so the Lord of the Stars punished them by making them only useful for breeding and giving all other roles in their society to the females. The females became "masculine even in name".
  • Matriarchy: Despite being referred to with male pronouns, all the main ant characters except Still One are female. Male drones are cast out of the colony after mating with the Queens.
  • Nearly Normal Animal: The ants are quite accurate biologically, but have nearly human-level intelligence and a society rather more complex and anthropomorphic than in the real world. Their speech is translated from gestures and pheromones.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The red ants. They don't build their own mound, and exist by constant traveling around, conquering other ants and taking them as slaves to do all the non-fighting jobs.
  • Rite of Passage Name Change: After a successful mission, Dreamer is renamed Quick Feelers. At the end, he tells visiting ants that the others call him that out of kindness (as his antennae have been burned away) and he prefers just Dreamer.
  • Sadistic Choice: Confront with the overwhelming military superiority of the red ants, the black ants are faced with two choices: die honorably in battle or continue to live, but as slaves to the red ants. Dreamer takes a third option . . .
  • The Spartan Way: The red ants are so specialized for war that they don't create colonies and rely on enslaved ants to do all their non-soldiering jobs.
  • Spiders Are Scary: The black ants are attacked by a tree spider three times their size, a formidable predator that very nearly destroys them.
  • The Storyteller: Still One. A wingless male who re-joined the colony, his entertaining stories are parables that give the other ants insight into their problems.
  • Take a Third Option: When his colony is faced with utter annihilation or becoming slaves to the invading red ants, soldier ant Dreamer comes up with an utterly novel weapon to use against their enemy.
  • Tragic Bromance: Dreamer comes to have intense feelings for "his" companion, Joker (both are actually sterile female soldier ants), but sadly ants have lost the ability to feel romantic love because of their hive structure. Joker's death affects Dreamer deeply.
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