In honor of Richard Adams’ passing last week, I decided to re-read (for the dozenth time at least!) Watership Down. Watership Down is my favorite book of all-time and it doesn’t take much for me to want to read it again.
For those who haven’t had the pleasure of reading this novel, the plot is very simple, yet elegantly written. A group of talking rabbits (yes, they talk) learn of a danger coming to their home through one of the heroes’ prophetic abilities. After failing to convince the whole warren to leave, a group of bucks, led by our main hero Hazel (though I will say that Bigwig is also one of the best written heroes of the last fifty years) seek out a new home. After many trials, the rabbits reach the perfect home, but they realize they need female does to make the journey worthwhile. They learn of another warren nearby, though this warren is led by a tyrannical chief who won’t allow does to leave. After much trickery and cleverness, the bucks succeed in bringing does home and defeat the evil rabbit.
It sounds simple because it is. But in that simplicity is what makes this book so amazing.
Mr. Adams (no relation unfortunately…) does extensive research on rabbits and though they are talking, they move, feel and act like actual rabbits that most of the time you forget you are reading about rabbits. Each rabbit is well described and the main group all have their strengths, even the little Pipkin.
It is refreshing to read a story from this perspective because rabbits act completely different from man. And what I enjoy is there are asides in the narrative that detail the differences between man and animal. This is why the idea of male bucks needing female does is important. Animals think about survival, not equality, etc. that man does. The rabbits only know that they need females for the whole thing to continue, it is the basic survival aspect of animal.
One amazing thing about this world is that it feels real. Throughout the book, the rabbits tell stories about their mythical forefather and it makes the reader feel that the world is full of history and life, just like the world of man. They sit around and tell stories, play games and just rough-house to have fun. It is that we, the reader, are flown into this world of rabbits without having to question anything, we are just magically involved.
Even though Mr. Adams always denied basing the different warrens on other peoples, it is safe to say that the warrens do derive from the real world. General Woundwart’s warren is similar to Soviet Russia and Cowslip’s warren is almost too passive as the US was before involvement in WWII. That said, the warren’s have their own ideals and it is just interesting to see parallels.
Though the book is 460+ pages, it isn’t a hard read. The pacing is well-done and is written at a middle grade level. But that doesn’t mean it is for children. Though there are some dark passages of blood and gore, it is written for both children and adults. The older I get, the more I appreciate this style of writing. I saw a quote by Richard Adams this past week that is the truth: “I rather agree with C.S. Lewis that a book that isn’t worth reading when you’re sixty if it isn’t worth reading when you’re six.” I truly believe that and this book is the perfect example of it. I have read this book so many times that I know each part by heart, but every time I read it again, I get drawn back into it like it is the first, and I still get all the feels when Hazel joins El-ahrairah’s Owsla at the end.
There is nothing bad about this book, though if I truly wanted to nitpick, I can say the man characters are difficult to understand sometimes. The way their speech is written is confusing and it does take a bit to process. But that is just splitting hairs at this point.
5 out of 5