Watership Down

Watership Down

Librarian's note: See alternate cover edition of ISBN13 9780380395866 here.Set in England's Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of friends, they journey forth from t...

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Title:Watership Down
Author:Richard Adams
Rating:
Edition Language:English

Watership Down Reviews

  • Rico Suave

    oh man, this book totally tricked me! I got a bad haircut one day so I needed to lay low for a few weeks ("Supercuts", my ass! Liars!). I called two of my hardest, most straight-up thug homies (Zachary and Dustin) to bring me some of their books and this was one of them. I had just watched a show on A&E about WWII naval battles so I couldn't WAIT to read Watership Down! I love sea stories, "man overboard!" and "off the port bow!" and "aye aye cap'n!" all that stuff so I pulled my hat down an

    oh man, this book totally tricked me! I got a bad haircut one day so I needed to lay low for a few weeks ("Supercuts", my ass! Liars!). I called two of my hardest, most straight-up thug homies (Zachary and Dustin) to bring me some of their books and this was one of them. I had just watched a show on A&E about WWII naval battles so I couldn't WAIT to read Watership Down! I love sea stories, "man overboard!" and "off the port bow!" and "aye aye cap'n!" all that stuff so I pulled my hat down and started reading. This book totally tricked me! There weren't any torpedoes, no "anchors aweigh!", no old salts telling tales of sea serpents and sexy narwhals, no peg legs, no giant squid, nothing. It had rabbits! This book totally tricked me!

    Crazy thing is, it was awesome! Bigwig is the man! The rabbit man. Before I was even done I took down one of my Rick Springfield posters, flipped it over, and drew Bigwig protecting the rest of the warren (my favorite part). It came out wrong, I can't draw, so I kind of have a fat dog standing in a hole hanging on my wall but I don't care and I still I give this book FIVE STARS! You should read it.

    This book totally tricked me.

    Love, Rico.

    ********************* SPOILER ALERT!!!******************

    This book has no ships, sinking or otherwise.

    ********************************************************

  • John

    Ok, so it's a book about a bunch of rabbits traveling through a small stretch of English countryside. As such, it doesn't seem like something that would appeal to anyone but a preteen. But the fact of the matter is this is a great story, full of rich characters, a deep (if occasionally erroneous) understanding of things lapine, and it can reach moments of depth and profundity that the movie of the same title does not even begin to hint at. I was actually introduced to this book in one of the bes

    Ok, so it's a book about a bunch of rabbits traveling through a small stretch of English countryside. As such, it doesn't seem like something that would appeal to anyone but a preteen. But the fact of the matter is this is a great story, full of rich characters, a deep (if occasionally erroneous) understanding of things lapine, and it can reach moments of depth and profundity that the movie of the same title does not even begin to hint at. I was actually introduced to this book in one of the best ways I can imagine: a friend recorded the entire book on tape, and for a couple months I played the tapes of her reading a chapter or two just before I fell asleep each night. My slow exposure to the book under ideal circumstances may have influenced my perceptions, but I can say on each subsequent rereading of the book I've come to appreciate it more. You can read the book just for the story: apparently, the author wrote the book from stories he would tell his children, and it still can easily serve that purpose. But the richness of his characters lead to many interesting analogies to human life. For instance, from Hazel you can learn profound things about leadership. Throughout the book you feel that Hazel is the natural-born leader of his group of rabbits, but Richard Adams was very careful to develop this impression through character features rather than power-relations. The contrast is clearly intentional since the other leaders of the book achieve leadership status through very different means. Many people think the book takes a strong stance against a particular kind of authoritarian rule, but it is important to recognize the book gives this impression not through structured diatribe or through argument, but rather it evolves out of character considerations, and out of the story itself. This means that the result is far more complex than a simple argument. For instance, although General Woundwort may be seen as the main enemy that Hazel has to deal with, and the authoritarian rabbit is portrayed rather negatively at times, Adams quite intentionally adds some details that make him admirable to the other rabbits, even to the very end. A diatribe would not be so complex. Fiver is another great character. He adds an element of magic to the story, and it allows Adams to link the rabbits he describes to a mythical world that enters into the story quite frequently. One can almost see Fiver as a manifestation of imagination in this world. Big-wig is another likable character, and the story of this rabbits experience in Efrafa is one of the highlights of the story. Besides the characters, the descriptions of England are also quite acute. You can actually track the course of the rabbits on maps, since Adams was careful to describe real places and things. That attention to detail is often missed in reviews of this book. Finally, the thing that brings all these features together and makes the book more than a mere story, or an account of human characters, or a diatribe against fascism, is the fact that Adams is quite conscious of the fact that he is telling the story from the perspective of rabbits. The challenges they face are rabbit-sized, the ideas about the external world are rabbitlike, the philosophical insights seem rabbitized, and Adams brings many of our anthropomorphized ideas of rabbits together with the reality of rabbits in a surprisingly coherent fashion. I suppose the book can be seen as a cultural study of an imaginatively rich but realistic rabbit world. I realize as I write this review that many other readers may not feel the same way about the book as I do. It does have some shortcomings. For instance, female characters only make a few appearances in the book, although I think Adams does show some sensitivity in their depictions. But, even with the limitations, I would recommend the book to anyone who likes a good story and who is willing to think deeply about a children's story.

  • Nataliya

    In memory of Richard Adams (1920 - 2016):

    -------

    Some books have an amazingly unexplainable ability to transcend the purpose of their creation and take a leap into being an instant timeless classic.

    began as an imp

    In memory of Richard Adams (1920 - 2016):

    -------

    Some books have an amazingly unexplainable ability to transcend the purpose of their creation and take a leap into being an instant timeless classic.

    began as an impromptu entertainment for Adams' two young daughters on long car trips - an adventure of a migrating bunch of somewhat anthropomorphic but yet very rabbit-like rabbits. It is a story full of palpable love for English countryside, full of 'rabbity' allegories of the variations of human societies and ideologies that nevertheless do not overshadow the simple but fascinating impact of the story of survival against all odds, rooted in friendship, bravery, loyalty, courage, quick thinking and learning, ability to see and embrace the new while relying on the ages-tested old, and perseverance despite the unfavorable odds.

    I first read the story of Hazel, Bigwig & co. when I was twelve, and read it again and again many times since, loving it more and more with each re-read, appreciating more and more each time how its seeming simplicity is actually made of layers of complexity.

    Survival is the big theme, naturally; but another one is the coexistence between the old ways and the new ways, the balance between the natural and the 'unnatural', innate and learned. (It's not just the rabbit society that is plagued by these choices, of course). On a superficial read, it would appear that Adams favors the former: our rabbits are looking for a way to lead the 'normal' natural rabbit life that sharply contrasts with the decadent Cowslip's warren and militaristic Efrafa. But on the other hand, it's precisely the openness to the new things and experiences that allows Hazel's bunch to survive: the raft and the boat, the digging of burrows, the interspecies alliances; but they still hold on firmly to their essential rabbitness. It's the harmony that Adams is looking for, and I love it.

    Adams succeeded in creating such vivid and distinct personalities for all of the rabbits in the story, making them so human-like and yet unmistakably animal at the same time. Cute fluffy bunnies they are not, however; they are tenacious survivalists full of life force and determination to survive despite their status as prey for the 'Thousand', the many carnivorous predators from cats to hawks to foxes to humans. They are driven by the need to live and multiply and thrive (and when allowed to do so, they are fearsome indeed - just think of how rabbits took over Australia, for example). In Adams' rendition, they are and aren't like us, and it's both their similarities and differences from what we think as 'human' that makes the story unforgettable.

    Each rabbit has a distinct voice and personality -

    - but it's the three that stand out to me: Hazel, Bigwig and Woundwort.

    Hazel, the mastermind of the rabbit adventures, is a natural leader. He is not the fastest, the smartest or the strongest - but he has the understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the ragtag bunch he leads. He genuinely cares, and his charisma and leading by example are quick to win the loyalty of others. The parallels between Hazel and the legendary rabbit folklore hero, El-ahrairah, the Prince of a Thousand enemies, are not surprising, and the final scene of the book, lovely but quietly gut-wrenching, comes as no surprise.

    His opposite is the eventual villain of the book, General Woundwort, the tyrant leader of an isolated militaristic rabbit warren, a ruler with an iron fist, whose forceful personality is supplemented by ferociously merciless teeth and claws. Unlike Hazel, he leads by force and coercion - but props to Adams for not making him neatly fit into a black-and-white good-vs-bad model as his amazing ability to at least temporarily make rabbits, perpetual prey, into predators was a source of almost legendary fame. And yet Woundwort's vision breaks down because, grand as it may be, it's still just tunnel vision.

    And bridging the gap between Hazel and Woundwort is my hero, Bigwig. Big, strong and experienced and therefore bound to succeed almost anywhere in the rabbit 'society', he grows from a careless and a bit bullyish character to one strongly loyal and just, learning to rely on brains over brawn and yet with enough ferocity and determination to be an unstoppable force when combined with Hazel's leadership.

    The warren of Watership Down would have been doomed without Bigwig's boundless daring loyal courage, without his resolute determination and willingness for self-sacrifice for the others - a trait he would, of course, have not developed if not for the friends he made on the night of the escape from the doomed old warren in the search of Watership Down promised by Fiver. Hazel learns to see the strengths and weaknesses in others; Bigwig learns to see them in himself.

    My strong and loyal rabbit hero, your words at what you thought may have been your last minutes never cease to make me happily grin:

    This book is wonderful, fantastic, and has definitely earned itself a spot on the strategically placed bookshelf in my future hypothetical daughter's room where it will serve the purpose of helping to bring her into the wonderful world of stories and help her see the world for the amazing place it is.

  • Mark Lawrence

    I read this book an age ago. Maybe 40 years ago the first time.

    Lots of authors have written animal stories but they tend to be cute little tales where the level of anthropomorphism is such that the rabbits or whatever are practically, or literally, wearing waistcoats and top hats. We only need to look to Wind in the Willows or Beatrix Potter for examples.

    Obviously *some* level of making the animals human is required. I suspect a rabbit's true inner monologue would be rather dull even if it could

    I read this book an age ago. Maybe 40 years ago the first time.

    Lots of authors have written animal stories but they tend to be cute little tales where the level of anthropomorphism is such that the rabbits or whatever are practically, or literally, wearing waistcoats and top hats. We only need to look to Wind in the Willows or Beatrix Potter for examples.

    Obviously *some* level of making the animals human is required. I suspect a rabbit's true inner monologue would be rather dull even if it could be put into words. But what Richard Adams achieved was something that kept his rabbits much closer to the real creatures, from the details of their living quarters to the unvarnished truth that rabbits eat their own crap.

    When Adams' rabbits come into contact with humans we get a true sense of incomprehension, of struggling to make sense of their activities (and technology) within the framework of a very different world view.

    Watership Down is a fat book containing a lot of story. The warren has a history. The rabbits as a species have a history, stored in an oral tradition of stories about their gods and heroes.

    Disaster visits our hero, the rabbit Hazel, who is neither the quickest, strongest, bravest or cleverest of his fellows, and with a mixed band he sets out across Watership Down on a quest.

    Adams gives each of the rabbits a unique and interesting character from which much of the strength of this novel springs. The dynamics in the group, the strengthening friendships, the teamwork used in overcoming challenges ... is all fascinating and even though the rabbits keep doing deeply rabbitty things, it is hard not to think of them as people that you like and care about. There are themes of duty, fate, friendship and love. All human life is here. On four furry feet.

    There is high drama, combat, even war. This book will make chills run down your spine as one rabbit defends a run from another. Rabbits! Seriously, think Gandalf stepping out into the balrog's path and declaring "You shall not pass!" or Boromir standing alone against an orc horde. There is in one fight scene a line that has its place high on the list of the best quotes of this sort from any book or film I know. Delivered by a rabbit called Bigwig. It sounds silly now, but when you read it you won't think so.

    It would take a colder man than me not to cry at the end of this novel, and possibly several places in between.

    I finally got around to reviewing this book despite it being so long since I last read it because Richard Adams died recently, aged 96, and it was best way I could think to commemorate him.

    This book is about rabbits but it is stuffed with beauty, fear, passion, and excitement, and it taught me a lot about life. I commend it to your attention.

    ….

  • Apatt

    Most reviews I write just for the hell of it, for my own records and if some people like them I am just happy as a lark. For

    however, I am just a little bit more ambitious. I would like to convince people who feel averse to reading a novel for children about rabbits to drop their preconception and give this book a chance. This is not a book about cute little bunnies running around eating carrots and being adorable 24/7. This is one of the most badass books I have ever read, and I

    Most reviews I write just for the hell of it, for my own records and if some people like them I am just happy as a lark. For

    however, I am just a little bit more ambitious. I would like to convince people who feel averse to reading a novel for children about rabbits to drop their preconception and give this book a chance. This is not a book about cute little bunnies running around eating carrots and being adorable 24/7. This is one of the most badass books I have ever read, and I have read books by

    and

    . More importantly this is simply one of the all time great reads (in my humble estimation of course) that will stay with the readers for the rest of their days. Why, I have a memory like a sieve and I still remember it after all these years (OK, I have just reread it so that helps!)

    Badass rabbits (Credit:

    )

    It all starts with a psychic bunny (stop laughing back there!) called Fiver who has a vague premonition of impending death and destruction coming to his warren. He convinces his best friend Hazel and a few other rabbits to leave the warren for a safer place to live (their attempt to start a total evacuation is quickly nixed by the Chief Rabbit). The first half of the book tells the story of the rabbit motley crew’s (or mötley crüe if you prefer) difficult journey from their warren to find a safe location to start a new warren. The second half is about their defence of their new warren against an older bigger warren ruled by a despotic dictator called Woundwort who is something of a monstrous mutant mega rabbit. Interspersed between the chapters are charming and wonderful folk tales about the adventures of a legendary hero called El-ahrairah.

    Plot, world building and characterisation are brilliantly balanced in this book. Even at almost 500 pages there is never a dull moment. Those looking for action adventures should really check out this book. There are hair raising chase scenes, espionage scenes, interspecies alliances, and a bloody fight scene that should be read with Survivor’s "Eye of the Tiger" playing in the background.

    Again credit

    On the characterisation side it is worth noting that the rabbits in this book are not anthropomorphized animals, they do not wear clothes, drive cars, watch TV etc. Yet there is also much humanity in their rabbitry, they can be compassionate, loving, kind, cruel, egotistical, melancholy etc. These humans traits are believably portrayed as rabbit traits through the incredible talent of Richard Adams. The prose is absolutely beautiful with wonderful metaphors like “an indestructible flood of rabbitry”. I can pick a great passage out of almost every page. Here is one awe-inspiring example:

    To further distinguish rabbits from other species a little neologism is employed throughout the book, most of the words can be understood from the context they are used, if you want some extra help with these you can check out this

    . You can even gloss over them without missing a beat of the book.

    Reading this book is a little like taking a magic potion and transforming into a wee rabbit. I am not normally all that interested in cute animals but after reading this book I really developed a huge respect for these little guys, the odds are really stacked against them yet they manage to survive and even thrive. Even though the book was written primarily for children, it is certainly sophisticated enough to be enjoyed by adults. I certainly prefer it to all the YA books I have read.

    Definitely worth more stars than the Goodreads system can accommodate.

    Briiiight eeeyes buuurning like fire...

    • I don’t remember much about the 1978 animated film, I could not have liked it very much otherwise I would at least remember liking it (terrible sentence I know). I thought the artwork and animation were a bit crude, though. Whether the film captures the spirit of the book I could not tell you, but when Channel 5 (in the UK) screened the film on Easter Sunday 2016,

    . Sounds like a recommendation to me!

    (click to embiggen)

    BBC and Netflix have teamed up to make a

    .

    Richard Adams died just a few days ago, and I am so grateful to him for this book which is one of my all-time favorites. R.I.P. Richard Adams.

  • Lyndz

    I started this book about 2 months ago, got through the first 10 pages or so and I was not interested in continuing. I put it down. In all honesty, it seemed like it was going to be too babyish for me. I mean come on, bunnies though? Seriously?

    About a week ago I got to a point where I didn’t have anything else to read so there I was, staring pensively at my obese bookshelf, thinking about reading Lord of the Rings for the 12th time, when I noticed Watership Down poking its cute little bunny fac

    I started this book about 2 months ago, got through the first 10 pages or so and I was not interested in continuing. I put it down. In all honesty, it seemed like it was going to be too babyish for me. I mean come on, bunnies though? Seriously?

    About a week ago I got to a point where I didn’t have anything else to read so there I was, staring pensively at my obese bookshelf, thinking about reading Lord of the Rings for the 12th time, when I noticed Watership Down poking its cute little bunny face out at me. I figured, hey, it’s almost Easter, so what the heck, I might as well try it again. So I picked Watership Down back up with the intent of giving it just a few more pages. Much to my surprise, I was hooked.

    Alright, so these bunnies are not your cutsie Japanese anime bunnies. These bunnies are like the Johny Depp of bunnies. Picture the Rabbit of Caerbannog from Monty Python: that would probably be closer to the mark than Thumper from Bambi.

    Joking and random pictures aside, I thought this was excellent. I was not expecting to like it and that is why I am so shocked that I did. There was a lot more depth to this book than I ever expected.

    The characters were great, I loved every single one of them. Bigwig was my favorite. I don’t know how anyone could read this book and NOT fall in love with Bigwig aka Thlayli.

    And, lastly,

    I am still trying to figure that one out. Aside from the fact that the story is about a group of animals, there was really nothing that screamed “children’s book” to me.

    If you are a fan of fantasy you should definitely check it out. I promise you won’t regret it. It is amazingly well written – it is not categorized as a classic for nothing!

  • Bionic Jean

    I remember when

    was first published in 1972. It was a novel by an unknown English author, Richard Adams. All of a sudden the book

    was absolutely everywhere and people were reading it on buses, trains, park benches — all over the place. It captured everybody's imagination. Six years later the animated film came out, and it all happened all over again! If, glancing at the cover, you asked any of those readers

    the answer would be a hesit

    I remember when

    was first published in 1972. It was a novel by an unknown English author, Richard Adams. All of a sudden the book

    was absolutely everywhere and people were reading it on buses, trains, park benches — all over the place. It captured everybody's imagination. Six years later the animated film came out, and it all happened all over again! If, glancing at the cover, you asked any of those readers

    the answer would be a hesitant yes. Yet if you then asked,

    the answer would be a firm

    It includes explicit details about warrens being gassed, rabbits snagged in barbed wire, about torture under a totalitarian regime, and descriptions of savage and bloody conflict.

    From the first paragraph onwards, the style of writing indicates its focus group. The prose is too rich and complex for children; the concerns those of adults. There is breathtaking lyrical description in

    . Richard Adams shows a detailed knowledge of the natural world in which the rabbits live, specifically the English countryside. "Watership Down" is an actual hill in Hampshire, near the village of Kingsclere, just a few miles away from the area in Berkshire where Richard Adams grew up. The locations are geographically accurate, even to the little maps which are included. Growing up in a rural area in the 1920's, Richard Adams had the sort of country childhood which no longer exists. Much of his time was spent alone, and this fired his imagination and his passion for make-believe, based on his direct experience of nature.

    Facts about little-known wild plants and flowers and their growing seasons, the creatures of the countryside, their habits, behaviour and terrain, are all interwoven in the narrative so that the reader absorbs this alongside the story, and becomes immersed in the English landscape. It is a rich and satisfying experience; the language is to be savoured. As well as writing other fantasy novels, Richard Adams went on to write the factual book

    three years later, and much of that information is incorporated here. He credits another writer, R.M. Lockley (one of my favourite naturalist authors) for teaching him about the characteristic behaviour of rabbits through his book

    .

    Of course it is not merely the depth and wealth of description which sets this aside as an adult book. The broad story-line of

    concerns a small, ever-changing group of rabbits, led by Hazel and his little brother Fiver, in an attempt to escape their warren. Rabbits are prey animals with

    . It is a serious business to leave a safe home and risk living in a vast world of unknown predators. There is no evident threat; Sandleford Warren is secure, stable and happy. Why should they leave? Thus we have conflict from the very start. We also have an other-worldly dimension, since Fiver has a strange premonition of doom coming to their warren. And Hazel, although the dominant one of the two, believes and respects Fiver for his inexplicable, almost psychic, abilities, since they are often right. Fiver is runtish, often very twitchy and full of foreboding. He cannot explain his feelings, and dark dread of a catastrophic event for the warren, even to himself. But his prophetic visions always mysteriously carry conviction. And his main vision, of a rabbit paradise, is a positive one which urges the rabbits to keep steadfast.

    Fiver's vague premonitions come at key points during the book, and are essential to the plot, moving it along, often creating tension and arguments between the rabbits as they do so.

    Hazel is less intelligent and ingenious than some rabbits, yet he is a born leader. Bigwig, the freedom-fighter, is stronger and bigger than Hazel, but Hazel makes a much better leader because he can think for the whole group, and is able to see immediately how to work cooperatively and use each member of the group's special skills, in order to best benefit them all. For instance it is higher-achieving rabbits such as Blackberry,

    . We see that clever rabbits value ingenuity over intellectualism (even though none of them can actually count to five).

    It is unnatural for rabbits to travel overland together away from their safe warren. Throughout the book the author refers to any unnatural behaviour for rabbits, through the characters' own self-knowledge. He keeps very close to their instinct-driven psychology, instead of heavily anthropomorphising. This is one of the great strengths of the book; its total believability in the scenario — the world — of the book. We humans too have a view of what is "natural" behaviour, and sometimes our innate natures are different from the norm, or we choose to behave differently. This depth of exploration into the characters' individual strengths and determination, and how they bond through a series of adventures, makes for an absorbing read.

    Also inserted into the story are a series of little stories about a rabbit folk-hero,

    . Here you may recognise heroes from many ancient cultures, stories told down the millennia; and there's even a smattering of

    's cunning and ingenuity in there too. Humans consider trickery to be deceitful and wrong, but for rabbits it is a matter of survival.

    The stories remind all rabbits that trickery means using their wits to escape a situation which may otherwise be fatal. They always have to use their ingenuity and cunning, because using force is against their nature (except in rare cases such as Bigwig and General Woundwort). Bigwig, solid and true, is a model of stamina and determination, using his brawn rather than brain, but he has unswerving loyalty, is truly courageous and ready to fight to the death for his friends.

    .

    The stories are all told by Dandelion, a rabbit with a particular talent for story-telling — just as there would be a chief story-teller and recorder of important events in any tribal group. The closest human religion to the rabbits' own is pantheism. They revere Nature, and celebrate Life. Man, with his

    (cigarettes) and

    (motors) is the enemy. Yet they also believe in an afterlife. And many stories revolve around

    , the rabbits' God (our sun) and the

    , who is an evil tempter, a demonic character. We recognise Noah's Ark in one tale, but mostly the stories seem to be inventions which carry a flavour of ancient myth, and religion. The rabbits' behaviour too is influenced by their beliefs, such as when they go

    (frozen by shock) at a particularly frightening story. Some stories can be interpreted as allegory, some as a take on religion.

    One of the novel's boldest themes is about making peace with death.

    . This was his vision, and is his paradise; a place of protection, food, family and pleasure.

    The rabbits see several different types of warren on their journey. A political interpretation of the first warren they come to would be socialist, since all the rabbits there are equal and no one has anything more than anyone else.

    speaks for them, but is not their leader since he does not offer them protection from the dangers they face. These rabbits have remarkably human-like qualities. Art is held uppermost, and their highly-developed poetry and sculpture is incomprehensible to Hazel's group. They also seem to have lost their faith in the rabbit religion of Frith, and the trickster-hero El-Ahrairah, meeting Dandelion's stories such as

    with amused tolerance. (We readers however, are entranced by the stories' inclusion in the novel.)

    The rabbits there are large, and live in relative luxury, but Hazel's group are unsettled by the ominous, cultish atmosphere. There has to be a reason why the word "where" is never used, and why death is a taboo subject.

    Despite all the food, this warren feels very unhealthy and unnatural to Hazel and his group. They want to be free to roam and eat outside, and do the things that rabbits have always done, living their own lives naturally. The rabbits cannot understand how others can compromise this urge, or want to live any other way. They accept that there will always be predators, but believe that no protection from a predator is worth the loss of the chance to live a normal rabbit life. This theme continues throughout the book.

    This unnamed warren may seem progressive, but it is stultified, with rabbits who have lost their life-force just as much as if they were subject to a dictator. Their world view has become fatalistic, so their Art is mere appearance. The author clearly has a firm belief that true Art comes from deeper roots, older cultures, classical and traditional values and poetic tradition.

    In

    the rabbits have a religion of their own, a culture and customs of their own, and even a language of their own. There are many humorous moments in the book when the rabbit language

    is not undertood by the other creatures, and a common language of the hedgerow is spoken. There is a mouse who seems to speak with an East European accent, and a seagull,

    — a lovely onomatopoeic name — who also speaks in a heavily accented dialect or patois.

    All these, plus the main events in the story, of course, could be adapted into a children's version of

    just as classics have been retold for children for centuries. Another aspect might need considering. I remember being rather startled by a no-nonsense, straitlaced Aunt pronouncing that

    . Actually this novel does...

    . Naturally these rabbit are concerned with procreation - they are rabbits after all!

    In common with many great myths and traditional stories,

    describes a journey to attain a safe place which can be made into a home. It is a quest in search of that basic urge common to all living creatures. Concerns of friendship, family, comradeship, an esprit de corps, loyalty, honour, respect are all uppermost, underpinned by courage, bravery and endurance. But these are still rabbits with essentially rabbitish concerns.

    Forget Alison Uttley's modest, gentle

    character, or Dorothy Richard's

    . Forget Margery Williams's

    . Very definitely forget Beatrix Potter's

    and the

    . These are decidedly not

    . There are no "bunnies" in sight here. Forget even Joel Chandler Harris's

    if you can, although aspects of El-Aharairah may well remind you of him. We recognise qualities we admire in humans, the wisdom and intermittent ability to be far-seeing, even though planning is beyond most rabbits' purview. But we also witness cunning and manipulative behaviour; behaviour which is brutish and savage.

    Just as human can use their intelligence for good or evil, so can rabbits. Yet even the most evil character in the book, General Woundwort,

    is not a cardboard cut-out or sterotype. He is a fully rounded character with whom we can empathise. We learn all about his past and what made him the rabbit he was. A charismatic personality, he developed his tough, ruthless character through strength and determination. We can understand all his actions, and see that, just as with many hated figures in history, although what transpires from his philosophy is evil, the personality behind it is not necessarily cruel or vindictive for the sake of it. He is merely an individual single-mindedly following his ethos, and performing whatever actions he deems necessary to achieve it.

    In interviews Richard Adams has said how the novel started. 52 years old and working for the civil service, he had never written anything before. He was driving his daughters to school when they began begging him to tell them a story.

    He would apparently think out the next bit of the story the evening before. When the story came to an end, his daughters said it was

    .

    was initially rejected by seven publishers and in the end accepted by a small publisher who could only afford a first print run of 2,500 copies. Now, of course, it has been sold in the millions and won many awards.

    Two years later Richard Adams left the civil service to write full time. His further novels include

    (1974),

    (1977), and

    (1980). All are excellent and highly original novels, yet none is as perfectly plotted, or as well crafted as

    , in my opinion. The structure of this book is well nigh perfect; the balance between all the different elements and steady progression to its conclusion superbly balanced. In 1996 Richard Adams published a sequel entitled

    . Yet

    has remained its author's most successful novel. None of his other books has ever come close to reaching the critical acclaim of his first novel.

    There is a superb 1978 animated adaptation, which also is not a children's film. When those delicate watercolours of the film were revealed in the cinema, everyone was very moved and impressed. There had been nothing like it before. It was pre-digital imagery of course, and it looked so beautiful and painterly. But the amazing cinematic techniques were used to evoke the whole range of human feelings. Even now, when it was shown on British television this last Christmas, there was an uproar from parents who were shocked at the savagery and all the gory scenes; images of fighting rabbits foaming at the mouth and gashes dripping with garish red blood. Its opening scenes are deceptive, showing a stylized, cartoonish rabbit-origin myth, lulling parents into a false sense of security about this graphically bloody film.

    can be read as being about an individual having a vision, or an ideal, or not letting a dictator or a totalitarian regime take over and sap any creativity or life force. The rabbits' lives in the various warrens bring up many strong parallels to existing human societies. It is tempting to view the different rabbit warrens in the novel as different versions of human government. The Efrafan warren is clearly a totalitarian regime. Woundwort and a selected handful rule with an iron fist, while all the others are stamped on and abused. Hazel's warren represents a democracy, with a leader chosen by all the rabbits, and acting according to decisions based upon the will of the group. The author's message is that this is the best way to organise society.

    There are many other implications for society to be found in the novel. The events and the descriptions send a clear warning that we need to stop our destruction of animals' homes before it is too late.

    is also a statement about Nature, an environmentally conscious novel, and an attempt to give us a glimpse into the beautiful yet increasingly diminishing world of woods and grasslands.

    We are constantly reminded, through the rabbits, that of all the creatures in the world, only humans break rules which the rest of nature follows. Humans kill at a whim, because they can, rather than out of necessity. They unthinkingly decimate entire populations. In building their own structures, they destroy the very living space that other animals need to survive. Many individual rabbits have their own journeys of personal growth through the novel. Holly is one such,

    In his prescient words,

    There is often a tone which suggests humanity has lost something we used to have—the ability to live free, as the rabbits do. There is a strong undercurrent flowing through much of the work; a suggestion that we should live as a part of Nature rather than ignoring it. This theme of technological concern, and connection with the natural world, underpins the entire work.

    So

    can be read as a political, social, or environmental critique, or as a book about the search for a home and a safe life. Richard Adams himself, however, rejects all these interpretations.

    My personal view is that

    is a beautiful poetic myth, where the rabbits have their own language, history, religion, Art, story-telling and heroes. And it's a really good adventure story featuring rabbits, cleverly keeping their true rabbitish natures, and also imbuing them with characteristics we tend to assume (rightly or wrongly) are intrinsically human. Creation of mood is paramount in this book. It has gravity and melancholy; it has humour and joie de vivre. It was the first of its kind and never bettered.

    Whatever you think in the end, one thing is certain. You will never look at rabbits in quite the same way again.

  • Sean Barrs the Bookdragon

    I don’t give a shit what Richard Adams says about his book because it simply isn’t true. According to him, in the preface of my edition, this is just a story about rabbits. Its intended purpose was to entertain his children in the car, that’s fair enough, but he also says there is no intentional allegorical meaning whatsoever. I find this hard to believe. The allegories in here are rich and meaningful. They don’t just allude to simple problems. They’re complex and purposeful. So if he didn’t int

    I don’t give a shit what Richard Adams says about his book because it simply isn’t true. According to him, in the preface of my edition, this is just a story about rabbits. Its intended purpose was to entertain his children in the car, that’s fair enough, but he also says there is no intentional allegorical meaning whatsoever. I find this hard to believe. The allegories in here are rich and meaningful. They don’t just allude to simple problems. They’re complex and purposeful. So if he didn’t intend them, then his unconscious certainly did! I can’t believe the literary merit of this work is entirely accidental.

    This has a surprising amount of depth. The story is a comment on the brutal nature of man, and his careless attitude towards nature; it is a suggestion that he kills for the sake of killing, rather than out of a need for survival; it is a statement that man is not in touch with nature like other animals, but in spite of this he is redeemable and capable of the opposite as much as the apparent. Indeed, this can be seen with the little girl who saves Hazel, the Rabbit’s chief, at the end of the novel. So it’s a bit more than a basic children’s fable. This is one of those rare, rare, books that can be read by anyone regardless of age and taste in novels; it really is a wonderful story that has the potential to be enjoyed by all. Indeed, there is a reason why very few people have not heard of Watership Down, and it’s not because this is just a tale of rabbits attempting to find a new home and survive. That is the crux of the plot, but not the limits of the scope of the novel. It has the appearance of a children’s novel in that it is an exciting adventure about rabbits, but for an adult it has greater depth.

    Moreover, the novel questions the artificial life that captive animals must endure and demonstrates that they should be at one with their true nature like the rabbits of this novel. This, for me, is a rather deep observation. Humans are a species that superimpose their ways on all other forms of life. If the animals don’t adapt, then they die. I’m not going to go into the murky realms of morality, but whatever you think about the treatment of animals, this is a truism. Humans destroy nature as they destroy most things. I’m sounding like a little bit of a misanthrope but, again, it’s true.

    Regardless of what Richard Adams thinks; his book is an allegory for many things. He may not have intended this, but the finished product clearly transcends his motives; it has become a real work of literature. One need only look at half the works in the literary cannon to see that the interpretations of these works rarely correspond with the author’s intent, and sometimes even directly oppose them. Many critics even say the author isn’t important and is just a mere vessel for the work. If this is true, then one needn’t look any further than the wonderful tale of

    for conformation.

    This is a great book.

    Postscript- I found this gorgeous illustrated edition in Waterstones that I just had to buy.....

    I mean, just look at it.

  • Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin

    Slowly watching the new Netflix show! Don’t want to cry too much at once!

    Re-read on audio is great. Still truly wonderful & sad.

    OMG! I can't believe it has taken me all of these years to read this book! It was such a wonderful book. There were some sad things, but I was able to get through it.

    I loved getting lost in this world of rabbits, where they talked of their fears, of things they needed to get done, the great camaraderie between each and every one of them. They were all so brave. I

    Slowly watching the new Netflix show! Don’t want to cry too much at once!

    Re-read on audio is great. Still truly wonderful & sad.

    OMG! I can't believe it has taken me all of these years to read this book! It was such a wonderful book. There were some sad things, but I was able to get through it.

    I loved getting lost in this world of rabbits, where they talked of their fears, of things they needed to get done, the great camaraderie between each and every one of them. They were all so brave. I loved them all. I had a soft spot mostly for Hazel, Fiver, and Bigwig. I even loved Kehaar! They were all so wonderful and such little hero's!

    Even though the rabbits where going through all of these hardships I felt like I was taken back in time... to a time of childhood and great things. I guess it's hard to explain, but I'm sure some of you know what I'm talking about. You didn't have to read this as a child to get that feeling.

    I would recommend this book to anyone that hasn't read it yet. It will take you away to another world for a little bit of your life and it's worth it.

    PS-The movie is free to watch on Youtube. I'm not sure if I would let small children read or watch this movie since it's rather gory and sad things. Although, it's all real life. It's up to you as a parent with small children. FYI: I was allowed to watch anything at a very young age so it's hard for me to say.

    That ending is so bittersweet. ♥

    Happy Reading!

    Mel ♥

    MY BLOG:

  • Jeffrey Keeten

    When Fiver, a seer, is overcome with a vivid dream of mass destruction. He tries to convince the rabbits in charge of the validity of his vision. The

    When Fiver, a seer, is overcome with a vivid dream of mass destruction. He tries to convince the rabbits in charge of the validity of his vision. They are dismissive, but one rabbit named Hazel does believe him. They convince nine other bucks to leave the warren with them. Driven by fear and curiosity they begin an odyssey that if Homer had been fortunate enough to hear about, would have given him another epic story to tell for a few more copper coins in the town square.

    Hazel finds out he is a natural leader and through courage, luck, and Macguveresque skills manages to bring his troop through the thickets of a new and dangerous world. They meet other warrens of rabbits with society aberrations that made them unpalatable for amalgamation. Given the way that Richard Adams portrayed these rigid social constructs I came away with the feeling that he was somewhat anti-government. He seemed to be advocating that a looser structure of co-existence will lead to happier rabbits/people.

    Speaking of that, even though these rabbits did take on some human characteristics, I never really thought of them as people. I was convinced I was reading a book about rabbits not rabbits with human faces. That to me is a major achievement, and at the same time in the early pages made me feel like I was reading a book at a reading level below my comfort zone. Rabbits are relatively simple animals and Adams adhered to that principle for most of the book. Cleverness was a revered trait among warren colonies and is reflected in their stories of past accomplishments by legendary rabbits. These stories passed down orally from generation to generation provided a collective source of cunning skills that are applied to situations beyond the natural experiences of our erstwhile heroes.

    It doesn't take long for the all male colony to realize that if they want kittens.

    They must have

    .

    They were in such a hurry to escape the warren that they forgot to bring the mystical other half necessary for reproduction. They came to the same conclusion that tribal units have come to for thousands of years. If they don't have something they need than they need to liberate it from someone else. The Efrafa warren is governed by General Woundwart. He is a brutal, militaristic leader who rules his burrow with an iron fist. The Efrafa happen to have a plethora of DOES and Hazel and his band of intrepid bunnies believe they are clever enough, with the help of some unusual allies, to coax away enough DOES to insure the survival of their fledgling society.

    This sets up one of the most pulse pounding showdowns I've read in a long time. Displaying the courage of the defenders of the Alamo and the steadfastness of the Spartans at the battle of Thermopylae I found myself glowing with the pride of a participant, white knuckles and all, as the Watership Down rabbits defend their home.

    The thing about this book is that you have to hang in there. I have started and stopped this book a handful of times, but several reviews on goodreads convinced me I was giving up on the book too soon. At about page 70 I could feel my eyes looking over with longing at the stack of books waiting in the wings. As the pages stacked up I started to care about this band of brothers. I wish that I had read it in time to have shared it with my kids. There is much to be discussed especially in regards to how societies are structured, about courage, about friendship, about thinking outside the box, and about the importance of how we conduct ourselves within our own warren/township. If you have kids young enough, read it to them. It will heighten the experience for you and them. I've already got this logged as a book to read to my grandchildren...some day...in the distant future...after my kids graduate college...get great jobs...meet their soulmates...and have kids that love to curl up in their grandfather's lap for a tale that may help shape the people they become.

    RIP Richard Adams May 9th, 1920- December 24th, 2016

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