Watership Down

March 19, 2009
More by this author
Watership Down, by Richard Adams, is a book unlike any other I've read before, detailing the adventures of a valiant group of wild rabbits on their tumultuous journey to find a new home. When my friend saw me reading this book with the dramatic illustration of a rabbit on the cover, she laughed and said, 'I can't take you seriously when you're reading that book.' But one would be surprised to discover how serious the life of a rabbit can be.

Throughout the story, we follow a rabbit named Hazel, who is your classic everyman-turned-hero, his clairvoyant brother Fiver, the tough friend Bigwig, little Pipkin, and several other rabbits who escape their warren in fear of prospective danger, and go off looking for a new place to live. They encounter all sorts of elil (enemies, in Lapine language) and natural hurdles, such as fruitless land and fast-flowing streams. When they have time to rest at night, they gather around and listen to Dandelion's stories of El-arairah, the cunning folk hero rabbit whose clever tricks and bravery inspire the runaway rabbits to persevere. During the journey, Hazel and his friends come nose to nose with danger time and again, sometimes in the obvious form of a fox, and other times in the eerie form of foreign, brainwashed rabbits. Through it all, they learn the true meaning of community, and each finds in himself courage he never knew he had.

Although this book is fantasy fiction, the only truly impossible aspect is that the rabbits speak English (not that they don't communicate, but we don't have the power to translate their language to English). Mr. Adams seems to fabricate an imaginary world of rabbits' thoughts and feelings, joys and sorrows. But he writes with such precise detail that it might as well be the truth, and he is simply relaying it to us humans who cannot see it. He characterizes these rabbits in a depth that most humans, and perhaps even most rabbits never muse about. I especially like Bigwig, who humbles dynamically along the journey, transforming from a pompously bossy Owsla (servant to the Chief Rabbit) to a logical, trusty companion. Mr. Adams periodically compares humans to rabbits in brief, philosophical moments. 'Human beings say, 'It never rains but it pours.' This is not very apt, for it frequently does rain without pouring. The rabbits' proverb is better expressed. They say, 'One cloud feels lonely': and indeed it is true that the appearance of a single cloud often means that the sky will soon be overcast.'

It is these reflective, thoughtful moments that I enjoy most in Watership Down, and the overall messages that Mr. Adams communicates about the Animal Kingdom. He explains the relationship between rabbits and all other animals they encounter, from the mortal fear they have of foxes to the pity they feel towards field mice. It makes the reader think widely, not only of humanity but of the intangible force that unites all living creatures. Hazel has the idea to befriend all the animals they come across that are not elil, which is unusual behavior for a rabbit, but he believes that if they all overcome interspecie barriers and help each other, then they have a better chance of survival. This quality, and 'a blessedly circumscribed imagination and an intuitive feeling that Life is Now' are what make these rabbits such engrossing and delightful characters to read about.

The only problem I have with this book is that Mr. Adams often goes into great detail describing the landscape, which distracts me from the plot and slows down the story. For the most part, however, I feel that the pace of the book is quite nice, and he builds adventure expertly. I would certainly recommend this book to lovers of fables and adventure stories, or anyone who would like to escape the materialistic world of humans and become immersed in the fantastic tales of rabbits.

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Mariella said...
Sept. 19, 2009 at 12:07 pm
I love this book. My friend laughed at me too when she saw I was reading another book about talking animals, but there's way more to Watership Down that meets the eye. Great job on the review, it was well-written!
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