Book Review: Watership Down

Thursday 9 April 2015 by

Watership Down, Puffin, Book, Richard AdamsWatership Down by Richard Adams

Published by Puffin

‘We’ve got to go away before it’s too late.’

Fiver could sense danger. Something terrible was going to happen to the warren – he felt sure of it. So did his brother Hazel, for Fiver’s sixth sense was never wrong. They had to leave the warren. And so a small band of rabbits began a long and perilous journey.

~*~

If you were a child of the 80s and 90s, then you were most likely traumatised by Watership Down. Well, rumour has it that they are remaking it. So, before I am once more devastated by the story of Bigwig, Fiver, Hazel and company, I thought I should read the original Watership Down.

Written in the 70s, unfortunately this is a classic that has dated a little. But that doesn’t make it any less of a brilliant story. There was a lot of points that I remembered, and the characters were instantly familiar, which made it feel like returning to a welcome friend.

When Fiver has a vision that the warren is going to be destroyed, Hazel (his brother) and a few other rabbits decide to leave. So they begin on a perilous journey to find a new warren on Watership Down. They encounter badgers, foxes, cats and dogs and even humans. But the most terrifying adversary of all is General Woundwort and his gang of rabbits at Efrafa. In an attempt to rescue some of the females from the despotic General, the rabbits of Watership Down construct an elaborate escape plan, but things go wrong when they are followed back to their burrow.

If you ever watched the film, you should know what happens by now, so I won’t really go in to it, but suffice to say it is just as terrifying and heartbreaking as it is on screen.

The thing that struck me by the book was just how rabbit-like the rabbits were. Adams creates a whole rabbit history for them, and assigns them human-like qualities, but ultimately he returns again and again to their baser instincts – smell, stamp, run. It has to make you wonder how often Adams watched a warren to understand them.

This is a male-heavy book though. Even the females, when they appear, get very little time on the page. It’s disappointing, in the end, because although the characters are lovely, they fall in to familiar tropes that make it hard to relate, and which could have perhaps been avoided with a little more female perspective.

I had read somewhere that Adams originally wrote the story to explain World War II to his children, and although there are points at which I can see why, there is very little to connect the two. This is, rather, a story of nature. What comes across is the love of natural beauty, and the despair of the manmade. It is this, perhaps, more than the plot, that kept me reading. Its descriptive beauty was at times awe-inspiring.

This is certainly a children’s book, but the content will continue to impress and entertain long in to adulthood. Only – don’t watch the film.

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