Richard Adams – Watership Down

Title: Watership Down
Author: Richard Adams
Year: 1972

I think a lot of people are already familiar with the story of Watership Down, either as written by Richard Adams in his 1972 novel or via the film released six years later, featuring Art Garfunkel’s Bright Eyes, which in my heart forever will represent the atmosphere of this story. It was almost twenty years ago I watched the film about a group of anthropomorphised rabbits and their adventures as they leave their burrow in search for a new home, but  I’m very happy to have reacquainted myself w with Watership Down by reading the novel.

I can’t say I remember much except for the story in a very general sense, along with some isolated scenes. Anyway, it all begins with an anxious fellow named Fiver feeling that something bad is going to happen, and since he’s seldom wrong about things like that, some of his friends, most notably Hazel and Bigwig, believe him and decide to leave the false safety of their burrow. Together with a few others, they set out on a journey without knowing where it will end or exactly what they are fleeing from. Such a trepidation would be tough for humans, but of course it’s aggravated by the fact that rabbits are by nature prone to panic and fear.

I like Watership Down for a number of reasons. First, the atmosphere created is beautiful and sad at the same time. I don’t know how much of this comes from nostalgic remnants from my childhood experience, but I don’t think I’m mistaken in saying that the pages of this novel truly radiate warmth at the same time as containing a quite terrible story with much pain and suffering. Richard Adams’ language is well-suited to the task of narrating this tale and although he keeps it simple most of the time, my overall impression is decidedly positive.

On the surface, this book is about rabbits, but it’s very easy to forget that, and obviously the story can and should be read as a story about people. As such, it has quite a lot to say, but it doesn’t do it in a lecturing manner, but rather relies on more subtle techniques. Apart from this, Watership Down is also a heroic fantasy tale, an aspect I don’t find particularly interesting, but that nonetheless should be mentioned in the review due to the fact that it’s actually quite an important aspect of the book.

Conclusively, this is a neat novel I can recommend to most people. It’s not somethig I will remember clearly twenty years from now, but I am impressed and I’m happy I read it The story is its weakest point and the atmosphere its strongest, but since the latter is significantly more important, a very good rating of four snails seems appropriate.

  1. Kalle’s avatar

    I’d say I’m rather surprised to find you liked it. It is, after all, rather long :)

    I read Watership Down as late as august this year, taking a cue from my then-girlfriend, and found it quite lovely. It is an exquisite piece of world-building, considering that it’s really all about rabbits, and say what one might about the genre of heroic fantasy, but I think Adams is doing a top-notch job within its confines.

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    1. Olle Linge’s avatar

      I agree. I really don’t like heroic fiction, but in spite of that, I really like this novel. And no, I haven’t read Mouse Guard yet, but I think the quality has got more to do with the author rather than with having animals as main characters.

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      1. Kalle’s avatar

        Speaking as someone who has read Mouse Guard, I’d say that it’s not really the same thing. In Watership Down, at least, the tension between what’s human and what’s rabbity is omnipresent. Mouse Guard is just about a bunch of people that look like mice.

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        1. Olle Linge’s avatar

          That was the impression I got after Walium introduced Mouse Guard to me, which didn’t precisely convince me it was worthwhile. That would mean I would have to put up with ordinary epic fantasy heroism in mouse form, which might be nice for ten pages, but what about the rest? What do you think, is it worthwhile reading?

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          1. Kalle’s avatar

            I really couldn’t tell you. That depends on how valuable your while is, I suppose. I wasn’t impressed, but then again, how long does a comic book take to read?

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            1. Olle Linge’s avatar

              Okay, point taken. Since I think I’ve already borrowed it from Walium (or rather, he forced it upon me), it shouldn’t be that much trouble. It’s in Sweden, however, so it’ll be a while.

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