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 Watership Down
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 [a:Joe Abercrombie|276660|Joe Abercrombie|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1421267339p2/276660.jpg] and [a:George R.R. Martin|346732|George R.R. Martin|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1351944410p2/346732.jpg]. 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!)
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. 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:
Many human beings say that they enjoy the winter, but what they really enjoy is feeling proof against it. For them there is no winter food problem. They have fires and warm clothes. The winter cannot hurt them and therefore increases their sense of cleverness and security. For birds and animals, as for poor men, winter is another matter.
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 Lapine_Glossary
. 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.