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Watership Down is a cult 1972 novel by Richard Adams. The book revolves around anthropomorphised rabbits struggling for survival and looking for a new home in a landscape that is continually being challenged and altered by those pesky and annoying human beings with their dreaded machines and "hrududul". In the Sandleford Warren, a rabbit named Fiver has a nightmare vision that their home is about to be destroyed and that everyone will die. When Fiver and his brother Hazel fail to convince the leader to take heed of the mystic warning that they must all evacuate, they set off with a small collection of rabbits on an epic quest to reach their proposed new home at Watership Down, a hill in Hampshire. But the journey is fraught with danger and even the end of the quest may not necessarily mean that their troubles and problems are over. This is sort of like The Hobbit with rabbits but better than that description would suggest. Anyone expecting a twee and old fashioned book might be in for a mild surprise. Adams got the genesis of the story from countryside tales he would make up to amuse his daughters and also drew on his experiences of World War 2 where he served in the the Netherlands at the Battle of Oosterbeek. He based the personalities of some of the rabbits on the friends he made while in service. This is much more than a children's fable and many passages here would probably be unsuitable for young children anyway. Although these rabbits can speak and have their own language (which we come to learn more about as the book progresses), customs and myths, the danger, cruelty, wildness and sadness that is a constant part of their world at the sharp end of nature is not flinched at by Adams (who used the book The Private Life of the Rabbit by naturalist Ronald Lockley as a major part of his research). The rabbits heading for Watership Down fall under the leadership of Hazel and must travel through dangerous terrain to reach their destination.
Their epic journey through the English countryside is wonderfully and compellingly conveyed by the author and his flourishes on nature and the eternal elements are very evocative and atmospheric. "The full moon, well risen in a cloudless eastern sky, covered the high solitude with its light. We are not conscious of daylight as that which displaces darkness. Daylight, even when the sun is clear of clouds, seems to us simply the natural condition of the earth and air. When we think of the downs, we think of the downs in daylight, as with think of a rabbit with its fur on. Stubbs may have envisaged the skeleton inside the horse, but most of us do not: and we do not usually envisage the downs without daylight, even though the light is not a part of the down itself as the hide is part of the horse itself. We take daylight for granted. But moonlight is another matter. It is inconstant. The full moon wanes and returns again. Clouds may obscure it to an extent to which they cannot obscure daylight. Water is necessary to us, but a waterfall is not. Where it is to be found it is something extra, a beautiful ornament. We need daylight and to that extent it us utilitarian, but moonlight we do not need. When it comes, it serves no necessity. It transforms." The novel is set in real places that Adams knew very well himself and so his eye for detail and the atmosphere of the downs is always very keen. Like all great books, the author creates a distinct and fascinating world for the characters to be a part of. They have their own language (Lapine) which is complex sounding and exotic and they also have their own legends and beliefs.
The rabbits worship Lord Frith, a luminous light that travels in the sky. The storyteller is Dandelion, a most brave and shrewd rabbit with a gift for oration. One of the themes and messages of the novel is that the rabbits on a quest to find a new home must learn to build alliances with themselves and other creatures and break away from rigid doctrines and rules of the past. They must learn to trust each other and to listen to all views. The novel has many twists and you find yourself becoming increasingly drawn into the story and the plight of the main characters as this ramshackle group looks for safety and a new home. One of clever constructions of the novel is the way that we get a rabbit's eye view of the world and human beings only feature fleetingly as these strange creatures with an equally strange language who seem to bring nothing but destruction in their wake. Humans are forever destroying nature and blighting the landscape with their noisy machines. They are a pain in the neck for nature's many wild creatures and (given their dominance over the other animals) lack a very basic compassion for the welfare of the other creatures they share the land with. "Animals don't behave like men. If they have to fight, they fight; and if they have to kill they kill. But they don't sit down and set their wits to work to devise ways of spoiling other creatures' lives and hurting them. They have dignity and animality."
It sounds a trifle corny but the book does give one a new perspective on rabbits, such is the intricate nature of the fashion in which Adams creates a little universe for them to live in. It also makes you think about how arrogant human beings are to presume that the world is theirs to do as they please and can take blood splattered dominion over other creatures on the planet as a right. Leave the bunny rabbits and animals alone I say. If you read this book you will be given a unique glimpse into a little world within a world that belongs to rabbits. While the novel is unavoidably somewhat dated in places, it still retains some timeless themes and despite what appears to be a small scale and old fashioned setting the story actually manages to attain a very epic feel with the world the rabbits must survive in a very strange and frightening place sometimes. One does get a great sense of character and personality from the individual rabbits and we come to care deeply about their fate. Not only Fiver and Hazel but characters like Bigwig, the largest rabbit in their group and one who will be needed if they have any hope of defeating General Woundwort, the tyrannical leader of the dictatorial Efrafa Warren. The skirmishes and scheming is very Tolkien at times.
The development of the characters is very nicely done too. Hazel is an unlikely leader at the start of the story but we see how he must quickly adjust to the responsibilities that have been placed upon him. I like the philosophical tracts that run through the book - "Rabbits (says Mr Lockley) are like human beings in many ways. One of these is certainly their staunch ability to withstand disaster and to let the stream of their life carry them along, past reaches of terror and loss. They have a certain quality which it would not be accurate to describe as callousness or indifference. It is, rather, a blessedly circumscribed imagination and an intuitive feeling that Life is Now. A foraging wild creature, intent above all upon survival, is as strong as the grass" - and also the mysticism that Adams infuses into the story. The rabbits have their own Gods, ghosts and legends and it makes both them and their society more believable. This is not a short book (nearly 500 pages in my paperback copy) and some readers might possibly have wished for some of Adams' flourishes to have been more restrained in places but I think the scope of the book is one of its greatest strengths and I loved the descriptive passages as an essential part of the aura that surrounds the novel. This is certainly a clever and inventive book and well worth reading if you've never got around to it yet. You'll never look at a bunny rabbit in the same way again.
I love this book. It all started may years ago...
For a considerable period of my childhood i wasn't actually allowed to watch this movie... my mum's best friend had this on VHS and while I always wanted to see it I would always end up buried in my mothers skirts, sobbing inconsolably about Fiver an' Hazel an' Bigwig (I often didn't make it past the snare scene, and certainly not past Bright Eyes). Eventually I was banned from watching it and mum found a copy of the book in a charity shop, I was told I could watch the movie once I'd read the book. So, being that I was only 8 years old, forgive me, but the book remained unread and the film remained unfinished.
A few years later, I was aged about 11, Watership Down was picked up again. My old charity shop copy was yellowed and musty,
the pages crackled and felt damp. The type was small, misshapen and
higgledy piggledy. It was hard work. I didn't understand most of the symbolism, religion, language, or culture. I did understand a romping, epic road trip. I did understand friendship, the feeling of belonging that the tale evoked, and teamwork.
The story begins when runty Fiver and bigger, sensible brother Hazel wander to the edge of their warren... there is an enormous alien notice board. Fiver rapidly becomes consumed with a powerful urge to escape from the comfortable warren he and Hazel have spent their entire lives (just over a year). You may expect Hazel to treat this nonsense with older brother disdain, but Hazel has always trusted his brother's intuition, and after some serious thought he takes Fiver's suggestion to their Sandleford Warren's Chief Rabbit, The Thearah. The young bucks are treated with barely veiled disinterest and sent packing.
Hazel knows he must act quickly, they manage to gather a few other restless young rabbits and set off, with the last minute unexpected addition of Bigwig, a respected member of the Owsla. And there their odyssey begins. We follow our rabbity friends cross county and into dell, through river and up downs. Travelling with us are a number of tales from Rabbit mythology, El-ahrairah (The Robin Hood of Rabbitdom),
and his trustworthy mate and assistant Rabscuttle, the rabbits will often tell a tale to calm their nerves at tense moments in the story.
El-ahairah is a trickster more than a Jesus figure (IMO, but not everyone's) and his name translated from Lapine (rabbit language) and means Prince of a Thousand Enemies. This is often how rabbits see themselves, they believe that since they are smaller and weaker than may who would kill them for sport or food, they have to rely on brain power and problem solving to get out of sticky or even deadly situations with man, dog, cat or even other rabbits.
The story takes a turn from classic road trip when they have settled in their new home, Watership Down. The young guns realise they have no
girlies to make the burrows, and do the washing up no doubt. Using their rescued seagull, Kehaar (his name is the same as the sound of the waves on the beach) to get the lie of the land and find them a warren they could send a deputation to in order to gain some does. He finds them a warren, but it isn't quite what they expected...
We see the rabbits go on to make a daring and exciting break out from the found warren, Efrafa, hotly pursued by dangerous sworn enemies. Our Watership Down boys still have to make a last stand back on the down, to protect their freedom, their families and their very belief system against the unbeaten, all powerful systematic killer that is General Woundwort, the spurned leader from Efrafa.
This book never fails to take me on a emotional roller-coaster. Every chapter is packed with danger, love, fear and warmth. I've read it many times over the years, my understanding of the friendships and sense of loyalty between the characters is something I feel deeply connected to. The writing is easy to follow, yet beautiful, Richard Adams weaves Lapine into the text you can almost translate it (check out what Bigwig calls Woundwort while they fight in the tunnel near the end). His anthropomorphic rabbits, sit so well that you don't
think anything of it as they talk about silflay and harka.
I fall in love with this story each time I read it. Yes, it is a tall tale of fluffy wee bunnies but it is also a dramatic epic, taking you on a twisting journey, through the beautiful downs and dens of Hampshire. Reminding you of the so called human traits of trust, belief, and need for companionship.
I recommend this novel to anyone who invests in character relationships and who fancies a cross country romp.
When Hazel's younger brother Fiver prophesizes impending doom to their Sandleford warren, a splinter group break free of their chief's authority and embark on a journey to find a new home. Their group consist of a mixture of personalities including the storyteller, Dandelion, the industrious Blackberry and the warrior, Bigwig. After suffering perils and temptations on en route, as well as collecting three rabbits from another warren and three rescued hutch rabbits, they arrive at Watership Down. The adventure is far from over as Hazel realizes the need for does to help propagate their new home and to secure their legacy. This decision will lead them into greater dangers when they meet the rabbits of Efrafa governed under a tyrannical martial rule by the monstrous General Woundwort...
After the brilliant 1978 film made an indelible impression on me, it wasn't long that I sought out the book. Despite being an avid reader at the time the book seemed rather intimidating in size and structure at the time. I was barely 10 years old and had never owned a book that was divided into four parts all containing chapters, all prefaced with erudite sounding literary quotations. Nevertheless, I was fortunate enough to have a mother who also loved the film and read it to me. Years later I discovered that Richard Adams, the author, created the story to entertain his daughters when they took long car journeys into the countryside. With this in mind, I think this book is particularly enjoyable when being shared between parent and slightly older children (eight to 12 years).
Of course, don't let age restrict you. "Watership Down", like "The Lord of the Rings", might have been first intended for children, but it reads like an epic novel and holds its own against any other literary classic. In fact, despite Adams's humble remarks about it all being just a made up story with his main sources coming from his military experiences during the Battle of Arnhem and Ronald Lockley's nature book, "The Private Life of the Rabbit", there is clearly the mark of classic mythology in here. I would agree with the author that there is little about actual politics in here - unless we consider some of Adams's personal opinions regarding animal welfare, which comes across as very light compared to his other novels such as "The Plague Dogs - but there seems to be something very Roman in its morals and ideas. "Watership Down" seems to draw quite heavily from both Homer's "The Odyssey" and, in particular, Virgil's "The Aeneid". From "The Odyssey" we see the apathetical Lotus Eaters in the form of Cowslip's warren. However, "The Aeneid" seems to be at the core of "Watership Down". After all, it is the story of refuges from a destroyed home that embark upon a quest to found a new and glorious homeland. Once there, Hazel's decision to seek out females to breed with is a much more ethical version of "The Rape of the Sabine Women". There are also obvious classic heroic counterparts found in all the rabbits of the story.
"Watership Down" is often a misjudged story (and film for that matter) by the ignorant as being just a "fluffy bunny" story. It is far from it. Apart from the suspension of disbelief required by the rabbits having their own religion and mythology, and being able to communicate with little trouble with other animals such as Kehaar the seagull, Adams does not pull back from the harsh realities of a wild rabbit's life. If your only experiences of fictitious rabbits come in the form of Harry the Bunny then you are in for a big surprise. Rabbits are killed and savagely wounded by a variety of other animals, including their own species in bloodthirsty fights - a duel at the end sparing little anatomical detail over the injuries being inflicting on the two combatants - and the whole philosophy of an Adams rabbit, as upheld in their own fables about El-ahrairah the Prince of Rabbits (and the "Prince with a Thousand Enemies") is about survival through cunning. Even controversial self defence coach, Geoff Thompson, dedicates a whole essay to this book in his motivational book "Everything that Happens to me is Fantastic". Although clearly written for older children, this is not the lightest of reads.
Despite having a strong emotional investment in the work, which probably has a lot to do with my love of the film, I can see some possible flaws. There is the aforesaid animal welfare moralizing - humans are evil and responsible for most of the ills of the world - which is contained in most of Adams's work and not always supported, particularly with regards to the "rescue" of the hutch rabbits. However, it isn't heavy preaching and will be down to own personal opinions as to whether or not his points are valid. The biggest flaw comes from the otherwise appealing structure of the narrative. "Watership Down" is one epic story, but it also contains many minor stories. These sometimes take the form of the fables Dandelion tells and sometimes they diverge into self-contained sub-plots. In this sense, Adams gets a little carried away with the epic feel of his work and a bit more ruthless editing might have improved the flow a little. Sometimes this works, but when we get to the story's otherwise thrilling climax it doesn't. At the end of the story we have enough dramatic skipping backwards and forwards between two series of events without the pointless story of a captured rabbit being added in. This neither significantly adds to the sense of threat nor does it progress the plot. Instead it is a rather irritating digression. It's a small gripe, but looking at "Tales from Watership Down", Adams's eventual follow-up, one can see that many of these stories would have been better reserved for this short story collection.
"Watership Down" remains one of my favourite books and one that I find inspiring on an allegorical level - even if this wasn't the author's intention - and further excites my interest in the devices of mythological storytelling. Being a staunch individualist it I am happy to say it is a book that shows the happy co-existence of community with individual strengths. Hazel's warren of free-will is shown as the harmonious balanced ideal contrasted against Sandleford's archaic stagnation, Cowslip's apathy and Woundwort's conformity under authoritarian dictatorship. It is an epic for children representing the values of ingenuity, vision, courage, loyalty, resilience and friendship.
If you aked me "What do you think is the greatest childrens story of all time?" or most yes even if the greatest book of all time for any age, i would imediatly answer Watership Down! I Read this book three or four years ago and since page one i was completely hooked. Everthing about this book is brilliant, the setting, the charactors , the relationships between them and of course the incredible plot line, that in my opinion is unrivaled by any other book except maybe "Firebringer" or "the sight" by David Clement Davies.
I have been an animal lover for many years and so have read a number of animal related books, however i had never read any stories with the main charactors as rabbits. I had always asked myself the questions "Do animals comunicate?"and if so how?" And "what would society be like for animals?" and how do animals see the world of humans?".
Watership down answers all of these questions completely in a way that seems so realistic you almost believe it to be true. The use of plants as names for the rabbits such as Hazel, Dandelion, Blackberry,Acorn and Speedwell seems realistic to me, as well as the creation of "lapine" the rabits own language. When i first read this i was young and foolish, i learnt lapine off by heart and sad as it might make me i still remember most of it now! I love the fact that Richard Adams created a civilisation with the rabbits, using the chief rabbit and the owsla to make it sound much like human society. The best thing for me has to be the discription of things that humans do seen from the rabbits point of view. the way that Richard Adams explains things makes you really think about how animals must see everyday things that humans do.
This story is often shunned by people who are "too scared" to read this story because they think it is full of death and gore. This may be due to what they have heard from other people or also because of the film that was made of the book which is rather different, with several bloody scenes. In actuall fact the book is not so bad. Although there are some parts that contain death and violence for the most part the story is beautiful, a tale of strength between friends and the intuition of rabbits especially "the seer" Fiver.
Although through the story the friends go through some bad times and many narrow escapes they everntually reach their goal. I cried at the end of this book not just because of what happened at the end but also because i never wanted to stop reading about Hazel,Fiver, Bigwig, Keehar and the others!
I think that this book should not be shunned just make sure you read the book before you watch the film because the film differes in many ways! I like the film version too but i think that it could be better!
All in all i believe that this is a brilliant book for young teens onwards because of its brilliant storyline, captivating charactors and brilliant settings. This was a book that i have read so many times i nearly know it off by heart and is my favourite book of all time!
Is it a kind of a dream Floating out on the tide Following the river of death downstream Oh is it a dream? There's a fog along the horizon A strange glow in the sky And nobody seems to know where it goes And what does it mean? Oh is it a dream? Bright eyes, burning like fire Bright eyes, how can you close and fail? How can the light that burned so brightly, Suddenly burn so pale? Bright eyes Few things in life have meaning, to young and old, to the hardened and to the religious, yet sometimes, a feat of miraculous imaginative literature can not only tear the mind apart, cause the eyes to flow streams of tears, both joyful and of sadness. Watership Down, by Richard Adams is arguably the best children?s story ever to be printed in word form. Richard told this story to his grandchildren if I am not mistaken, and they badgered him (excuse the pun) to write this down and share it with millions of other children who would love to be enchanted by the tales of these worldly rabbits and their quest for the holy grail of safety. History itself can only bare witness to the hysteria that befell this unique and priceless tale, and the life?s that it touched, only those who have read the book can share the emotional hell that these bobbled tailed travellers had to confront before finding their garden of Eden, their promised land, Utopia! INTRODUCTION Richard Adams, a man of many wise years and of worldly talent, enjoyed to entertain with his tales of wildlife and the South Downs, particularly the regions of Hampshire, Andover and her small wolds, villages, and countryside. This story is a tale of a threatened rabbit warren, and their journey of epic proportion to find a place to live far from the destructive hand of humanity, and far from the smell of petrol, cigarette butts (those who have read will remember) and the everyday hazards that being a b
unny tends to bring! Now a plot spoiler I am not, far from it, so please, forgive my somewhat whimsical brush of fact, and my in depth approach to my own experience and feelings, which I believe to be of the utmost importance when telling a tale of a tale. Richard began with a short story, then implemented his own fears and beliefs into a cynical, but fairy-tale like version of an oppressed race, be it bunny?s or a tribe cast out from their own land and forced to fight for their very survival, the choice of story can be yours, and this is well camouflaged to prevent the critical eye of ?normality? from chastising his very works. STORY Imagine you wake up one day, and find that there is a JCB outside you house with blueprints strewn over your garden wall, and builders with their arses hanging out their overalls sharing sexist jokes and boasting about their evening?s conquests. You ask them what they are doing, and their response is simple. ?We are building a bypass through your house love!? Gasp. Shock, horror! You [phone hubby at work, and he says, ?Quick, grab the kids and head for mothers!? Too late, mother?s has been demolished and you have to aid her, despite her age and her disabilities, and head for Aunt Ethel?s. Ethel is standing at her garden wall, dejected and without any fight left, she has accepted the fact she is too old to live in the house her husband, Uncle Ted, fought in the war for. Her will is broken, her body limp and heavy, yet you, only you have the strength to make her see that there are better houses two blocks away, far from the constant drum of car engines and screeching tyres, only you can restore her faith in life, and lead her to the sanctuary of ?happy valley? scenario. Are you with me yet? If not, don?t despair, but be intrigued, as that is exactly what happens when a somewhat peaceful day is disturbed by humanity deciding a rabbi
t warren is no longer a home for 100?s of rabbits and their young. The difference between what I have just told you and what Richard Adams shares with you is simple, its WATERSHIP DOWN! VISION Strange header for a book, vision! Surely more fitting for a film, or even a play? I will explain. R.A. had vision; he saw what others thought an irritation and sculptured a generation of animal lovers into what we now perceive as animal rights protesters. Not the hardened burn down the Minx farm extremists, nor the anti fox hunting protesters that rightfully spoil the somewhat Victorian subordinates of barbaric sport, but more the concerned adult who wishes the countryside to be just that, countryside. Each chapter stretches the mind towards different values, new challenges. Belief beyond the normal scope of nature, guiding you safely into the harbour of self- satisfaction, when journeys become reality, reality becomes itself. The vision that R.A. had was simple, but strong. Everyone, be it rabbit or seagull, had a place in this world, a place of love and safety. FLOW This was a hard one to characterise. How did the book flow? There are a few ways to measure this, as I will explain. The first time I read this, I finished this in days. Although some four hundred pages long, I was mesmerised by the whole scenario. Rabbits weren?t rabbits, but people. People fighting for survival, fighting us, humans, for a place to live alongside us and enjoy what the earth had to offer. Sometimes I closed the book with tears in my eyes, and sometimes I smiled. A smile of ecstasy, jubilation even, only the smile a thirteen year old could smile when reading about ?grown up? issues. I read this book again, shortly after I finished it, and have read her now so many times that I fail to remember the exact amount. So with flow being the head
er, I guess she flows like the Nile to her deltas, before spewing into the larger presence of the Mediterranean Sea. ORIGINALITY Now there?s a thing! Maybe not a unique approach to exposing humanities shortcomings in respecting her fellow inhabitants, in fact, a somewhat similar approach as that used by George Orwell with his Animal Farm Novel, exposing the Communist Russia for all her faults turn of the century time. The difference being he injected a bit of, lets say Tolkien style and a bit of Durrell humour into his work (Please note, for the die hard readers, these are just two people who spring to mind who dare to challenge the everyday beliefs of story writing and implementing a unique blend of humour within their work). This produces a not only compelling read, but a crisp and often enchanting twist to what could so easily be categorised as a children?s tale. Far from it! Watership Down is as original now, as it was those years ago when I first smelt a cowslip in my own imagination. CONCLUSION Analytical, then I feel so sorry for you. Imaginative, you are so lucky Sceptical, READ IT! Whoever, whatever whenever, this book not only surpasses all your wildest expectations, but it delivers a moral victory and awakens the mind into a questionable corner, before releasing a deep realisation that this is not our life alone, but a life to enjoy, a life to share. Along with Lord of the Rings, The Otterbury Incident. And My Family and Other Animals, this book moulded my teens and produced a thoughtful if still disillusioned Angus, and then threw me out to discover the beauty of Nature and the countryside around us. Try it, I can?t guarantee you will feel the same, but hell, it is an invigorating read. Angus
At the tender age of six or seven I was taken by my parents to see my first ever film in a cinema. That film was Watership Down; what could be more appropriate for a youngster than a film about fluffy bunny rabbits? Those of you who have seen the film will not be surprised to hear that I came out of the cinema severely traumatised by the horror of the film and the scenes of blood and death. As a result of this horrific childhood experience I have, to this day, avoided reading the book by Richard Adams, as I couldn?t face the harrowing tale of rabbits on the run. Recently I was persuaded by a friend to pick up the novel and face my fears. Did I make it to the end without using up the EU?s tissue mountain? THE STORY Fiver is a rabbit with a special talent; he has premonitions of danger. Fiver lives in Sandleford Warren in Hampshire and is suddenly struck by a huge fear that terrible and inescapable danger is approaching the warren. The Chief Rabbit will not listen and so Fiver, his best friend, Hazel, Bigwig, a strong fighter, and some other rabbits agree to escape the warren together to set up a new warren in a safe place. The rabbits face many dangers before finding suitable ground. However, their troubles are not yet over, as they are a group of bucks and without some does they will be unable to breed and the warren will die out. So the rabbits send out an expedition to find does. The only nearby warren is named Efrafa and it is from here that they must find their females. However, the warren is run in an inhumane (or inrabbit) way, the rabbits are terrified of their Chief and it seems that our heroes will have to risk lives in order to complete the task. THE SETTING The book is set on the Hampshire Downs between Kingsclere and Sydmonton. In the normal course of events such a setting would provide beautiful descriptions of the countryside. However, as this book is written from a rab
bit?s point of view, not only is the reader delighted by tremendously vivid descriptions of the wildlife, foliage and flowers but the scene is brought more to life by the even richer smells and sounds of the downs, which to a rabbit would be just as significant. Adams paints a wonderful picture of the natural surroundings and the descriptions are so intricate that the reader feels transported to the depths of the Hampshire countryside. RABBIT LINGUISTICS With any book it is extremely important that the reader is able to empathise with the main characters. With this book you may think that this could be a problem as the reader is of a different species to the protagonists. However, Adams explains the way of life of the rabbits well and the complexity of their conventions and etiquette is emphasised by the fact that he uses numerous made-up rabbit words to describe things for which there would be no word in the human language. These words are well explained when they first arise and there are not so many of them as to make the reading hard going. The balance is just right to demonstrate that the rabbits world is as interesting as that of a human. The words themselves are, in many cases, delightful to the eye and to the tongue (try reading them aloud). For instance, my favourite word (which I haven?t stopped using since reading the book) is silflay, which is the activity of going out of the warren to graze. Hlessil = a rabbit living in the open without a hole. Owsla = a group of strong or clever rabbits who exercise authority in the warren under the control of the Chief Rabbit. Elil = predators, such as foxes, stoats or cats. When the rabbits encounter other animals in the book, such as mice and birds, these other animals cannot speak rabbit but they can communicate through a shared language of hedgerow talk, which is not as sophisticated as rabbit. When these creatures speak, Adams writes
their words in dialect, which appears a little like Spanish. This differentiates the rabbits from the other animals. The reader learns to understand the rabbits, their morality and cultural heritage through stories which are told by some of the characters throughout the book. These stories involve El-ahrairah, the first ever rabbit on Earth, created by the God, Frith. The stories normally consist of a tale in which El-ahrairah uses his quick wits to concoct a plan to fool the rabbits? enemies and help his own rabbit people in some way. Through these stories we gain further insight into rabbits? beliefs and see our heroes as more than just animals. THE RABBITS The characters in the book all have different personalities and throughout the story we get to know them well and respect and love them. Hazel: He is Fiver?s best friend and becomes Chief Rabbit of the new warren. Although he is neither big nor particularly strong, the other rabbits respect him as he is clever, clear-headed in a crisis and always puts the welfare of the other rabbits first. Fiver: While he may seem a little eccentric due to his premonitions, Fiver?s instincts prove to be correct and he eventually turns the other rabbits disdain towards him to a healthy respect. Bigwig: The largest of the rabbits who was a high ranking member of the Sandleford Owsla. He is extremely brave and strong and often risks himself to save the other rabbits or protect the weaker rabbits. Blackberry: The cleverest of the rabbits. One of the nice aspects of this book is that the rabbits are just that, rabbits; they are not humanised and still maintain animal traits. Most of the rabbits (bless them) are a little dim but luckily Blackberry is intelligent and it is he who has to think up plans and schemes and explain them to the others. EFRAFA The danger the rabbits face escalates when they commence their attempts to collect some does fr
om the Efrafa Warren. Efrafa is ruled by a Chief Rabbit called General Woundwort, the most terrifying character in the book. He is a heartless and power-hungry rabbit who controls the warren through fear and brutality. The rabbits are divided into groups called Marks and each member of a Mark is distinguished by a scar given at birth by a vicious bite. They are ruled by Captains who are recruited from members of the Owsla. The warren is run like a prison and all rabbits must remain underground unless supervised by a Captain. They are not free to come and go as they please and can only silflay at determined times of the day. Any rabbit who tries to escape is punished severely, such as Blackavar who had his ears chewed off for his attempt. Strange rabbits who wander into their territory are either captured or put to death and any rabbits who try to set up a new warren in the vicinity are brutally dug out and killed. As you can see the rabbits task is not an easy one and by the time we reach this stage in the story we have come to know the group well and are very concerned about the welfare of the heroes. As they embark upon their task the reader is gripped with excitement, anticipation and fear. The book is a nail-biting and compulsive read. WOT NO BLOODBATH? The most startling aspect of the book was its lack of horrific rabbit death scenes! Despite my expectations created by the film, the story is narrated relatively gently and, although death does touch the rabbits from time to time, descriptions are not graphic and I can promise you a happy ending. The plot is interesting, the descriptions of rabbit life intriguing, the characters lovable and the pace exciting. I cannot recommend the book highly enough and, best of all, you won?t have nightmares after reading it! OTHER INFO Publisher: Penguin Books Price: £4.99 ISBN: 0-14-00-3958-9
What is an animal ‘society’ like? How would they interact, live together in a community? Would they have stories and friendships? How much are they just like us? Richard Adams gives some possible answers to these questions in his novel Watership Down. His story is an accurate picture of how rabbits may live, from the rabbit’s perspective. He invents a language, a social structure (that conforms to known biology) and even a mythology for them. SYNOPSIS: Fiver and Hazel live in the Sandleford Warren. They are brothers, both young adults just out of their childhood. Hazel is a likely young buck but Fiver is sickly runt given to dreams and visions. Few, if any, rabbits are likely to heed him except his brother Hazel who has seen his uncanny abilities in action. That is why, when Fiver begins to have visions of the destruction of the Sandleford Warren and the horrible death of all its inhabitants, Hazel believes him. Hazel takes Fiver before the leader of the warren, the Chief Rabbit and his officers (or Owsla) but they do not take them seriously. Hazel thinks that this is the end of the matter but Fiver’s desperate insistence on leaving with or without anyone else convinces him to go. With them they take a small group of young bucks, disaffected with their home and so willing to believe in Fiver’s prophecy. They travel across country crossing rivers, avoiding predators (called the Thousand since there are so many of them) and listening to tales of El-Ahrairah the Father of all Rabbits told by their storyteller Dandelion. Their strongest and largest member, Bigwig, is nearly killed by a snare and they meet with some very peculiar rabbits on their way but they do make it. They arrive safely on the high unpopulated (by rabbits) hill called Watership Down. That they get there at all is due not only to Fiver’s vision but Hazel’s leadership and Bigwigs strength. Once there establ
ished in there ideal warren they face another problem. They have no does. This brings them into conflict with the nearby warren, the dictatorially run Efrafa of General Woundwort. This battle and the allies they gain for it bring the story to its climax. I will not say more (since you really should read it for yourselves). STYLE: I find this book incredible easy to read and get into and despite the fact that it is has an adult vocabulary there is no reason (in content either) why older children will not read this book and enjoy it. There is also no reason why, despite its Children’s Literature status, adults will not also appreciate it and not only in a back to our childhood sort of way. The punctuation of the story with tales of El-Ahrairah is wonderful. I often go back and read the tales on their own but I have always loved myths and legends and think these (invented) ones of Adam’s are superb examples. It is also beautifully written. The prose style (like so many masters of that form) is simple but effective and so easily understood. It gives the lie to the idea that convoluted sentences show greater or more intense artistry in their authors. CONCLUSION: I personally think that this is one the few books that everyone should read. It is not a cutesy talking animals tale (not that there is necessarily anything wrong with those). It is a thorough glimpse into the possible internal life of rabbits and also a mirror held up to ourselves. It is gentler than many of Adam’s other works (he is a passionate supporter of Animal Welfare) but nonetheless enables us to understand and care for animals and our environment with greater sensitivity. This book can give you a far greater insight into what it is to be human than many novels that take human beings as the protagonists.
==UPDATED 24/09/02== The original reason for this update was that I'd somehow managed to mis-spell "Kehaar" throughout, and it was irritating me. However, I'll take this opportunity to admit that I was slightly hard on the 1978 Nepenthe film, and have upgraded it from "adequate" to "more than adequate". I'll do an op on that film soon, if I can find a suitable category. Also, one interesting point that was made to me recently (in the course of a discussion about something else entirely on Usenet!) was that the effect of the novel is different for non-British readers. For example, the American "Bugs Bunny" rabbit is a different species to our own. And readers in the Antipodes will be accustomed to thinking of rabbits as pests pure and simple, with little of the affection towards them that most British readers have. One thing hasn't changed, though: this book is still utterly wonderful, so there. ==END OF UPDATE== "Stunning, compulsive reading". That was the Sunday Times' verdict on Richard Adams' masterpiece, and it is not one I can quibble with. This extraordinary novel, Adams' first and still - by some distance - his best, remains in print in both Penguin and Puffin editions after 30 years, and with ample justification. The dual editions exist for the same reason as they do with the much more recent Harry Potter books - because some adults look down their nose at "kids' books". All I can say is that they don't know what they're missing, but that's for another op. A brief synopsis of the book reveals little of its depth and variety, but let's have one anyway. After a prophecy of doom from a visionary rabbit named Fiver, a small band of bucks leave their Sandleford warren one night to look for a new home. Along the way, they meet with triumph and disaster, but are unable to treat those two impostors just th
e same, as it slowly becomes clear that there is no future for the group without does. They discover a nearby warren, run on brutal militaristic lines by the overbearing General Woundwort, and attempt to liberate its downtrodden residents. But this only results in even greater danger for the Sandleford band. So far, so ordinary - but Watership Down is far from being an ordinary book. Adams' great achievement is that he manages to create rabbit characters which are both athropomorphised (in that they can speak - normally in English, though fragments of their "Lapine" language are dotted about the pages) and realistic. By "realistic", I mean that they, for the most part, follow the behavioural patterns of real rabbits in such things as feeding and fighting. This is, perhaps, the place to warn that the novel is not suitable for very young readers - Adams pulls no punches in his descriptions of the violence that is a very real part of rabbit life, and there are several passages which are genuinely frightening. There are three rabbits who have a disproportionate influence on the band. The group's de facto leader is Hazel, a calm, sensible rabbit who doesn't - initially - have great personal charisma, but does, in time, earn respect from the others. It does take longer in some cases than in others, though, especially in the case of Bigwig, a classic "sergeant major" character who has rather a bluff and gruff manner, but who is honest enough to recognise good qualities in others. The last of the triumvirate is Fiver, the rabbit who foresaw the destruction of their home warren. He is physically small and weak, and has an almost sickly air about him (Richard Briers' portrayal of him in the 1978 animated film is spot on), but despite suspicion at first, his judgement proves itself worthy of trust. The supporting cast are a varied bunch - they include Blackberry, the quick-witted thinker; Dandelion, th
e runner and storyteller (the latter being a highly regarded skill in rabbit society); Pipkin, a small, timid rabbit with an unshakeable loyalty to Hazel; and Holly, who joins the band midway through the story, and confirms that Fiver was right in his original fears. On the "opposition bench", we have the dreaded General Woundwort, who runs Efrafa (his warren) with an iron paw, and his trusted lieutenant Campion, who though loyal to his commanding officer does have some sense of honour and propriety that is lacking in Woundwort. Perhaps the most memorable character of all, though, is not a rabbit at all, and in fact does not appear until well into the book. I refer to Kehaar the seagull - a wonderful invention, and one which provides the comic relief to lighten what might otherwise be a rather dry tale. Kehaar's plain speaking and somewhat inflated opinion of himself make Fred Trueman seem introverted, and he tells the rabbits in no uncertain terms what they are doing wrong. Although the alliance between gull and rabbits is uneasy at first, Kehaar is, in the end, the linchpin of the struggle against Efrafan tyranny. The book is a long one - not far short of 500 pages - and when the novel was published, many people thought that this would be too much for young readers. But Adams skilfully avoids this problem by interspersing the main narrative with rabbit fairy-tales, presented as stories told by Dandelion. These concern El-Ahrairah, the greatest rabbit hero (the name, we are told, is a corruption of "elil-hrair-rah", or "enemies-thousand-prince", ie "Prince with a Thousand Enemies"). El-Ahrairah is, as Adams says, roughly the equivalent of Robin Hood, and all his stories concern how he managed to get the better of some seemingly stronger foe by use of the rabbits' most respected skill, that of trickery. Another positive factor resulting from the book's length is that the narrative does
not feel rushed (unlike the latter portions of the otherwise more than adequate animated film) - there is plenty of time for other adventures, and for the characters to develop at a sensible pace. A lot of this development is done very subtly - the gradual acceptance of Hazel as Chief Rabbit by more and more of the group, for example - and you often find yourself thinking, "hang on a minute..." and checking back to see what important plot development was mentioned earlier on, almost in passing. It's almost like watching for clues in a whodunit, and I think it adds to the book's appeal. It would be surprising if such an audacious work did not have its flaws, and indeed they do exist. The most common complaint - that of sexism - can be answered simply and bluntly: this is how real rabbits behave. However, some of the language is rather unnecessarily old-fashioned, even for the early 1970s, and there are often fairly lengthy chunks of speculation from Adams about other matters - the Crusades, for example - which don't have a great deal to do with the story. I happen to enjoy these flights of fancy, but others may become irritated with them. That said, for me this is one of those rare novels for which the sheer enjoyment gained from its reading far outweighs any niggles. In its 50 chapters you can find excitement, humour, terror, joy, sadness, pleasure, pain... in fact, the whole range of human emotion has been successfully instilled into a group of rabbits, with the result that the book is at times intensely moving. And that, I feel, is Watership Down's great triumph. =============================== Penguin, 1974. ISBN: 0140039589 =============================== PS: For some reason, the Puffin edition of the book retails for a pound less, despite being identical apart from the cover. A good incentive for those not snobbish about the children's section of the bookshop. There's also a &quo
t;Puffin Modern Classics" edition, with an interesting - though short - afterword by Nicholas Tucker, but it's slightly larger than the standard editions, so may not fit in your bookcase, and has been re-set, losing some of the feeling of intimacy of the original printing.
There are many memorable characters in Watership Down, but perhaps the most memorable is General Woundwart. Learning what he is if you've never come across him before will probably surprise you as much as those who first heard details of the soon-to-be-incredibly-successful book in which he appears. This is because General Woundwort is not of the genus Homo, but of the genus Oryctolagus. In other words, he's not a man, he's a rabbit. Which means, of course, that he appears in Watership Down. Which is, of course, a children's book. Well, no, actually it isn't, it's a children's classic, and you don't get to be one of them without appealing to adults as well. Adults will see that General Woundwort and his slave-warren Efrafra bear more than a passing resemblance to a military dictator (e.g. General Franco) and a slave-state (e.g. Sparta), and might even go so far as to start shifting uncomfortably in their armchairs and muttering "Allegory" to themselves under their breath. In fact, I think you can clear General Woundwort and Efrafra of the slur because, rather like Br'er Rabbit's Tar Baby and the Briar Patch, the story and characters are set in such a convincingly detailed non-human world that they have to be positively wrenched from it to become anything so banal as a reflection on human beings and their behaviour. General Woundwort is a very cunning and ruthless and murderous military dictator. He's also a rabbit. There's no incongruity. Which is a remarkable achievement that is matched in the rest of the book. Adam, in Christian mythology, was the father of the human race, which means that while there's no symbolism in Tolkien's surname, there certainly is in Adams'. Like Tolkien, Adams was the father of a genre: the genre of the anthropotheric, or therianthropic, story. That is, the genre of stories about animals who behave like human beings. In the strictest sense, the genre
stretches back to Aesop and his fables through Enid Blyton and hundreds of years of Christian and pagan allegory. What Adams did that was new was introduce realism. His animals share the faculties of language, hindsight, and foresight with human beings, and almost nothing else. They keep all their instincts and all their wildness: they just talk to each other. Other authors have followed Adams' lead and you can now read books about, among many other things, talking owls and badgers. I haven't read any of the later entries in the genre Adams founded, and I haven't wanted to, because if any of them come even close to matching the invention and realism of Watership Down I would be very surprised.
Fiver, the intuitive one, could sense danger - something terrible was coming to the warren. His brother Hazel, the sensible one, could sense it too. They had to leave the warren, and they had to persuade the other rabbits to join them. And so a band of rabbits begin a long and perrilous journey to their dream warren.