June 2009: Watership Down by Richard Adams

August 25, 2009 at 7:41 pm (anthropomorphic, mainstream)

I realized recently that I haven’t read this 1972 classic in many years – not since I was a teenager, I think.  But I have a copy that I picked up somewhere, because I recollected that it really is a book that ought to be on our shelves.

And it is, though as a more mature reader I think the analogies are perhaps a bit heavy-handed.  On re-reading, I was impressed anew with Adams’ careful navigation of the real-life limitations of rabbits’ intelligence and the needs of the story.  Somehow I’d forgotten that the main protagonist of the story is Hazel, the leader, not the spooky outsider Fiver (the character an outsider adolescent is more likely to identify with).  And the writing itself is brilliant in all sorts of ways that I won’t go into here.

This is an adventure story in which a small band of heroes flees the destruction of their home and seeks out, first, a new place to live, and, second, some mates to share it with.  Mixed with their basic problems with the English countryside (dogs, traffic) are two important encounters with other rabbit warrens.  One of these seems promising, but proves unsuitable for very interesting reasons; the other is as fine a portrayal of a security-based totalitarian regime as exists in literature.

The “Watership Down” of the title, incidentally, is the name of a hill (the English call some hills “downs”).  That confused me quite a bit when I first picked it up, way back when.  If you haven’t read this book yet, do give it a try; it’s a thinking adult’s novel and a treat just for the writing.

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