Book Review: Watership Down by Richard Adams

Watership Down is an epic tale of a group of rabbits who encounter danger, treachery, and hope as they try to find a new home when theirs is leveled for a housing development. Although written for the author’s young daughters, Watership Down is one of those “children’s” books that adults will also find engaging.

I read Watership Down as part of the 2021 Thoughtful Reading Challenge. January’s challenge was to read a book published the year you started first grade. For me, that was 1972. I had a similar challenge in a previous year to read a book published in the year I was born, which had me reading a gem of a book – The Secret of Santa Victoria. Watership Down is further proof that you don’t have to read the latest book releases to be thoroughly entertained.

The main protagonist of Watership Down is a rabbit named Hazel. He’s an average rabbit who finds himself thrust into an extraordinary undertaking when his little sidekick, Fiver, foresees the destruction of their current warren (yes, a rabbit with ESP). Hazel is only able to convince a handful of rabbits to join him and Fiver in their quest to establish a new warren.

Watership Down

Hazel finds himself in an unfamiliar role as leader of this little group. But, fortunately, every rabbit has a unique skill to contribute – there’s the fighter, the storyteller, the brain, and the oracle, just to name a few. And Hazel turns out to be a good leader, listening to all members of the group and making tough decisions when he has to.

They have to travel far to find a suitable place for their new warren. Along the way, they encounter many obstacles they must overcome. And the obstacles don’t end with the establishment of their new warren, for they realize they need female rabbits (does) for their home to be complete. The quest for does brings them to the totalitarian Efrafa warren, which is ruled with an iron fist by General Woundwort, a character as menacing as Darth Vader. (Who knew rabbits could be sinister?!)

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The strife between the two warrens ends in a climactic battle in which only one way of life can survive.

I really enjoyed Watership Down. It’s been compared to Lord of the Rings but with rabbits. And, indeed, it has well-executed themes of courage, honor, friendship, good vs evil, and perseverance. Additionally, it had enough action to maintain my interest and keep me reading to find out what happened next. And, as strange as it may sound, I liked the characters and cared about what happened to them.

Interestingly, there’s been speculation over the years if Watership Down is a parable with deeper meaning. From The Guardian: “It has been endlessly picked apart and analysed and described as an allegory for both communism and Christianity but the daughters of Richard Adams have revealed the true meaning of Watership Down. “It’s just a story about rabbits.”

That makes me wonder how many other novels have been assigned with meaning the authors never intended.

Have you read Watership Down or seen the animated Netflix series? What did you think about either?

And did you read a book challenge book this month? Tell us all about it.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: Watership Down by Richard Adams

  1. It’s just a story about rabbits! When I read this book, I kept thinking, I must be missing the larger, deeper meaning. Feeling as though my insightful side just wasn’t up to par, I went on the internet searching for what I must be missing. I had to laugh when I too found the story where Adams’ daughters insist that it was just a story about rabbits. I laughed and laughed!

    I too enjoyed the book. The characters certainly took on a human dimension, at least in how I felt about them. It certainly kept my attention (who knew rabbits could do that)? I also thought Adams’ concern for environmental impacts was ahead of his time and right on the mark. As you mentioned, the messages of friendship and courage were also well presented.

    As I was reading it though, I kept wondering, who was his target audience? As an adult, it seemed a bit too long for me. What would a young adult think? Would they keep reading it? My wife reminded me that Harry Potter books are really long and kids read them so maybe I’m just off base here. Anyway, while it was an enjoyable story, I think it could have been just as good if it were a bit shorter. It was a lot of rabbits!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I read Watership Down in 8th grade and recall it being quite a lengthy book, but I loved it.

    This month, I read What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson. 1978. I’d been very moved by the film, so I’d thought the book that it was it crafted from. This is the first time I’ve thought the movie was actually better than the book! The characters and whole concept of heaven were unappealing. There were parts I felt were sexist and discriminatory (oh well, 70s). I mean–if heaven is like this irritating, I think I’ll stay here, thanks. But the movie is great.

    I hope you don’t mind that I read something about where I live (perhaps history or tales) for this month’s challenge. I happen to live in a hot, arid desert. Honestly, I’d rather think of the snow we never see. I kind of miss it, but not shoveling it!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Yes, a book about rabbits! I, too, was wondering what the deeper meaning was in the book. Man’s inhumanity to man? Kindness wins the day? Anyone can be called to greatness? Anyway, it was a good tale of good and evil and friendship. And Michelle your query about how many other books have been assigned meaning that was not intended by the author is a great one. I can remember in English class picking apart a book and wondering “How did this author pack all this so-called meaning into this story and still have it make sense and/or be an enjoyable read?” At any rate I did enjoy Watership Down!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi Michelle! I was on my work break and walking around the hospital where I saw two dead rabbits. One that looked like a sleeping rabbit on the side of the road and the other flat out smooshed in the middle of the road. We have a lot of rabbits here in Colorado. Anyway, coming across rabbits that day reminded me of Watership Down and the time I read it with Ben when I home schooled him. Whenever I think of Watership Down I think if the Lapine language and how much it annoyed Ben and me but how funny the definitions were. Owsla and hrair always come to mind for no real reason then I looked up the definition of hrair which is hilarious because the definition is so subjective which in itself is annoying to me. Anyway, so after my walk I get back to my computer and see your email about your review of Watership Down and I had to laugh at the coincidence.

    I hope you are well and stating healthy.

    Love you,

    Jeanne

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Jeanne! I will never look at rabbits the same way after reading this book. I might even have someone toss some carrots to the rabbits living in my front flower bed. And, yes, the bunny language got old but at least there wasn’t too much of it. Love you back!

      Like

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