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.
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?!)
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.