Hello, everyone! I decided to do a review on Watership Down, a wonderful book with a very misleading title. See, when I first heard of the book, I heard the “ship” and the “down” parts and assumed it was a book about naval warfare. Imagine my surprise when I learned it was about rabbits. As it happens, I’d take a book about rabbits over a book about naval warfare any day. Something about those endless maritime battles put me to sleep.
Plot synopsis: After his brother Fiver has a vision of doom coming to the Sandleford Warren, Hazel decides that they must leave and build a new warren elsewhere in the English countryside. The two brothers set off with several other discontented rabbits including the clever Blackberry, the bard Dandelion, and the strong, courageous Bigwig, who was formerly a member of the Owsla rabbit guard.
Thus begins the rabbits’ long odyssey in search of a safe haven. Along the way, they meet enemies both animal and human and must adjust to a nomadic lifestyle. When at long last they reach Watership Down, a high, grassy cliff that is perfect for their warren, they rest and rejoice. But it’s not long before they realize that without any female rabbits, or does, their warren will not survive. The only warren close enough is Efrafa, but it is a militaristic warren run by the ruthless General Woundwort. The rabbits, led by Hazel and Bigwig, must rely on all of their skills and cleverness to free Efrafa’s does and defeat General Woundwort.
My take: The novel starts slowly and pleasantly, in the same vein of other British tales. The first half of the book, which focuses on the rabbits’ journey from Sandleford to Watership Down reminded me of The Hobbit. Richards Adams’ style is plain and gentle. He takes his time describing the various English flowers that grow in the meadow and is adept at showing our world through the perspective of a rabbit. From the beginning, he establishes the boundaries of their world through their mythology and their Lapine language.
Like Tolkien’s world, the Lapine world takes some getting used to. Some of the rabbits have strange Lapine names like Thlayli, Hyzenthlay, Nildro-hain, and Thethuthinnang, while others, mostly male, have names like Hazel, Strawberry, and Dandelion. Other Lapine words which are frequently used are Frith, which is their all-seeing Sun god, ni-Frith, which means noon, and fu inlé, which means after midnight.My favorite Lapine word is hrududu, which is what they call cars, tractors, and anything with a motor.
The linear tale of the rabbits is interspersed with “traditional” rabbit mythology. Just as Odysseus tells his men the stories of the gods, so does Dandelion, the group’s main storyteller, tell the other rabbits the many stories of El-ahrairah, the trickster rabbit god. These were a pleasure to read because they reminded me of both Greek and Eastern Asian mythology. These distractions were never more than a few pages long, but they helped bring an aura of mysticism to the story, and helped world build in the way that only mythology can.
The story is not all light and pleasant, however. The second half becomes a story of feudal warfare, which is surprising if, like me, you think of rabbits as harmless fluffballs. Bigwig’s mission in Efrafa is my favorite part of the story. It combines a classic heist story with the danger of infiltrating a totalitarian government. Adams built pages and pages of tension; I was speed-reading just to see what would happen. Efrafa’s attack on the Watership Down warren was also full of suspenseful action and violence. It’s probably the most exciting story of animal warfare I’ve read since the Warriors series.
The rabbit characters are mostly archetypes, but since it’s an odyssey story, I expected that. Hazel is like Odysseus, the brave and clever chieftan. Fiver is the prophet, except unlike Cassandra, the rabbits believe him. Blackberry is the clever one, Dandelion is the bard, and Bigwig is the headstrong general whose courage saves everyone. My only criticism of the story is that no doe has any substantial part in the book until 300 pages in. The does, including Hyzenthlay and Clover, have no role except to follow the buck’s orders and keep quiet. Since this is a story about rabbits and not humans, I have an easier time believing that the gender roles are less equal, especially since the does spend most of their time digging and breeding. But I do wish there weren’t scenes where Hazel and General Woundwort talk about the does as if they’re items for barter.
Final Consensus: Watership Down is a captivating novel of adventure and warfare. It gives the reader an insider’s glimpse into a mythical rabbit society where rabbits have stories, traditions, and even games of their own. For some readers, the beginning of the book might seem dull, but those patient enough to make it through the first fifty pages will be rewarded with exciting schemes and riveting battles. Score: 5/5 Hrududus.
You may be tempted to watch the 1978 movie version of Watership Down, but if you do, please read the book first. The movie doesn’t capture the magical parts of the book and leaves out almost all of the mythology. There’s something about 70s animated movies…they’re so dull. The colors don’t pop! Save yourself the trouble of sitting through the movie and