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Librarian s note See alternate cover edition of ISBNhereSet in England s Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home Led by a stouthearted pair of friends, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a perfect society I remember when Watership Down was first published in 1972 It was a novel by an unknown English author, Richard Adams All of a sudden the book Watership Down was absolutely everywhere and people were reading it on buses, trains, park benches all over the place It captured everybody s imagination Six years later the animated film came out, and it all happened all over again If, glancing at the cover, you asked any of those readersIs this a book about rabbitsthe answer would be a hesit I remember when Watership Down was first published in 1972 It was a novel by an unknown English author, Richard Adams All of a sudden the book Watership Down was absolutely everywhere and people were reading it on buses, trains, park benches all over the place It captured everybody s imagination Six years later the animated film came out, and it all happened all over again If, glancing at the cover, you asked any of those readersIs this a book about rabbitsthe answer would be a hesitant yes Yet if you then asked,So is it a children s bookthe answer would be a firmNoIt includes explicit details about warrens being gassed, rabbits snagged in barbed wire, about torture under a totalitarian regime, and descriptions of savage and bloody conflict.From the first paragraph onwards, the style of writing indicates its focus group The prose is too rich and complex for children the concerns those of adults There is breathtaking lyrical description in Watership Down Richard Adams shows a detailed knowledge of the natural world in which the rabbits live, specifically the English countryside Watership Down is an actual hill in Hampshire, near the village of Kingsclere, just a few miles away from the area in Berkshire where Richard Adams grew up The locations are geographically accurate, even to the little maps which are included Growing up in a rural area in the 1920 s, Richard Adams had the sort of country childhood which no longer exists Much of his time was spent alone, and this fired his imagination and his passion for make believe, based on his direct experience of nature.Facts about little known wild plants and flowers and their growing seasons, the creatures of the countryside, their habits, behaviour and terrain, are all interwoven in the narrative so that the reader absorbs this alongside the story, and becomes immersed in the English landscape It is a rich and satisfying experience the language is to be savoured As well as writing other fantasy novels, Richard Adams went on to write the factual bookNature Through the Seasonsthree years later, and much of that information is incorporated here He credits another writer, R.M Lockley one of my favourite naturalist authors for teaching him about the characteristic behaviour of rabbits through his bookThe Private Life of the Rabbit.Of course it is not merely the depth and wealth of description which sets this aside as an adult book The broad story line of Watership Down concerns a small, ever changing group of rabbits, led by Hazel and his little brother Fiver, in an attempt to escape their warren Rabbits are prey animals witha thousand enemiesIt is a serious business to leave a safe home and risk living in a vast world of unknown predators There is no evident threat Sandleford Warren is secure, stable and happy Why should they leave Thus we have conflict from the very start We also have an other worldly dimension, since Fiver has a strange premonition of doom coming to their warren And Hazel, although the dominant one of the two, believes and respects Fiver for his inexplicable, almost psychic, abilities, since they are often right Fiver is runtish, often very twitchy and full of foreboding He cannot explain his feelings, and dark dread of a catastrophic event for the warren, even to himself But his prophetic visions always mysteriously carry conviction And his main vision, of a rabbit paradise, is a positive one which urges the rabbits to keep steadfastI know what we ought to be looking for a high lonely place with dry soil, where rabbits can see and hear all around and men hardly ever come Wouldn t that be worth a journey Fiver s vague premonitions come at key points during the book, and are essential to the plot, moving it along, often creating tension and arguments between the rabbits as they do so Hazel is less intelligent and ingenious than some rabbits, yet he is a born leader Bigwig, the freedom fighter, is stronger and bigger than Hazel, but Hazel makes a much better leader because he can think for the whole group, and is able to see immediately how to work cooperatively and use each member of the group s special skills, in order to best benefit them all For instance it is higher achieving rabbits such as Blackberry, view spoiler who can work out how to free rabbits living in a hutch, or how to use a boat hide spoiler We see that clever rabbits value ingenuity over intellectualism even though none of them can actually count to five.It is unnatural for rabbits to travel overland together away from their safe warren Throughout the book the author refers to any unnatural behaviour for rabbits, through the characters own self knowledge He keeps very close to their instinct driven psychology, instead of heavily anthropomorphising This is one of the great strengths of the book its total believability in the scenario the world of the book We humans too have a view of what is natural behaviour, and sometimes our innate natures are different from the norm, or we choose to behave differently This depth of exploration into the characters individual strengths and determination, and how they bond through a series of adventures, makes for an absorbing read.Also inserted into the story are a series of little stories about a rabbit folk hero,El AhrairahHere you may recognise heroes from many ancient cultures, stories told down the millennia and there s even a smattering ofBrer Rabbits cunning and ingenuity in there too Humans consider trickery to be deceitful and wrong, but for rabbits it is a matter of survival view spoiler Bigwig cleverly tricks the Owsla in Efrafa into believing that he is acting alone and then he escapes with the does Hazel tricks a cat into attacking Pipkin and himself, so that they can escape hide spoiler The stories remind all rabbits that trickery means using their wits to escape a situation which may otherwise be fatal They always have to use their ingenuity and cunning, because using force is against their nature except in rare cases such as Bigwig and General Woundwort Bigwig, solid and true, is a model of stamina and determination, using his brawn rather than brain, but he has unswerving loyalty, is truly courageous and ready to fight to the death for his friends view spoiler The part where he is trapped in a snare set by humans is a harrowing, unforgettable scene hide spoiler The stories are all told by Dandelion, a rabbit with a particular talent for story telling just as there would be a chief story teller and recorder of important events in any tribal group The closest human religion to the rabbits own is pantheism They revere Nature, and celebrate Life Man, with hislittle white stickscigarettes andhrududumotors is the enemy Yet they also believe in an afterlife And many stories revolve aroundFrith , the rabbits God our sun and theBlack Rabbit of Inl , who is an evil tempter, a demonic character We recognise Noah s Ark in one tale, but mostly the stories seem to be inventions which carry a flavour of ancient myth, and religion The rabbits behaviour too is influenced by their beliefs, such as when they gotharnfrozen by shock at a particularly frightening story Some stories can be interpreted as allegory, some as a take on religion.One of the novel s boldest themes is about making peace with death view spoiler At the end of the novel, Hazel dies, and just after he has left his body, he looks back at his warren, seeing his home, the community he established, with many rabbits running and playing and enjoying themselves hide spoiler This was his vision, and is his paradise a place of protection, food, family and pleasure The rabbits see several different types of warren on their journey A political interpretation of the first warren they come to would be socialist, since all the rabbits there are equal and no one has anythingthan anyone elseCowslipspeaks for them, but is not their leader since he does not offer them protection from the dangers they face These rabbits have remarkably human like qualities Art is held uppermost, and their highly developed poetry and sculpture is incomprehensible to Hazel s group They also seem to have lost their faith in the rabbit religion of Frith, and the trickster hero El Ahrairah, meeting Dandelion s stories such asThe Story of the King s Lettucewith amused tolerance We readers however, are entranced by the stories inclusion in the novel The rabbits there are large, and live in relative luxury, but Hazel s group are unsettled by the ominous, cultish atmosphere There has to be a reason why the word where is never used, and why death is a taboo subject view spoiler In fact the rabbits of this unnamed warren live close to humans, who feed them withflayrahdelicacies but set snares all around the warren The rabbits in the colony ignore the fact that they will die horribly and prematurely, so that they can eat lettuce now hide spoiler Despite all the food, this warren feels very unhealthy and unnatural to Hazel and his group They want to be free to roam and eat outside, and do the things that rabbits have always done, living their own lives naturally The rabbits cannot understand how others can compromise this urge, or want to live any other way They accept that there will always be predators, but believe that no protection from a predator is worth the loss of the chance to live a normal rabbit life This theme continues throughout the book view spoiler The farm rabbits in a hutch have no freedom Efrafa has to be invisible to survive, and the restrictions Woundwort has to impose to achieve this, destroy any pleasure in life for most of the rabbits there Fiver has the insight to see that this warren with snares will be a deathtrap, because he is a natural and a visionary, never losing sight of who he is or what he wants hide spoiler This unnamed warren may seem progressive, but it is stultified, with rabbits who have lost their life force just as much as if they were subject to a dictator Their world view has become fatalistic, so their Art is mere appearance The author clearly has a firm belief that true Art comes from deeper roots, older cultures, classical and traditional values and poetic tradition.In Watership Down the rabbits have a religion of their own, a culture and customs of their own, and even a language of their own There are many humorous moments in the book when the rabbit languageLapineis not undertood by the other creatures, and a common language of the hedgerow is spoken There is a mouse who seems to speak with an East European accent, and a seagull,Kehaara lovely onomatopoeic name who also speaks in a heavily accented dialect or patois.All these, plus the main events in the story, of course, could be adapted into a children s version of Watership Down just as classics have been retold for children for centuries Another aspect might need considering I remember being rather startled by a no nonsense, straitlaced Aunt pronouncing thatif a book doesn t have sex in it, then it s a children s bookActually this novel does view spoiler Once the rabbits have at last reached a place of safety, they realise they have no mates, and they have to embark on another dangerous journey hide spoiler Naturally these rabbit are concerned with procreation they are rabbits after all In common with many great myths and traditional stories, Watership Down describes a journey to attain a safe place which can be made into a home It is a quest in search of that basic urge common to all living creatures Concerns of friendship, family, comradeship, an esprit de corps, loyalty, honour, respect are all uppermost, underpinned by courage, bravery and endurance But these are still rabbits with essentially rabbitish concerns Forget Alison Uttley s modest, gentleLittle Grey Rabbitcharacter, or Dorothy Richard sTasseltipForget Margery Williams sVelveteen RabbitVery definitely forget Beatrix Potter sPeter Rabbitand theFlopsy BunniesThese are decidedly notlittle people in furry coatsThere are no bunnies in sight here Forget even Joel Chandler Harris sBrer Rabbitif you can, although aspects of El Aharairah may well remind you of him We recognise qualities we admire in humans, the wisdom and intermittent ability to be far seeing, even though planning is beyond most rabbits purview But we also witness cunning and manipulative behaviour behaviour which is brutish and savage Just as human can use their intelligence for good or evil, so can rabbits Yet even the most evil character in the book, General Woundwort, view spoiler the founder of a rigid fascist regime, hide spoiler is not a cardboard cut out or sterotype He is a fully rounded character with whom we can empathise We learn all about his past and what made him the rabbit he was A charismatic personality, he developed his tough, ruthless character through strength and determination We can understand all his actions, and see that, just as with many hated figures in history, although what transpires from his philosophy is evil, the personality behind it is not necessarily cruel or vindictive for the sake of it He is merely an individual single mindedly following his ethos, and performing whatever actions he deems necessary to achieve it view spoiler And there is a neat opening left for his return AlthoughGeneral Woundwort was never seen again,he is able to survive in the wild,So it may perhaps be that, after all, that extraordinary rabbit really did wander away to live his fierce life somewhere elsehide spoiler In interviews Richard Adams has said how the novel started 52 years old and working for the civil service, he had never written anything before He was driving his daughters to school when they began begging him to tell them a storyI had been put on the spot and I started off, Once there were two rabbits called Hazel and Fiver And I just took it on from thereHe would apparently think out the next bit of the story the evening before When the story came to an end, his daughters said it wastoo good to waste, Daddy, you ought to write that downWatership Down was initially rejected by seven publishers and in the end accepted by a small publisher who could only afford a first print run of 2,500 copies Now, of course, it has been sold in the millions and won many awards Two years later Richard Adams left the civil service to write full time His further novels includeShardik1974 ,The Plague Dogs1977 , andThe Girl in a Swing1980 All are excellent and highly original novels, yet none is as perfectly plotted, or as well crafted as Watership Down, in my opinion The structure of this book is well nigh perfect the balance between all the different elements and steady progression to its conclusion superbly balanced In 1996 Richard Adams published a sequel entitledTales From Watership DownYet Watership Down has remained its author s most successful novel None of his other books has ever come close to reaching the critical acclaim of his first novel.There is a superb 1978 animated adaptation, which also is not a children s film When those delicate watercolours of the film were revealed in the cinema, everyone was very moved and impressed There had been nothing like it before It was pre digital imagery of course, and it looked so beautiful and painterly But the amazing cinematic techniques were used to evoke the whole range of human feelings Even now, when it was shown on British television this last Christmas, there was an uproar from parents who were shocked at the savagery and all the gory scenes images of fighting rabbits foaming at the mouth and gashes dripping with garish red blood Its opening scenes are deceptive, showing a stylized, cartoonish rabbit origin myth, lulling parents into a false sense of security about this graphically bloody film.Watership Down can be read as being about an individual having a vision, or an ideal, or not letting a dictator or a totalitarian regime take over and sap any creativity or life force The rabbits lives in the various warrens bring up many strong parallels to existing human societies It is tempting to view the different rabbit warrens in the novel as different versions of human government The Efrafan warren is clearly a totalitarian regime Woundwort and a selected handful rule with an iron fist, while all the others are stamped on and abused Hazel s warren represents a democracy, with a leader chosen by all the rabbits, and acting according to decisions based upon the will of the group The author s message is that this is the best way to organise society.There are many other implications for society to be found in the novel The events and the descriptions send a clear warning that we need to stop our destruction of animals homes before it is too late Watership Down is also a statement about Nature, an environmentally conscious novel, and an attempt to give us a glimpse into the beautiful yet increasingly diminishing world of woods and grasslands.We are constantly reminded, through the rabbits, that of all the creatures in the world, only humans break rules which the rest of nature follows Humans kill at a whim, because they can, rather than out of necessity They unthinkingly decimate entire populations In building their own structures, they destroy the very living space that other animals need to survive Many individual rabbits have their own journeys of personal growth through the novel Holly is one such, view spoiler from an order following captain in the Owsla, to a fully self determining, thinking and much valued rabbit hide spoiler In his prescient words,Men will never rest until they ve spoiled the earth and destroyed the animals There is often a tone which suggests humanity has lost something we used to have the ability to live free, as the rabbits do There is a strong undercurrent flowing through much of the work a suggestion that we should live as a part of Nature rather than ignoring it This theme of technological concern, and connection with the natural world, underpins the entire work.So Watership Down can be read as a political, social, or environmental critique, or as a book about the search for a home and a safe life Richard Adams himself, however, rejects all these interpretationsIt was meant to be just a story, and it remains that A story, a jolly good story I must admit, but it remains a story It s not meant to be a parable That s important, I think Its power and strength come from being a story told in the car My personal view is that Watership Down is a beautiful poetic myth, where the rabbits have their own language, history, religion, Art, story telling and heroes And it s a really good adventure story featuring rabbits, cleverly keeping their true rabbitish natures, and also imbuing them with characteristics we tend to assume rightly or wrongly are intrinsically human Creation of mood is paramount in this book It has gravity and melancholy it has humour and joie de vivre It was the first of its kind and never bettered.Whatever you think in the end, one thing is certain You will never look at rabbits in quite the same way againAll the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you oh man, this book totally tricked me I got a bad haircut one day so I needed to lay low for a few weeks Supercuts , my ass Liars I called two of my hardest, most straight up thug homies Zachary and Dustin to bring me some of their books and this was one of them I had just watched a show on A E about WWII naval battles so I couldn t WAIT to read Watership Down I love sea stories, man overboard and off the port bow and aye aye cap n all that stuff so I pulled my hat down and st oh man, this book totally tricked me I got a bad haircut one day so I needed to lay low for a few weeks Supercuts , my ass Liars I called two of my hardest, most straight up thug homies Zachary and Dustin to bring me some of their books and this was one of them I had just watched a show on AE about WWII naval battles so I couldn t WAIT to read Watership Down I love sea stories, man overboard and off the port bow and aye aye cap n all that stuff so I pulled my hat down and started reading This book totally tricked me There weren t any torpedoes, no anchors aweigh , no old salts telling tales of sea serpents and sexy narwhals, no peg legs, no giant squid, nothing It had rabbits This book totally tricked me Crazy thing is, it was awesome Bigwig is the man The rabbit man Before I was even done I took down one of my Rick Springfield posters, flipped it over, and drew Bigwig protecting the rest of the warren my favorite part It came out wrong, I can t draw, so I kind of have a fat dog standing in a hole hanging on my wall but I don t care and I still I give this book FIVE STARS You should read it This book totally tricked me Love, Rico SPOILER ALERT This book has no ships, sinking or otherwise I don t give a shit what Richard Adams says about his book because it simply isn t true According to him, in the preface of my edition, this is just a story about rabbits Its intended purpose was to entertain his children in the car, that s fair enough, but he also says there is no intentional allegorical meaning whatsoever I find this hard to believe The allegories in here are rich and meaningful They don t just allude to simple problems They re complex and purposeful So if he didn t int I don t give a shit what Richard Adams says about his book because it simply isn t true According to him, in the preface of my edition, this is just a story about rabbits Its intended purpose was to entertain his children in the car, that s fair enough, but he also says there is no intentional allegorical meaning whatsoever I find this hard to believe The allegories in here are rich and meaningful They don t just allude to simple problems They re complex and purposeful So if he didn t intend them, then his unconscious certainly did I can t believe the literary merit of this work is entirely accidentalAnimals don t behave like men, he said 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 animalityThis has a surprising amount of depth The story is a comment on the brutal nature of man, and his careless attitude towards nature it is a suggestion that he kills for the sake of killing, rather than out of a need for survival it is a statement that man is not in touch with nature like other animals, but in spite of this he is redeemable and capable of the opposite as much as the apparent Indeed, this can be seen with the little girl who saves Hazel, the Rabbit s chief, at the end of the novel So it s a bitthan a basic children s fable This is one of those rare, rare, books that can be read by anyone regardless of age and taste in novels it really is a wonderful story that has the potential to be enjoyed by all Indeed, there is a reason why very few people have not heard of Watership Down, and it s not because this is just a tale of rabbits attempting to find a new home and survive That is the crux of the plot, but not the limits of the scope of the novel It has the appearance of a children s novel in that it is an exciting adventure about rabbits, but for an adult it has greater depth Moreover, the novel questions the artificial life that captive animals must endure and demonstrates that they should be at one with their true nature like the rabbits of this novel This, for me, is a rather deep observation Humans are a species that superimpose their ways on all other forms of life If the animals don t adapt, then they die I m not going to go into the murky realms of morality, but whatever you think about the treatment of animals, this is a truism Humans destroy nature as they destroy most things I m sounding like a little bit of a misanthrope but, again, it s trueMen will never rest till they ve spoiled the earth and destroyed the animals Regardless of what Richard Adams thinks his book is an allegory for many things He may not have intended this, but the finished product clearly transcends his motives it has become a real work of literature One need only look at half the works in the literary cannon to see that the interpretations of these works rarely correspond with the author s intent, and sometimes even directly oppose them Many critics even say the author isn t important and is just a mere vessel for the work If this is true, then one needn t look any further than the wonderful tale of Watership Down for conformation This is a great book Postscript I found this gorgeous illustrated edition in Waterstones that I just had to buy..I mean, just look at it You can connect with me on social media via My Linktree. Slowly watching the new Netflix show Don t want to cry too much at once Re read on audio is great Still truly wonderful sad OMG I can t believe it has taken me all of these years to read this book It was such a wonderful book There were some sad things, but I was able to get through it I loved getting lost in this world of rabbits, where they talked of their fears, of things they needed to get done, the great camaraderie between each and every one of them They were all so brave I lov Slowly watching the new Netflix show Don t want to cry too much at once Re read on audio is great Still truly wonderful sad OMG I can t believe it has taken me all of these years to read this book It was such a wonderful book There were some sad things, but I was able to get through it I loved getting lost in this world of rabbits, where they talked of their fears, of things they needed to get done, the great camaraderie between each and every one of them They were all so brave I loved them all I had a soft spot mostly for Hazel, Fiver, and Bigwig I even loved Kehaar They were all so wonderful and such little hero s Even though the rabbits where going through all of these hardships I felt like I was taken back in time to a time of childhood and great things I guess it s hard to explain, but I m sure some of you know what I m talking about You didn t have to read this as a child to get that feeling I would recommend this book to anyone that hasn t read it yet It will take you away to another world for a little bit of your life and it s worth it PS The movie is free to watch on Youtube I m not sure if I would let small children read or watch this movie since it s rather gory and sad things Although, it s all real life It s up to you as a parent with small children FYI I was allowed to watch anything at a very young age so it s hard for me to say That ending is so bittersweet Happy Reading Mel MY BLOG Melissa Martin s Reading List