Many human beings say that they enjoy winter, but what they really enjoy is feeling proof against it. For them there is no winter food problem. They have fires and warm clothes. The winter cannot hurt them and therefore increases their sense of cleverness and security. For birds and animals, as for poor men, winter is another matter. Rabbits, like most wild animals, suffer hardship.
—Watership Down, April 1975 (paperback) page 465
“Oh, Hazel,” said Blackberry, coming up to him round a puddle in the gravel. “I was so tired and confused, I actually began to wonder whether you knew where you were going. I could hear you in the heather, saying ‘Not far now’ and it was annoying me. I thought you were making it up. I should have known better. Frithrah, you’re what I call a Chief Rabbit!”
—Watership Down, April 1975 (paperback) page 64
I usually skip stories involving animals. It’s not that I hate animal stories; I actually love them, both young and mature. What makes me despise reading them is that in most animal stories, an animal dies (the protagonist, usually). And when it does, I can’t help but feel sad and grieve over the death of the animal. Even in normal human stories where the humans have pets, I would feel bad if the pet of one of the human characters dies. Animal death really affects me in a radical way.
And so, I was reluctant to purchase the paperback copy of Watership Down written by Richard Adams and published in 1972. It is the story of a group of rabbits who flee from their condemned warren (a rabbit habitat or colony) in search of a new home. This they find on a place called Watership Down. This was basically what I understood from the comments on the back cover. The printed reviews were also engaging, which was why I purchased the PhP35.00 paperback on sale.
And an engaging novel it was. Richard Adams took me to a completely different world with its own language and means of communication, politics, rules and regulations, its own myths and stories, and even its own religion—back where life was simple and where nature’s law was the decree. Definitely a master storyteller, Adams has captured my attention with his creation of now 37 years of age.
Watership Down is not just any animal story for a young audience, it is a story for anyone of any age. People may be dubious if I say that this novel has enough suspense and thrill that made my heart thumping, but it’s true—Adams packed it with descriptions of impossible and narrow escapes, close chases and captures, & surprising twists. In terms of movie titles, I would describe Watership Down as being a mixture of 300, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimmaron, and The Lord of the Rings.
I couldn’t give a summary of the story because that would lessen your expectations if you do get to read it. However, I could divulge that this novel is divided into four parts. Part I covers the rabbits’ discovery of the destruction of their home, their departure from it, and the troubles they encountered on the way. Part II would be about their settlement on the hills of Watership Down and. Part III contains their embarkment on a new adventure to ensure the future of their succeeding generations. Finally, in Part IV, the rabbits fight for their home and for a secured posterity. Each part is partitioned into sub-parts/sub-chapters of less than 20 pages which make a fast transition—you can’t let it down.
“We ought to leave at once, sir,” he said to Hazel. “We might be able to get quite a long way before they come.”
Hazel looked about him. “Anyone who wants to go can go,” he said. “I shan’t. We made this warren ourselves and Frith only knows what we’ve been through on account of it. I’m not going to leave it now.”
—Watership Down, April 1975 (paperback) page 413
Of course, the story wouldn’t be appealing if it weren’t for the charming characters. Each character is stereotyped and has its own function in the adventures undertaken. What also appealed to me is the mythological stories told in between the sub-parts—adventures undertaken by a rabbit folk hero named El-ahrairah. I believe this technique of inserting internal stories (from the main story) into the novel kept it from being a bore, and added to its allure.
Truly fascinating and impressive, I recommend Watership Down a spot on your bookshelves. And by the way, none of the main characters died in the course of their adventures. Absolutely delightful! I’m now considering having rabbits as pets. I never knew they could be so cunning…
“If we ever meet again, Hazel-rah,” said Dandelion, as he took cover in the grass verge, “we ought to have the makings of the best story ever.”
—Watership Down, April 1975 (paperback) page 434
Now, if only I could find a copy of the adapted animated motion picture released in 1978. Or, I wish this novel would be re-adapted for the big screen since most movies nowadays are adaptations from novels.