Richard Adams' Watership Down
Children's book review by Jane Finch
The rabbits’ world is turned upside down when the bulldozers move in
This classic tale has been a worldwide bestseller for over thirty years. The author, Richard Adams, created a masterpiece with his anthropomorphic animals. However, these rabbits don’t wear little coats and shoes like the creations of Beatrix Potter.
What Richard Adams has done here is to take the reader into the world of the rabbit.
Set in Berkshire, England, Watership Down tells the story of a bunch of rabbits that live an uneventful and gentle life in a quiet rural area of England. Their world is turned upside down when their burrow is threatened by land developers, who plan to dig up the land. This will destroy their home.
Good old Fiver, an elderly rabbit who is very wise, and perhaps also a little strange, persuades the other rabbits of the looming danger.
So the rabbits set out on a journey that encompasses many trials, dangers, and conflicts with predators in search of their utopia. Fiver is one of the central characters, who with his visions directs the rabbits in their journey.
There are some great characters, such as Fiver’s brother, Hazel. When the other rabbits sometimes doubt old Fiver – who by the way tends to suffer with wandering thoughts – Hazel is always there to give reassurance. He also needs to interpret Fiver’s visions which all seem to be rather strange and weird to the other rabbits.
Then there is Bigwig, who has a great name and character to match. He is a soldier in the Owsla, the equivalent of the rabbit army.
There are others with names that describe so well the character. Pipkin, timid and shy, and then the real bad guy, General Woundwort.
As is expected, the rabbits’ journey takes them on one adventure after another. They meet nice animals that help them, and nasty animals that try to kill them or eat them.
What is so endearing about Watership Down, often praised as an allegory, is that the animals’ characteristics are so human-like that they are totally believable. It is completely possible and realistic to compare the animals’ culture with that of the human.
We are not dealing with sweet little characters, here. There are bullies and minions, and leaders and followers. There is hatred and greed, but also kindness and understanding of one another, as is shown by Hazel to his brother, Fiver.
Some of Fiver’s visions take some reading, but they are meant to be complicated. That’s where Hazel comes in as interpreter.
There are some wonderful terms invented by the author. The word “silflay”, for example, is a great description for the evening grass grazing. Even now when I see rabbits nibbling by the roadside, I think of them silflaying.
There is an underlying theme in the whole story, and that is one of the importance of teamwork. When the animals try to do things on their own, they fail, but when they work together, eventually they succeed.
Even more importantly, in my opinion, this book gives readers an insight into the world of the animal and perhaps creates a better understanding of the natural world.
This is definitely a book that should be read by all teens, but adults will also enjoy it.
Once you have read Watership Down, you will never forget it.
Read more of Jane's reviews.
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