Watership Down

by Richard Adams

Hardcover, 1972

Status

Available

Genres

Publication

New York, Macmillan [1974, c1972]

Description

Chronicles the adventures of a group of rabbits searching for a safe place to establish a new warren where they can live in peace.

Media reviews

Watership Down offers little to build a literary cult upon. On the American-whimsy exchange, one Tolkien hobbit should still be worth a dozen talking rabbits.
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This bunny-rabbit novel not only steers mostly clear of the usual sticky, anthropomorphic pitfalls of your common garden-variety of bunny rabbit story: it is also quite marvelous for a while, and after it stops being marvelous, it settles down to be pretty good- a book you can live with from start to finish.

User reviews

LibraryThing member JaneSteen
I last read Watership Down more than 25 years ago, but it obviously stayed with me as it came to mind when I was thinking up recommendations for the Book Wizards. This is a group of book-loving young adults with developmental disabilities, of which my oldest daughter is a member. I have the good fortune to be a facilitator, and although it’s not my month to lead the discussion I decided I wanted to join in anyway.

So I dug out my copy of the novel, which dates from the 1970s. It doesn’t have the cover shown here, of course, but this was the closest to mine. I was slightly offended at the way the blurb on this cover implies that the writer is American! I wouldn’t be surprised if the editions sold here in the States have been Americanized, a horrible fate suffered by so many British novels. Get the British version if you can.

This is a deeply English book. NOT British, there’s a distinction - yes, I know our island would fit neatly into a corner of Illinois, but it matters to us. It was published as a children’s book, because it’s about bunnies. Never mind that these bunnies are more adult in their thinking processes than the average adult TV watcher, or that they spend their time fighting, killing, mating, or thinking their way out of harrowing dangers. Bunnies are for kids, right?

Oh no, dear reader. By the time you get through this fascinating story you will have a new respect for the common English rabbit. This is “nature red in tooth and claw” indeed. You may also be reluctant to read this one to your six-year-old as a bedtime story.

The plot isn’t too complicated, though. A group of rabbits, led by a buck called Hazel, leave their warren because his friend Fiver, who is psychic (an odd concept for a rabbit, but it moves the story along) has predicted disaster. After a terrifying journey, they set up a new warren on Watership Down. Then it occurs to them that they’re all MALE, and off they go to get’em some women. Unfortunately said women belong to a warren run by the horrendous General Woundwort, and he isn’t going to give them up easily. The resolution of this dilemma will keep you on tenterhooks, promise.

Richard Adams began writing this book when he was 50 (there’s hope for us all yet!) and the writing clearly springs from a deep well of experience, reflection, and familiarity with the classics of literature. You’ll also find many of the marks of a man who was born in 1920 and fought in the Second World War, including, regrettably, the clearly held belief that females are good for breeding and homemaking and not much else. Still, if you can put up with that in The Lord of the Rings, you can put up with it here.

This is one of those books that should make more reading lists than it does, especially if you're looking to improve your writing style (which will be 8% more elegant after reading this book.) It’s superbly written, exciting, and often profound. So grab a nice cup of tea and a scone, and curl up by a roaring fire with this English classic.
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LibraryThing member elbakerone
When I picked up Watership Down at my local library, I was expecting a simple children's story about a group of rabbits looking for a home. At 400+ pages I knew right away that the "simple" part of that expectation was eliminated and within the first chapters I found an intensity to the book that uncovered it as an all-ages classic.

The story centers on a rabbit named Hazel and his prophetic brother Fiver. When Fiver foresees the destruction of their burrow by humans they must take a journey to find a new home. They convince other rabbits join them on their quest and work together to overcome various obstacles. This is the basic plot which will appeal to audiences of all ages but adult readers can also discover multiple levels and themes within the story. Through the rabbits' adventures lessons are uncovered about leadership, friendship, ingenuity, government, hardship, freedom and community.

I love the world that Richard Adams built in this book. As expected, the rabbits are anthropomorphized to take on human characteristics and yet they retain rabbit sensibilities and actions. Adams created habits, habitats, language and culture for them that is distinctly lapine (rabbit-like) while still enabling the reader to connect and empathize with truly lovable characters. At 35 years old this book earns its reputation as a classic and will likely be enjoyed for many more generations to come.
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LibraryThing member blackrabbit89
Until about a year ago, I had some misconceptions about Richard Adams’s novel Watership Down. At first, knowing nothing about its plot, I assumed that it must be about a naval battle. Later, when I learned that it was in fact about rabbits, I thought that it must be a children’s book. I was very wrong on both counts (although I do think it is sometimes labeled a children’s book, despite its mature themes).

Watership Down is a story of a group of rabbits who escape the violent destruction of their warren by a group of humans. It stars Fiver, the clairvoyant, undersized fellow whose prophecy prompts the escape, his brother Hazel, the leader of the group of escapees, and Bigwig, a tough, brave rabbit who had been an officer in their old warren.

The rabbits, a group of fewer than a dozen, make their way across the countryside in search of a safe place to dig new burrows. Along the way, they run into various dangers: a warren of rabbits who live a comfortable life with plenty of human-provided food, but are nonetheless resigned to their eventual death at the hands of said human; an authoritarian warren called Efrafa, which is ruled by a cruel and unnatural rabbit named Woundwort; dogs; hombil (foxes), cats, humans, hrududil (cars), and other elil (enemies). They establish a new home on Watership Down, and immediately set out to find some does (for they are all bucks, and how are they to reproduce?). This brings them into the dangerous territory of Efrafa, and all they have to depend on are their wits, trickery, and their new gull friend Kehaar for survival when things turn ugly.

At times I felt positively creeped out while reading Watership Down. I’m not normally one to feel frightened when reading—I read It and The Exorcist without any problem—but there were parts of this novel that were quite disturbing. The authoritarian nature of Efrafan society, for instance, and the sad group of rabbits who knew they would eventually be caught in snares gave me the shivers. And the Black Rabbit was no warm, fuzzy guy—when he calls your name, you must follow, knowing you are no longer for this life.

There was blood, violence and abuse of power—and on the other hand, friendship, loyalty and camaraderie. There were rabbit myths and legends, stories of triumph and trickery, leaders and gods. (Rabbits worship the sun, whom they call Frith; and El-ahrairah, their rabbit lord). In many ways, rabbit society in Watership Down is not much different than human society.

I expected this to be a slow read, but I really flew through it. It was exciting and suspenseful, and I grew to root for Hazel-rah and his group of rabbits. The book was an in-depth exploration not only of Hazel’s warren, but of rabbit society in general. I saw at once a demonstration of human destruction and imperialism over the animal world, and humanity’s flaws reflected in the dystopian rabbit warrens. I think Watership Down is definitely worth a read.

I also watched the movie (made in 1978), and it was a dated but good adaptation—quite violent and bloody. Definitely worth a watch, if you enjoy the book.
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LibraryThing member elenchus
This second reading -- perhaps 35 years after the first and prompted by a Netherland Dwarf doe joining the family -- as good as I dared hope. That's rare & fine, though I seldom revisit even favourite books.

Of my first reading, I recollect only being strongly impressed by an achievement above my usual novels, and that the plot was a journey prompted by Fiver's vague premonitions of danger. This second reading affirms the literary achievement, it's a compelling story and notable as well for the naturalist's observations, the peek into the rabbit's social community, and the beguiling narrative voice.

About that voice: Adams gently addresses the reader but avoids infantilising, uses invented lapine mythology and language yet remains a human observer. Placenames are human (which the rabbits could never know and so never use), but apart from the map and the narrator noting arrivals and departures, landscape descriptions are from a lapine perspective, not human.

This reading (and I recall, my first) had a very strong sentimental dimension. It's not clear precisely why, though that may seem a daft thing to say for anyone not having read it: "Anthropomorphic rabbits looking for a home and escaping danger, what's surprising about the sentimentality?!" It's not that sort of sentimentality, though. The experience is more akin to reading myth or capturing the finer aspects of social good, friendship, and a sense of beneficent nature. I'm reminded of my intention to read more deeply into Hutcheson's arguments regarding moral sentiment, and related aspects of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Watership Down is an example of incredibly efficient storytelling, especially the first third. So much happens in very few pages, yet the pacing is never crazed nor the plot labyrinthine. Revisiting the characters and especially, the world they live in, was so pleasing I'm uncertain whether I should continue with the series (which unusually I never did when originally reading the novel), or leave it on the shelf for another visit in ten years' time.
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LibraryThing member Cymrugirl
I picked this book up 20 years ago, hit the page where the tiny rabbit, Fiver, starts giving a prophecy and tossed it for weird. I’m glad I gave it another chance.

So, where to begin?

THE TEXT:
The visceral experience of this text is not to be believed. Adams paints lush and vivid landscapes with more than imagery – one can feel the air, smell it, taste a freshness, a freedom. In reading it, I felt light rise, grow warm, and fade, heard birds chatter as sweetly as if they were outside my own window, heard the wings of owls in the night, felt air unbearably stifle underground then, with a quick movement, breeze again over my skin. Oh my word, I wanted to eat vegetables. But even when I didn’t have any, I could taste them – smell them – feel them towering over me in long, fine rows, like green skyscrapers with silken hair clipped with honeybees. This type of scene setting is extraordinary, especially when it is done to move a story along instead of stopping it. Adams accomplishes this. I admit that the first two pages of the book prepared me for completely the opposite experience, but after that, his pen prowls the field with a deftness that is unparalleled in my mind. BUT, beyond this wooing of the five senses, Adams does something even far more impressive.

SOUL:
Alongside the scenery he constructs for his rabbits to physically inhabitant, Adams pauses, and with the same sort of tenderness and studious care, creates small refreshing little pools of stories inside the story, weaving a mythological realm. He gives them a soul. Magically, this interjection of story here and there doesn’t feel like an interruption at all, rather, it perfectly deepens the world that is already centerstage – it enlarges the warren, gives it heritage and hope. Of course, all that and you can still have a book that goes nowhere.

STORY:
You need a story that is in and of itself, and here there is no lack. There is conflict – oh so much conflict – and drama, and deus ex machina. The pacing is…absolutely perfect. The reveals, the tension, the dialogue. Adams writes a perfect book of action, with as much swashbuckling blood and girth as a pirateship. It feels remarkable to say that about a book of rabbits – RABBITS – but he does. And then... it still goes further up and further in.

THE RIGHT SORT OF MAGIC:
The flight and plight of these tiny animals is humanized in such a way that does so without removing them from their own non-human reality. You never see rabbits making tea, for example, or wearing tiny gloves. There are no wallpapered houses, and rabbit sized fairy cakes. These rabbits are, with the exception of some second sight dreams and premonitions, mere, ordinary rabbits. But you see them. I mean, you SEE them. Doing what, you might say? Well, you seem them experiencing what we know to be scientifically true about them – attachment, grief, play, sheer terror, possibly affection. I applaud Adams for keeping the rabbits as rabbits, albeit with some more sophisticated thoughts and feelings. Why is that important? And how can that possibly be interesting? Those two questions are what led me to dismiss this book so quickly as a twenty year old. Now I know better.

I know that if we are to see other men – to really see them – to become, for a moment, them, in their skin and with their ways and in their world and within their pain - we don’t change the nature of the other man – we change our own.

And I think this is why, even though Adams admits that he set out “just to write about rabbits” he hits on a deeper thing.

CONSTRUCTION:
In his decision to reject heightened fantasy for myth that heightens reality, Adams builds a story that is at once both very real (we see rabbits around us almost every non-winter day) and yet filled with wonder. Through the creatures in our own yard - not little white rabbits wearing waistcoats and carrying pocketwatches with their secondhands in Wonderland, but "just rabbits" looking very much as they are here and now - he creates a deeper magic. Through their small, formerly insignificant eyes, we are recalled to that forgotten struggle for survival going on around us each and every day, a struggle that so much of humanity has been privileged to throw off - and so many haven't. He takes the "ordinary" world and texturally enriches the images that are already there. It isn’t really real to read of Rat and Mole making tea by the fire in Wind in the Willows. Though charming in its own right, it is not to be believed even for a minute. However, a reader setting aside Watership Down will never look at a rabbit in his yard the same way again. He will make eye contact, see the trembling of those whiskers, the widening of the eye, and wonder what wonders Frith has spoken about him to this wee, furry neighbor. Possible, yes? After all His eye IS on the Sparrow.

MEANING:
And that is the magic of this backyard tale. It doesn’t show us a new thing, but an old, familiar thing in new light. It replaces the wonder that’s been lost since we left that Garden where the innocent creatures living beside us had more honor – where they received the wonder they deserved as the small miracles that they are. These days, humans seem to treat animals as either gods or rubbish and rarely anything in between. Watership Down invites us to again be their caretakers, and through that thing called empathy, better caretakers of men. To appreciate and value all “little” lives. To honor their bit of earth. Whereas tales which make mice like humans entertain us, Adams, by making humans briefly into rabbits, makes us deeper humans.

Years from now, when I need to taste sunshine, feel comraderie, witness leadership and cunning and heroic self-sacrifice, or simply hear the sounds of twilight with a more thrilling awe, I know I can pick up this tale of “the least of these” and find all of that in abundance. Because nature itself declares what is good and perfect and worth fighting for.
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LibraryThing member Stewartry
It's been a funny year for reading and audio books. There have been a lot of surprising, completely unintentional parallels in the books I've picked up (and a boatload of time travel). A bit ago I started listening to an audio version of The Odyssey, read by Sir Ian McKellen (who was the primary reason for getting it, a far distant secondary being that I thought I ought to). Despite that voice, I found myself becoming restless with the story (especially with Odysseus back on Ithaca and still about five hours left in the book, and for the love of Zeus man stop lying to your loved ones AT GREAT LENGTH), so I picked another to, as I planned, alternate: Watership Down. This is one of that shelf of books I read several times long ago, and not for many years. I don't remember when I first read it; I ventured upstairs to the grown-up half of the library (waiting all the time for someone to stop me – was I really allowed?) and wandered the shelves like ... like a rabbit in a field of lettuce. I know for a period in my older childhood I made a point of reading mostly chunksters, the idea being that if I loved it I wouldn't want it to end, and a longer book has a longer time in which to weave its spell. I can only imagine that's how I landed on Watership Down, because I seem to remember a very large hardcover with a buff jacket, and perhaps a compass rose... I remember reading it before bed, and it giving me trouble because the classic "one more chapter" excuse was more tantalizing than fulfilling with WD, the chapters being rather short, so that reading at bedtime and "one more chapter"ing over and over (much like I am with the snooze alarm these days) could lead to another hundred pages before the light finally went out.

As I'm sure most voracious readers have experienced, I worried that a childhood favorite - more, a childhood beloved - which for whatever reason I had left alone for ... perhaps a quarter of a century? Is that even possible? ... would not bear up to a new reading. It was with a sort of apologetic reluctance that I clicked on the cover on my laptop. I'll listen a bit, I thought, and then maybe take up The Odyssey again.

One more chapter.

One more chapter.

One more ...

I didn't quite listen to the whole thing in one sitting - it's just shy of sixteen hours - but, being down with a cold and completely unmotivated to do anything that would take me far from my laptop anyway, it was darn near one sitting. If there was a small voice in my head in the beginning that complained about not liking the narrator, Ralph Cosham, all the other voices in my head rounded on it and beat it to a pulp within about fifteen minutes, because it was soon obvious that this is one of those perfect marriages between book and reader which justify every penny Audible seduces out of me. I have loved several audiobooks this year, but this may just be my favorite (at least till I listen to the new Peter Grant). I've been in the habit of deleting the downloads from my laptop, which has gotten rather cluttered, just to free up space. I can't delete this one. I want to listen to it again. Maybe tomorrow.

And here's the beauty of picking up (so to speak) an old favorite after such a long interval: I didn't remember a blessed thing, plotwise. It was a brand new adventure, with a soft and comfortable padding of old, old affection. I remembered Fiver and Hazel and Bigwig immediately; as the story unfolded I was able to make small sounds of recognition at other names as they came along, and then suddenly remembered appending "-roo" to at least one dog's name. The plot? Was utterly new to me. I had a vague foreboding that someone, possibly Fiver, possibly Bigwig, was going to be killed. That was all. Nothing diluted the suspense that built, peaked, broke, then built and peaked again with the adventures of Hazel and his merry band. It was marvelous.

What a story! To step back and look at it with cool objectivity - it's the story of a bunch of rabbits, an epic adventure that covers a couple of square miles. It is, and apparently for Mr. Adams in the quest to publish was, a hard sell. It should be ridiculous. I mean, bunnies. Oh, but it's so very not ridiculous. It is epic - it's life-and-death, and distance as we measure it is irrelevant. What a human, arrogant lord of the earth, traverses without a thought in just a few strides is a vast and terror-filled expanse to a ten-inch-tall prey animal at the bottom of the food chain. This tension was beautifully captured, and thrummed throughout the book. Besides, anyone who can retain cool objectivity in the face of Pipkin's terror or Fiver's otherworldliness, or Bigwig's courage, or Bluebell's jesting, or Hazel's diplomacy and leadership... that person I have no wish to know.

And the language. The English - warm and humourous (the Sherlock Holmes reference made me laugh out loud and rewind), and sure-footed, and the lapine - which Adams states he didn't attempt to make more than a smattering of "fluffy" words and phrases, things rabbits might actually say if they spoke, and what he did he did marvelously. I love that the bucks had plant names while the does had lapine names - except for the hutch-bred does. I loved the rabbit constructions to try to label human concepts - if I thought I could reliably pronounce it I would start using the lapine for "car". I want to hug whoever decided that the gull Kehaar's dialogue be read with a Swedish accent. I suppose it followed naturally from the speech patterns - but by Frith it was a joy.

Oh, and the reason I started this talking about how odd it was that I listened to it in the middle of The Odyssey was that, in the introduction (copyrighted 2005), Richard Adams slyly comments that Homer might have borrowed from the adventures of the trickster El-ahrairah when he wrote the tales of Odysseus. I suppose whoever wrote Gilgamesh might have borrowed too.

It was only halfway through the book, maybe further, that it struck me that these tales, which were supposed to be timeless and ancient, all featured men who smoked cigarettes and drove cars and trucks. And then, by the end of the book, it all made sense. For one thing, thirty - or twenty - or ten - years ago is ancient history to a rabbit who packs all of his own adventures into perhaps three quick years. And, for another, more important thing, the tales of El-ahrairah are not a concrete, set in stone, ossified body of tales, but an oral history which grows with the generations. That moment toward the end of the book that proves this also brought home to me with a greater clarity how utterly beautiful Richard Adams's portrait of lapine culture is. How extraordinarily wonderful the whole picture of rabbit-kind is. The depictions of individual bravery do not contradict what looks like utter timidity as a species; the latter only makes the former greater.

This book is a marvel. Treat yourself: go read it. No! Go listen to it.
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LibraryThing member Smiler69
The story is about a group of rabbits who escape the warren they are initially living in after Fiver, a young rabbit with special gifts predicts that something terrible is coming their way (he's right, the humans are about to start building up the area). As they amble along toward greener pastures with Fiver's brother Hazel leading everyone along, they come upon another warren where theres an all you can eat buffet all the time, but here again, Fiver predicts that dark forces are at work. It's true the few inhabitants of that settlement all seem oddly depressed and fatalistic, and when big strong Bigwig gets caught in a snare and almost miraculously survives the ordeal, the group continue on their journey. I'd been asking myself all along why there were no females among them, and sure enough, they realize at some point that they need to get themselves some tail (bad pun intended). I'll skip over a lot of plot twists and fast forward to the point at which our crew has finally found the heavenly Watership Down location to establish their permanent living quarters; they are more than ever in need of does, so Bigwig decides to infiltrate a dangerous warren known as Efrafa to bring back some females. This community brought to mind the U.S.S.R. under Stalin, only here it's the decidedly unrabbit-like General Woundwort who runs the show. A big old fighter, he likes to instill fear among the rabbits in his charge whom he literally treats like prisoners with the help of his warden. How Bigwig and his crew manage the great escape against all odds constitutes the most exciting part of the adventure.

There's a lot more I could/should say about this book, for example, that the rabbits have their own religion and folklore and so on, but I've already been at this for a while, so I'll stop here. I really enjoyed the book, but it just seemed much too long in some sections. All the same, I'm glad I got to finally take in the whole story.
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LibraryThing member pocket_saviour
I first read this book when I was ten, at the recommendation of a favourite schoolteacher. Since then I have read it at least once a year, often returning to it like an old friend in search of comfort. This story manages to encompass enormous human themes - social conflict, power struggles, fascism, military theory, environmental issues and the evolution of brain over brawn, to name just a few - without being obvious, preachy or contrived. As a child, I absorbed far more than I knew, and I realise now that I learned more about leadership and integrity from this book than from any other source. For a book which manages to entertain for 400 pages - there's not a wasted word or scene in the whole book - that's quite an achievement.… (more)
LibraryThing member msf59
Hazel is my kind of hero; bright, selfless, brave and soft-spoken. A perfect, if somewhat unlikely leader. Oh, and he also happens to be a rabbit.
When we are first introduced to Hazel, he is living in a thriving, warren, somewhere in the English countryside. Storms are approaching though and word is, a land developer is moving in. Hazel, along with his seer-like brother Fiver, gather together a small band, and decide to flee the area and locate another warren. The adventure begins…
This is a wonderful tale of survival and unflagging spirit, populated with well-defined “rabbit characters”. These are not cuddly bunnies, they are creative, tough and family orientated.
The book is not always perfect, it’s a bit long-winded and could have used some trimming, but it is a classic story and one I highly recommend. Do not procrastinate, like I did, for 30 plus years, track down a copy.
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LibraryThing member Tytania
Why don't they write stories like this anymore, at least not for adults? Is this a children's story? What makes it a children's story?

I won't do too much of a plot synopsis for such a well-known and beloved book. It's a story about bunnies who have a lot of allegoric adventures. It is reminiscent of LORD OF THE RINGS in many ways - unlikely heroes set off on a quest, and battle evil, for the sake of saving the peaceful life of their idyllic pastoral home. It's a ripping good yarn. And there are allegories and messages and morals to be learned that don't whack you over the head.

Two topics I found myself mulling as I read it, and the first was the treatment of male vs. female characters (bucks vs. does) and how it shows the book's age. Had it been written a few years later than it was (1972), we might have had female characters saving the day now and then. As it is, does are gentle, not unintelligent, and brave, but they are subordinate to bucks. Every buck has a name; a few does do, but most of the time they are "a doe" or "the does." Look, I don't know what rabbit society is like. I'm sure it's not as enlightened as 21-st century human society in terms of gender roles. It's just an observation.

The most puzzling episode I found myself mulling over was the significance of the warren the heroes found, where rabbits were indirectly fed by humans, for the purpose of occasionally being snared and killed. The rabbits in this warren had developed visual art and profound poetry. Indeed - I disliked most of the detours into rabbit story-telling that didn't advance the plot, and I famously hate poetry; but the poem recited by the rabbit in that warren, I found to be beautiful. That very poem fills Fiver with horror and dread. The heroes ultimately run away from the warren when they discover what's really going on with the snares. But they are filled with horror not only at the killing, and the warren rabbits' acquiescence to it, but at the art and poetry as well. They deem this unnatural and a distraction for the warren rabbits so that they forget their miserable position. What is Adams saying about art and poetry? What are they a distraction from? I'm assuming he has some message here for humans, not just rabbits, but what is it? What should we do or face instead of distracting ourselves with art?

If you don't care for questions like this, it's easy to get caught up in the story without searches for deeper meaning. Just curl up and enjoy some rollicking good bunny adventures.
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LibraryThing member timothyl33
Someone I know, once said it best about Watership Down. "It's like Lord of the Rings, but with rabbits".

A tale of journey and survival that most readers might not have realized (including yours truly) due to the fact that the characters in this epic consists of rabbits. However, Adams is able to craft a tale that is much more than something from a children's book or a short tale by Beatrix Potter. It is in par with all the other epic tales (including Lord of the Rings) with its mix of journey, danger, challenges, adventures, and of legends past.

Highly recommended.
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LibraryThing member RoLa0416
Watership Down looks like a very unexciting, stupid, book about bunnies. Well I'm here to tell you that it is a greatly developed, captivating novel about a pilgrimage of an akward, yet fitting, group of cunning animals.
LibraryThing member LisaMaria_C
This is a favorite novel and one of the best fantasies I've ever read. I know one friend who refuses to read it because it's "about rabbits." This isn't what you might think though. There's nothing cutesy or Disney about these rabbits. Adams creates an entire religion, mythology and language for his rabbit culture. The twenty or so rabbit characters are distinguishable individuals with real personalities, especially the hero Hazel and Fiver. For that reason it doesn't really feel like allegory to me even though I've heard it described as that. There's nothing abstract about these characters. A thrilling adventure as these rabbits move through terrible dangers to find a home, a moving tale of friendship--at the end I was tearing up. Truly--not to be missed. One of those few works written as a children's book that it is fully possible to read and reread as an adult with pleasure. On the strength of this book I've tried other works by Adams--The Plague Dogs and The Girl in a Swing.. Both are good novels--but Watership Down is special.… (more)
LibraryThing member susanbevans
Watership Down is the story of a small group of rabbits traveling across the English countryside in search of a new home. Their tale begins when Fiver, a small, nervous rabbit, senses an unnamed future danger for the warren in which they live. Fiver has the gift of prophecy, and when he speaks, his older brother Hazel listens. After taking their concerns to the Chief Rabbit and trying in vain to make him believe and understand that they are in great danger, Hazel and Fiver plan an escape from their warren. The brothers, along with a group of like-minded individuals, leave the warren and go through several adventures in search of a safe place to live.

To give anymore of the plot details away would remove some of the enchantment from this incredible book, and I refuse to do that to you. Watership Down is a story of great beauty. As I have stated before, it is my all-time favorite book. I first read it when I was just 12 years old, almost 20 years ago. I have read many other wonderful books over the years, but there is something special about Watership Down, a certain magic that not even time can erase. I have read it many times, and have vowed beginning this year to re-read as my first book of each new year from now on. You may say that life is too short to re-read books, but I say that life is to short not to enjoy your favorite things.

Richard Adams began Watership Down as a story told aloud to his two daughters on a long car trip. In creating his fantastic world of wild rabbits, Adams constructed a new language, a complete culture, and an imaginative folk history for his characters, all of which add incredible depth to the story and to the characters themselves. The rabbits of Watership Down act with human characteristics such as bravery, loyalty and ingenuity. However Adams has written them with a naturalist's eye for real rabbits - the reader is left with the impression that this is simply how rabbits behave.

Watership Down is a marvelous tale of adventure, the breathtaking story of a journey which leads eventually to the safety of a new home, as well as a keen understanding of the outside world and all its perils. If you'll allow yourself to get lost in the story, you will not regret it. Rich in detail and with a compelling and entertaining plot, Watership Down is truly a timeless masterpiece, a modern day classic that is beloved by many (including myself - in case I have not made that clear.)
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LibraryThing member MyopicBookworm
This is certainly a classic, and probably the most original and influential animal fantasy. To think of it as a children's book just because the characters are animals is a mistake: no one makes that mistake with Orwell's Animal Farm, but the social critique of human society here is less political and more obliquely subtle. Watership Down manages to do what many tales with animal characters do not: it makes them credible while keeping anthropomorphism to a minimum. The result is often thought-provoking in the way it evokes a rabbit's-eye-view of the modern world. (Adams managed the same shift of viewpoint in The Plague Dogs, but that is a much harsher book in all sorts of ways.) This book is stunning. MB 14-vi-2007… (more)
LibraryThing member plette
I cannot give Watership Down five stars because of the way female rabbits are treated in this book. They are treated as chattel to be used and won: the war fought over them is not intended to free them from Woundwort out of compassion, but because they are needed for breeding. They are in effect treated as a commodity or resource, necessary baby-making stock for the perpetuation of the new rabbit colony. This callous behaviour is not treated by Adams as a quirk of rabbit society - it is not pointed out at all. It melts into the background as a natural and perfectly acceptable way to think of the does, and for me, that ruined a lot of the sympathy I had been building up for the male rabbit characters. I had at first been charmed by Hazel's sensitivity to Fiver, but when I heard him speak of the need to 'acquire' does, his character became, in my mind, inconsistent and a lot less likable. This one aspect of the book cripples the story and my ability to love the characters.

The underlying sexism is an aspect of Watership Down seldom discussed in classrooms, and I imagine most readers don't even notice it. It was published over 30 years ago, and perhaps that offers something in the way of an explanation. I admit that, despite this aspect of the book, I enjoyed it and thought it quite skillfully written. It's sort of like a sexist old grandfather you can't help loving. I just wish this aspect of the book was treated more critically when it was taught in schools.

Moving beyond the issues with the treatment of the sexes, the book is a compelling adventure story and a thought-provoking look at essential social concepts of freedom, stability, safety, choice, and the relative values of each. Adams does a fantastic job of creating a believable, rabbit-centred world, and he uses these creatures to explore questions that are of interest to any sentient being.
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LibraryThing member shallihavemydwarf
Finishing a truly great book causes such a contradiction in feeling that I don't believe there's anything else quite like it. Sad that it's over, and happy it's complete, and filled with the calm of any genuinely mind-bending experience but in a really fidgety way like you just need to talk to everyone about it but usually can't because I don't know if I've ever finished a book in someone else's company, certainly not somebody who'd read the same book. All you really want to do, anyway, is read more, but aside from some desultory flipping back and reviewing favourite passages, that you can't do. Because these books stay with you like the taste of good chocolate, and the last thing you want to do is wash it out with another book...even if that latter may or may not be equally delicious.

After finishing the first of Watership's 4 parts, I told my mom that it was "you know, pretty good" and by the end I was also powering through, not to reach the end, but to hurry up and find out that Hazel and Fiver and Bigwig are all okay and that they can settle down in their new warren and all live happily ever after. I read the epilogue over three times and then flipped back to two short parts that I liked and read them again, and even now part of me wants to read the whole book over again but I can't because that would be overkill.

I'm not usually a fan of animal protagonists. Adams' rabbits, though anthropomorphized, always remain undeniably lapine. But if anything, this predilection of mine does even more credit to Adam's storytelling. I picked up the book in the Kids 9-12 section of Chapters; I somehow missed that required reading when I was younger, but I think I've made my feelings clear in previous posts about so-called "children's literature." However, the allegorical themes dressed in child-ish content has posed certain problems in the critical treatment of Adams' work.

Clearly, Watership can't be summarized as just a story about rabbits. It's not a full-blown allegory in the way of something like Animal Farm but I have to say, there's only a certain amount of respect I can have for such an obvious blow-by-blow parody. It can only be read on two levels: the surface and the symbolic. With truly great allegorical literature (and this is particularly true with great children's literature) you should be able to go as deep as you like down the proverbial rabbit hole. In any case, each chapter is introduced with a quote from various classical sources from Shakespeare to Xenophon to Jane Austen to Lewis Carroll. Reading the book reminds you of the Homeric epics and Bible stories and fairy tales all at once. Additionally, the novel's subject matter can hardly avoid a great deal of political commentary on freedom, community, government and especially leadership.

But. Even taking all that into consideration, it still is what it is, which is: a story about rabbits. Adams is very clear on that point, and his main source in writing the book was Lockley's The Private Life of the Rabbit. This becomes relevant when taking into account that the main criticism of the novel is regarding its portrayal of gender issues. The main characters in the novel are all bucks, and the does are regarded repeatedly as breeding stock when our heroes realize that their new society will fail if they have no one to mate with. Additionally, the second half of the book concentrates largely on the quest to liberate a group of does from their oppressive, fascist warren. I don't want to delve to deeply into this issue, but I couldn't help but wonder: to what extent do our human gender issues remain relevant when transposed onto rabbits?

Anyway, to finish off, I leave you with one of my favourite passages from Watership Down, which finds Fiver warning Bigwig and Hazel away from another warren, partially akin to Lotus-Eater society:
"You felt it then? And you want to know whether I did? Of course I did. That's the worst part of it. He speaks the truth. So long as he speaks the truth it can't be folly--that's what you're going to say, isn't it? I'm not blaming you, Hazel. I felt myself moving towards him like one cloud drifting into another. But then at the last moment I drifted wide. Who knows why? It wasn't my own will; it was an accident. There was just some little part of me that carried me wide of him. Did I say the roof of that hall was made of bones? No! It's like a great mist of folly that covers the whole sky: and we shall never see to go by Frith's light any more. Oh, what will become of us? A thing can be true and still be desperate folly, Hazel."
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LibraryThing member atreic
I love this book. The spirit of adventure, the beauty of the countryside. Hazel is one of my favourite characters ever - a leader because he has to be, brave and resourceful, clever, but not the cleverest or the strongest, just one who knows how to bring out the best of the rabbits he is leading. Every time I come back to Watership Down (and I read it first when I was in junior school) I am refreshed. This time, the book struck a chord with me about how safety is not what is important. The rabbits at Strawberry's warren have become resigned to their fate and sacrifice their lives to comfort. The rabbits at Efrafa have given up their independence and spirit in the name of safety. But Hazel and his friends travel into the unknown, risk their lives for what is important, and love freedom and friendship and stories in the evening sun.… (more)
LibraryThing member JechtShot
I am not even going to try and attempt to summarize Watership Down. I am pretty sure others have done a fine job with that already. I will say this, if you haven't read this book, read it. If you have, read it again. I first read this Richard Adams classic 10+ years ago and decided I was past due for a re-read, but this time through I listened to the Audio version. I remember enjoying my first journey into this wonderful world of rabbits, but this time through I was absolutely hooked. Rarely does a book stick with me like this. As I listened to the last few sentences of Watership Down, with a tear in my eye, I could not help but start from the beginning so that I could listen to it all again. The world, the characters and the storytelling are absolutely brilliant.… (more)
LibraryThing member Hoperin
I did not want this book to end. I can, and will, read this book over and over again. The handling of rabbits as narrators never makes one feel as if they're being humanized. Rather, I started feeling slightly rabbity myself, so naturally are their behaviours and societies laid out. Adams writes beautifully, especially when describing the morning sun chasing shadows across the down, or the colours of twilight, or when weaving a tale of the rabbit hero, El-Ahrairah. Absolutely an all-time favourite.… (more)
LibraryThing member Jenners26
THIS IS A REVIEW OF THE AUDIOBOOK VERSION

BOOK DESCRIPTION
A small group of rabbits leave their warren in the English countryside when one of them (a small rabbit named Fiver who has the gift of prophecy) foresees bad things on the horizon. The book chronicles their adventures as they seek a place to build a new warren. Under the leadership of Hazel, the band of rabbits faces many obstacles—from how to cross a river to the lack of does to the penultimate battle with a warren run by the evil General Woundwart.

MY THOUGHTS
I cannot believe that I didn’t read this book until this year!! Originally published in 1972, Watership Down has been sitting out there my entire life and yet it took me until 2012 to read it. All I ever knew was that it was a book about rabbits. The simplistic book description is also deceiving. Yet it took only an hour of listening for me to realize that I was in the presence of greatness—a true 5 star read. Watership Down was an incredibly satisfying, rich and magical reading experience—the kind of book that transcends age and time. In my opinion, it deserves a place on the list of best books of all time, and it certainly has earned a place on my list of all-time favorite books.

What makes the book so satisfying is that it works on multiple levels and that Adams strikes the perfect balance between reality and magic. Not only will the book satisfy children looking for a gripping adventure tale and rabbit folklore (the book grew out of a series of stories that Adams told his daughters), it will also satisfy an adult reader, with the rich personalities of the rabbits (we all have a Big Wig in our lives, I’m sure) and how well the rabbits’ lives translate into our human lives. Although Adams talks in the introduction about how the book is not an allegory, it is not difficult to see the differences between the leadership approaches of Hazel and General Woundwart.

Perhaps the best choice that Adams made is that, although these are talking rabbits, he makes them grounded in reality. In the introduction, Adams talks about how he never has his rabbits do anything that a real rabbit wouldn’t do. These are not rabbits who build little houses and wear clothes like Peter Cottontail. They are wild and natural rabbits and they live as such. When faced with an obstacle such as how to cross a river, they come up with a solution that felt realistic, plausible and yet seemed like a huge leap of logic for a rabbit, which is why Blackberry (the “smart one”) had to come up with it.

Adams even gives the rabbits their own language (Lapine), which I found myself easily adopting. (Their word for tractor or car is hrududu, which, when pronounced by an awesome reader like Ralph Casham, sounds just like a vehicle engine as interpreted by an animal.) It became commonplace to hear words like silflay (going aboveground to feed) and know exactly what they meant.

Another wondrous touch was the rich folklore and mythology that Adams creates for the rabbits. One of the ways the rabbits keep their spirits up and adapt to their surroundings is by repeating the stories of El-Ahrairah, one of the first rabbits, whose exploits and trickery are woven throughout the book. I adored these stories about El-Ahrairah and enjoyed seeing how the rabbits would adapt the story to their present situation.

The other thing I loved about this book was that Adams doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of life. The rabbits face real danger, including death and injury. Yet these moments are leavened by moments of triumph, peace and sweetness. There were also moments of comic relief (the pidgin talk of the gull Keehar and Big Wig’s take on the world just tickled me). In addition, Adams writes one of the most beautiful and satisfying death scenes I’ve ever read in literature.

Nothing I can write can really capture how wondrous and satisfying and pleasing this book was. If you’ve not read it yet, please get a copy (either in print or on audiobook) and read it as soon as possible. You don’t want to miss this book like I almost did. It is brilliant on so many levels, and I applaud Adams for creating such a wondrous work of literature that hits all the right notes.

ABOUT THE NARRATION
Ralph Cosham was the narrator I listened to, and he was pitch perfect. He captured the voices of each character perfectly—from Pipken’s timidity to Big Wig’s warm-hearted bluster. At 15+ hours, this was relatively long listen but I never once tired of it and could not wait to immerse myself in this world over and over again. It was with a real sense of loss that I finished this book.

RECOMMENDED FOR
This is as perfect as a book can get and I recommend it to everyone. If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly urge you to do so. I shall definitely be reading/listening to this one again, and I cannot wait for my son to be ready for it.
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LibraryThing member HankIII
What did I learn from this book? How a writer can take his knowledge of rabbits: their habitat, their senses, their reproductive habits, and hierarchy and integrate all of that with a convincing plot and characterization that holds the reader--you don't have to have an interest in rabbits. Adams creates that interest. I never looked at rabbits the same after this read.… (more)
LibraryThing member curiousgene
It is technically true to say that his book is about rabbits, but that would be simplistic, and would be missing the point. This is founding epic, refugees on a quest for a home. It's an epic on the order of the Aeneid. It just happens to be about rabbits.

It's really good. I very much enjoyed it.… (more)
LibraryThing member drsyko
I have read this book several times, something I rarely do with books. Everytime I read it I just love it and find more to the story. This is a very unique tale, full of love, intrigue, fear, and many other emotions. Though it is populated by rabbits, they are more human than many people I know. Read this book. It is simply lovely.… (more)
LibraryThing member edgeworth
I don't know why it took me so long to get through this one, because it wasn't bad. Maybe I've just been busier than usual lately.

I've known about Watership Down for a while - it tends to get mentioned a lot in other popular culture, like Lost and The Stand - so it was expecting it to be pretty good. It tells the tale of a group of rabbits fleeing the destruction of their home warren and attempting to start over somewhere else, on the titular Watership Down. Rabbit culture is intensely developed throughout the book; they have their own language, stories, poetry and legends. Adams builds up enough of a vocabulary that in the final chapters, when one rabbit says "Silflay hraka, u embleer rah," the astute reader knows exactly what it means. There are several intervals at which the rabbits tell each other tales of El-ahrairah, a rabbit folk hero, which was interesting at first but later grew annoying as it interrupted the flow of the story.

By far the best part of the book was early on, when the fleeing rabbits, exhausted and hungry, limp into a warren of strangers. These rabbits are healthy and well-fed, and there is no scent of predators around, yet they have a sad quality to them, "like trees in November." The gradual sense of eerie foreboding that builds up to the revelation of the truth was brilliantly executed.

The rest of the book is mostly good, but not great, a fairly generic adventure story. I'm sure the idea of using animals as characters was pretty fresh at the time, but I grew up in the 90's with Redwall and The Animals of Farthing Wood, so it's not quite as exciting for me. Actually, come to think of it, Peter Rabbit and the Wind in the Willows probably beat Adams to the punch anyway.

Overall, thumbs up, but not quite living up to the legendary reputation I'd built up for it in my own mind.
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