Friday, December 16, 2011

Watership Down

Title: Watership Down
Author: Richard Adams
List: #42 on BBC Top 100, #79 on Modern Library Readers’ Top 100 20th Century Novels
Worth reading? YES!!

Watership Down is a book about rabbits. “A book about rabbits?!” you may exclaim, “And why are you so adamant that it is worth reading?” Because it is completely unexpected and utterly amazing. Leaving aside the fact that it is about rabbits, the story is about a hero who risks everything for his convictions, faces seemingly insurmountable obstacles with bravery and cunning, and puts his own life at risk multiple times for the sake of his friends and followers. The hero doesn’t believe in leaving anyone behind and, most of the time, listens to the advice of even the littlest voices. Richard Adams’ storytelling makes you root for the hero and his followers and it is difficult not to keep reading chapter after chapter.

Integral to this adventurous tale is the fact that it is about rabbits. The magnificent hero of this story is not a human, but a rabbit leading his followers across the countryside to found a new rabbit warren. Richard Adams has perfectly captured the movements, spirit, and fears of rabbits. The tale is full of passages describing the rabbits’ progress as a short run, followed by a couple of hops, followed by sitting up and smelling around for predators, followed by freezing in place or running away in fear. If you’ve ever seen any wild rabbits in person or on film, you realize that Adams’ words perfectly describe rabbit behavior and progress and you can perfectly imagine the ragged bunch of rabbits crossing a field. Their fears are rabbit fears, their dreams are rabbit dreams, and their behavior is, unquestionably, rabbit behavior. Added to this is Adams’ charming description of rabbit language and folklore. Adams introduces readers to a bit of rabbit vocabulary and describes how, to pass the time, the rabbits tell stories about a rabbit trickster folk hero and his interactions with a god-figure and a grim reaper equivalent. Several of these stories are included in the book and are brilliantly told by one of the rabbits.

In every way, Watership Down is a fantastic adventure story that becomes even more charming because of the rabbit civilization Adams created. Although the novel was written for children, it is a story adults should not miss, so it may be best read aloud as a bedtime story!

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