With the recent release of Netflix and BBC’s adaptation of “Watership Down,” I wanted to re-read the novel before setting in to watch the series. Here’s my review of the book.
“Watership Down” is a modern classic that follows the exploits of a group of rabbits who defect from their home warren and set out on an adventure to find a new homeland after humanity’s presence becomes a threat. The clan faces treacherous terrain, dangerous predators, and perhaps scariest of all, enemy rabbits as they seek to establish a new safe haven. Using cunning and courage above all else, the rabbits must work together as a band of brothers if they hope to defeat the odds and build a future.
I always have a hard time with the classics. Maybe it’s the preconceived notions of the books garnered by all the hype, but I always seem to find myself disappointed or bored with a lot of classic novels. At first, I honestly thought “Watership Down” was one of those books. The opening chapters dragged on a little bit, the author stumbled his way through establishing the lapine vocabulary, and the prose just seemed a bit too verbose.
And, I’ll admit, for the longest time, I had assumed that “Watership Down” was a naval war odyssey instead of a book about rabbits. I heard tell that it was a must-read classic novel filled with adventure, war, and superb storytelling – so can you really blame me? After all, when one thinks of raucous adventures, rabbits aren’t the first thing to spring to mind. So there I was, internally struggling with that a bit; even as a rabbit owner, they aren’t all that exciting, and I was initially reluctant to fully commit to this bunny book.
But then somewhere after the third or fourth chapter, the book really hit its stride. The writing style began to flow a bit more concisely and the plot slowly built up and became more exciting. These rabbits weren’t just lollopping through the meadow, they were undertaking a long and trying journey to discover a new home. There were fast-paced and tense scenes full of danger, and even some witty puzzle solving that the rabbits faced; who knew they could be so resourceful?
I also started to care about the characters. Bigwig and Hazel were characters I could root for – they had realistic motivations, and well-rounded personalities. They weren’t your stereotypical infallible heroes, but fully developed characters with both strengths and flaws who deviated from their typical societal norms. This made the main characters seem more human and relatable. Make no mistake, it’s astonishingly impressive, considering that everything is seen and experienced from rabbit-eye-view. There’s not even technology nor magic (sans one or two psychic rabbits) that was used as a crutch here to develop these characters; mundane nature was simply explored from another perspective and, perhaps because of this, it transformed into a fascinating new world.
This, to me, is a can’t miss read. There are some initial mental hurdles to jump through before you really start to visualize these rabbits as the full characters they are, but once you hit that point this is one of the best high-fantasy-at-home adventure novels you’ll likely find.
I had a few quotes that were all tied for favorite, so instead of leaving them out, I chose them all.
“My Chief Rabbit has told me to stay and defend this run, and until he says otherwise, I shall stay here.”
“There is nothing that cuts you down to size like coming to some strange and marvelous place where no one even stops to notice that you stare about you.”
“Silflay hraka, u embleer rah!”
I liken this to a more adult version of the “Warriors” series, but with rabbits.