Bionic Jean's Reviews > Watership Down

Watership Down by Richard  Adams
Rate this book
Clear rating

by
19300421
's review

it was amazing
bookshelves: read-authors-a-b, fantasy, classics, animals
Read 3 times. Last read August 8, 2016 to September 3, 2016.

I remember when Watership Down was first published in 1972. It was a novel by an unknown English author, Richard Adams. All of a sudden the book Watership Down was absolutely everywhere and people were reading it on buses, trains, park benches — all over the place. It captured everybody's imagination. Six years later the animated film came out, and it all happened all over again! If, glancing at the cover, you asked any of those readers "Is this a book about rabbits?" the answer would be a hesitant yes. Yet if you then asked, "So is it a children's book?" the answer would be a firm "No!" It includes explicit details about warrens being gassed, rabbits snagged in barbed wire, about torture under a totalitarian regime, and descriptions of savage and bloody conflict.

From the first paragraph onwards, the style of writing indicates its focus group. The prose is too rich and complex for children; the concerns those of adults. There is breathtaking lyrical description in Watership Down. Richard Adams shows a detailed knowledge of the natural world in which the rabbits live, specifically the English countryside. "Watership Down" is an actual hill in Hampshire, near the village of Kingsclere, just a few miles away from the area in Berkshire where Richard Adams grew up. The locations are geographically accurate, even to the little maps which are included. Growing up in a rural area in the 1920's, Richard Adams had the sort of country childhood which no longer exists. Much of his time was spent alone, and this fired his imagination and his passion for make-believe, based on his direct experience of nature.

Facts about little-known wild plants and flowers and their growing seasons, the creatures of the countryside, their habits, behaviour and terrain, are all interwoven in the narrative so that the reader absorbs this alongside the story, and becomes immersed in the English landscape. It is a rich and satisfying experience; the language is to be savoured. As well as writing other fantasy novels, Richard Adams went on to write the factual book "Nature Through the Seasons" three years later, and much of that information is incorporated here. He credits another writer, R.M. Lockley (one of my favourite naturalist authors) for teaching him about the characteristic behaviour of rabbits through his book "The Private Life of the Rabbit".

Of course it is not merely the depth and wealth of description which sets this aside as an adult book. The broad story-line of Watership Down concerns a small, ever-changing group of rabbits, led by Hazel and his little brother Fiver, in an attempt to escape their warren. Rabbits are prey animals with “a thousand enemies”. It is a serious business to leave a safe home and risk living in a vast world of unknown predators. There is no evident threat; Sandleford Warren is secure, stable and happy. Why should they leave? Thus we have conflict from the very start. We also have an other-worldly dimension, since Fiver has a strange premonition of doom coming to their warren. And Hazel, although the dominant one of the two, believes and respects Fiver for his inexplicable, almost psychic, abilities, since they are often right. Fiver is runtish, often very twitchy and full of foreboding. He cannot explain his feelings, and dark dread of a catastrophic event for the warren, even to himself. But his prophetic visions always mysteriously carry conviction. And his main vision, of a rabbit paradise, is a positive one which urges the rabbits to keep steadfast.

“I know what we ought to be looking for — a high lonely place with dry soil, where rabbits can see and hear all around and men hardly ever come. Wouldn't that be worth a journey?”

Fiver's vague premonitions come at key points during the book, and are essential to the plot, moving it along, often creating tension and arguments between the rabbits as they do so.

Hazel is less intelligent and ingenious than some rabbits, yet he is a born leader. Bigwig, the freedom-fighter, is stronger and bigger than Hazel, but Hazel makes a much better leader because he can think for the whole group, and is able to see immediately how to work cooperatively and use each member of the group's special skills, in order to best benefit them all. For instance it is higher-achieving rabbits such as Blackberry, (view spoiler). We see that clever rabbits value ingenuity over intellectualism (even though none of them can actually count to five).

It is unnatural for rabbits to travel overland together away from their safe warren. Throughout the book the author refers to any unnatural behaviour for rabbits, through the characters' own self-knowledge. He keeps very close to their instinct-driven psychology, instead of heavily anthropomorphising. This is one of the great strengths of the book; its total believability in the scenario — the world — of the book. We humans too have a view of what is "natural" behaviour, and sometimes our innate natures are different from the norm, or we choose to behave differently. This depth of exploration into the characters' individual strengths and determination, and how they bond through a series of adventures, makes for an absorbing read.

Also inserted into the story are a series of little stories about a rabbit folk-hero, "El-Ahrairah". Here you may recognise heroes from many ancient cultures, stories told down the millennia; and there's even a smattering of "Brer Rabbit"'s cunning and ingenuity in there too. Humans consider trickery to be deceitful and wrong, but for rabbits it is a matter of survival. (view spoiler) The stories remind all rabbits that trickery means using their wits to escape a situation which may otherwise be fatal. They always have to use their ingenuity and cunning, because using force is against their nature (except in rare cases such as Bigwig and General Woundwort). Bigwig, solid and true, is a model of stamina and determination, using his brawn rather than brain, but he has unswerving loyalty, is truly courageous and ready to fight to the death for his friends.(view spoiler).

The stories are all told by Dandelion, a rabbit with a particular talent for story-telling — just as there would be a chief story-teller and recorder of important events in any tribal group. The closest human religion to the rabbits' own is pantheism. They revere Nature, and celebrate Life. Man, with his "little white sticks" (cigarettes) and "hrududu" (motors) is the enemy. Yet they also believe in an afterlife. And many stories revolve around "Frith", the rabbits' God (our sun) and the "Black Rabbit of Inlé", who is an evil tempter, a demonic character. We recognise Noah's Ark in one tale, but mostly the stories seem to be inventions which carry a flavour of ancient myth, and religion. The rabbits' behaviour too is influenced by their beliefs, such as when they go "tharn" (frozen by shock) at a particularly frightening story. Some stories can be interpreted as allegory, some as a take on religion.

One of the novel's boldest themes is about making peace with death. (view spoiler). This was his vision, and is his paradise; a place of protection, food, family and pleasure.

The rabbits see several different types of warren on their journey. A political interpretation of the first warren they come to would be socialist, since all the rabbits there are equal and no one has anything more than anyone else. "Cowslip" speaks for them, but is not their leader since he does not offer them protection from the dangers they face. These rabbits have remarkably human-like qualities. Art is held uppermost, and their highly-developed poetry and sculpture is incomprehensible to Hazel's group. They also seem to have lost their faith in the rabbit religion of Frith, and the trickster-hero El-Ahrairah, meeting Dandelion's stories such as "The Story of the King's Lettuce" with amused tolerance. (We readers however, are entranced by the stories' inclusion in the novel.)

The rabbits there are large, and live in relative luxury, but Hazel's group are unsettled by the ominous, cultish atmosphere. There has to be a reason why the word "where" is never used, and why death is a taboo subject. (view spoiler)

Despite all the food, this warren feels very unhealthy and unnatural to Hazel and his group. They want to be free to roam and eat outside, and do the things that rabbits have always done, living their own lives naturally. The rabbits cannot understand how others can compromise this urge, or want to live any other way. They accept that there will always be predators, but believe that no protection from a predator is worth the loss of the chance to live a normal rabbit life. This theme continues throughout the book.(view spoiler)

This unnamed warren may seem progressive, but it is stultified, with rabbits who have lost their life-force just as much as if they were subject to a dictator. Their world view has become fatalistic, so their Art is mere appearance. The author clearly has a firm belief that true Art comes from deeper roots, older cultures, classical and traditional values and poetic tradition.

In Watership Down the rabbits have a religion of their own, a culture and customs of their own, and even a language of their own. There are many humorous moments in the book when the rabbit language "Lapine" is not undertood by the other creatures, and a common language of the hedgerow is spoken. There is a mouse who seems to speak with an East European accent, and a seagull, "Kehaar" — a lovely onomatopoeic name — who also speaks in a heavily accented dialect or patois.

All these, plus the main events in the story, of course, could be adapted into a children's version of Watership Down just as classics have been retold for children for centuries. Another aspect might need considering. I remember being rather startled by a no-nonsense, straitlaced Aunt pronouncing that "if a book doesn't have sex in it, then it's a children's book". Actually this novel does... (view spoiler). Naturally these rabbit are concerned with procreation - they are rabbits after all!

In common with many great myths and traditional stories, Watership Down describes a journey to attain a safe place which can be made into a home. It is a quest in search of that basic urge common to all living creatures. Concerns of friendship, family, comradeship, an esprit de corps, loyalty, honour, respect are all uppermost, underpinned by courage, bravery and endurance. But these are still rabbits with essentially rabbitish concerns.

Forget Alison Uttley's modest, gentle "Little Grey Rabbit" character, or Dorothy Richard's "Tasseltip". Forget Margery Williams's "Velveteen Rabbit". Very definitely forget Beatrix Potter's "Peter Rabbit" and the "Flopsy Bunnies". These are decidedly not "little people in furry coats". There are no "bunnies" in sight here. Forget even Joel Chandler Harris's "Brer Rabbit" if you can, although aspects of El-Aharairah may well remind you of him. We recognise qualities we admire in humans, the wisdom and intermittent ability to be far-seeing, even though planning is beyond most rabbits' purview. But we also witness cunning and manipulative behaviour; behaviour which is brutish and savage.

Just as human can use their intelligence for good or evil, so can rabbits. Yet even the most evil character in the book, General Woundwort, (view spoiler) is not a cardboard cut-out or sterotype. He is a fully rounded character with whom we can empathise. We learn all about his past and what made him the rabbit he was. A charismatic personality, he developed his tough, ruthless character through strength and determination. We can understand all his actions, and see that, just as with many hated figures in history, although what transpires from his philosophy is evil, the personality behind it is not necessarily cruel or vindictive for the sake of it. He is merely an individual single-mindedly following his ethos, and performing whatever actions he deems necessary to achieve it.

(view spoiler)

In interviews Richard Adams has said how the novel started. 52 years old and working for the civil service, he had never written anything before. He was driving his daughters to school when they began begging him to tell them a story.

“I had been put on the spot and I started off, ‘Once there were two rabbits called Hazel and Fiver.’ And I just took it on from there.”

He would apparently think out the next bit of the story the evening before. When the story came to an end, his daughters said it was “too good to waste, Daddy, you ought to write that down”. Watership Down was initially rejected by seven publishers and in the end accepted by a small publisher who could only afford a first print run of 2,500 copies. Now, of course, it has been sold in the millions and won many awards.

Two years later Richard Adams left the civil service to write full time. His further novels include "Shardik" (1974), "The Plague Dogs" (1977), and "The Girl in a Swing" (1980). All are excellent and highly original novels, yet none is as perfectly plotted, or as well crafted as Watership Down, in my opinion. The structure of this book is well nigh perfect; the balance between all the different elements and steady progression to its conclusion superbly balanced. In 1996 Richard Adams published a sequel entitled "Tales From Watership Down". Yet Watership Down has remained its author's most successful novel. None of his other books has ever come close to reaching the critical acclaim of his first novel.

There is a superb 1978 animated adaptation, which also is not a children's film. When those delicate watercolours of the film were revealed in the cinema, everyone was very moved and impressed. There had been nothing like it before. It was pre-digital imagery of course, and it looked so beautiful and painterly. But the amazing cinematic techniques were used to evoke the whole range of human feelings. Even now, when it was shown on British television this last Christmas, there was an uproar from parents who were shocked at the savagery and all the gory scenes; images of fighting rabbits foaming at the mouth and gashes dripping with garish red blood. Its opening scenes are deceptive, showing a stylized, cartoonish rabbit-origin myth, lulling parents into a false sense of security about this graphically bloody film.

Watership Down can be read as being about an individual having a vision, or an ideal, or not letting a dictator or a totalitarian regime take over and sap any creativity or life force. The rabbits' lives in the various warrens bring up many strong parallels to existing human societies. It is tempting to view the different rabbit warrens in the novel as different versions of human government. The Efrafan warren is clearly a totalitarian regime. Woundwort and a selected handful rule with an iron fist, while all the others are stamped on and abused. Hazel's warren represents a democracy, with a leader chosen by all the rabbits, and acting according to decisions based upon the will of the group. The author's message is that this is the best way to organise society.

There are many other implications for society to be found in the novel. The events and the descriptions send a clear warning that we need to stop our destruction of animals' homes before it is too late. Watership Down is also a statement about Nature, an environmentally conscious novel, and an attempt to give us a glimpse into the beautiful yet increasingly diminishing world of woods and grasslands.

We are constantly reminded, through the rabbits, that of all the creatures in the world, only humans break rules which the rest of nature follows. Humans kill at a whim, because they can, rather than out of necessity. They unthinkingly decimate entire populations. In building their own structures, they destroy the very living space that other animals need to survive. Many individual rabbits have their own journeys of personal growth through the novel. Holly is one such, (view spoiler) In his prescient words,

“Men will never rest until they've spoiled the earth and destroyed the animals.”

There is often a tone which suggests humanity has lost something we used to have—the ability to live free, as the rabbits do. There is a strong undercurrent flowing through much of the work; a suggestion that we should live as a part of Nature rather than ignoring it. This theme of technological concern, and connection with the natural world, underpins the entire work.

So Watership Down can be read as a political, social, or environmental critique, or as a book about the search for a home and a safe life. Richard Adams himself, however, rejects all these interpretations.

“It was meant to be just a story, and it remains that. A story, a jolly good story I must admit, but it remains a story. It’s not meant to be a parable. That’s important, I think. Its power and strength come from being a story told in the car.”

My personal view is that Watership Down is a beautiful poetic myth, where the rabbits have their own language, history, religion, Art, story-telling and heroes. And it's a really good adventure story featuring rabbits, cleverly keeping their true rabbitish natures, and also imbuing them with characteristics we tend to assume (rightly or wrongly) are intrinsically human. Creation of mood is paramount in this book. It has gravity and melancholy; it has humour and joie de vivre. It was the first of its kind and never bettered.

Whatever you think in the end, one thing is certain. You will never look at rabbits in quite the same way again.

“All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you.”
142 likes · flag

Sign into Goodreads to see if any of your friends have read Watership Down.
Sign In »

Quotes Bionic Jean Liked

Richard  Adams
“All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.”
Richard Adams, Watership Down

Richard  Adams
“Animals don't behave like men,' he said. 'If they have to fight, they fight; and if they have to kill they kill. But they don't sit down and set their wits to work to devise ways of spoiling other creatures' lives and hurting them. They have dignity and animality.”
Richard Adams, Watership Down
tags: evil

Richard  Adams
“If you want to bless me you can bless my bottom, for it is sticking out of the hole.”
Richard Adams, Watership Down

Richard  Adams
“Rabbit underground, rabbit safe and sound.”
Richard Adams, Watership Down

Richard  Adams
“At that instant a dazzling claw of lightning streaked down the length of the sky. The hedge and the distant trees seemed to leap forward in the brilliance of the flash. Immediately upon it came the thunder: a high, tearing noise, as though some huge thing were being ripped to pieces close above, which deepened and turned to enormous blows of dissolution. Then the rain fell like a waterfall. In a few seconds the ground was covered with water and over it, to a height of inches, rose a haze formed of a myriad minute splashes. Stupefied with the shock, unable even to move, the sodden rabbits crouched inert, almost pinned to the earth by the rain.”
Richard Adams, Watership Down

Richard  Adams
“Mixed with the resinous scent of the firs there came another smell, strong and fragrant, yet sharp—the perfume of flowers, but of some kind unknown to Hazel. He followed it to its source at the edge of the wood. It came from several thick patches of soapwort growing along the edge of the pasture. Some of the plants were not yet in bloom, their buds curled in pink, pointed spirals held in the pale green calices, but most were already star-flowering and giving off their strong scent. The bats were hunting among the flies and moths attracted to the soapwort.”
Richard Adams, Watership Down

Richard  Adams
“We do not take moonlight for granted. It is like snow, or like dew on a July morning. It does not reveal but changes what it covers.”
Richard Adams, Watership Down

Richard  Adams
“Watership Down is a real place, like all the places in the book. It lies in north Hampshire, about six miles southwest of Newbury and two miles west of Kingsclere.”
Richard Adams, Watership Down


Reading Progress

Finished Reading
Finished Reading
June 26, 2013 – Shelved
August 8, 2016 – Started Reading
August 10, 2016 –
page 29
6.07%
August 13, 2016 –
page 76
15.9% "And Frith called after him, 'El-ahrairah, your people cannot rule the world, for I will not have it so. All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.'"
August 14, 2016 –
page 133
27.82% "Blackberry, alert and intelligent ... Bigwig, cheerful at the prospect of action. The sready, reliable Silver. Dandelion, the dashing storyteller, so eager to be off ... Buckthorn, perhaps the most sensible and staunch of them all. Pipkin, who looked round for Hazel and then came to wait beside him. Acorn, Hawkbit and Speedwell, decent enough rank and filers ... Last came Fiver, dejected and reluctant"
August 18, 2016 –
page 283
59.21% ""..there is a very simple lingua franca of the hedgerow and woodland..." \nthe hedgerow vernacular ... "'I go fine now. Ving 'e better. Vind finish, den I fly. Fly for you. Find plenty mudders, tell you vere dey are, ya?'\n'Why what a splendid idea, Kehaar! How clever of you to think of it! You very fine bird!'"
August 20, 2016 –
page 320
66.95% "The silence returned, but still Hazel lay motionless in the whispering chill of the tunnel. A cold lassitude came over him and he passed into a dreaming, inert stupor, full of cramp and pain. After a time, a thread of blood began to trickle over the lip of the drain into the trampled, deserted ditch."
August 23, 2016 –
page 320
66.95% "Outside, the downs were still in the intense, bright heat of noon. The dew and gossamer had dried early from the grass and by mid-morning the finches had fallen silent. Now, along the lonely expanses of wiry turf, the air wavered. On the footpath that led past the warren, bright threads of light - watery, a mirage - trickled and glittered across the shortest, smoothest grass."
August 25, 2016 –
page 426
89.12% "...presently the day grew so hot and humid that all activity was quenched. The faint breeze vanished. The sun drew up a torpid moisture from the watery thickets. The smell of water-mint filled all the hydrophanic air."
September 3, 2016 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-32 of 32 (32 new)

dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Bionic Jean (last edited Sep 02, 2016 04:27AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bionic Jean My Glossary of Terms - "Lapine" - the rabbit language of "Watership Down": (Usually these are obvious from the context, and used inobtrusively thereafter)

bob-stones - traditonal game among rabbits, played much as "jacks" or "conkers" might be for humans. A "cast" of stones is on the ground, and one rabbit covers it with their forepaw. Their opponent must make a guess about its nature
the Crixa - (The Cross) The centre of Efrafa, where two bridle paths cross
Efrafa - the name of the warren founded by General Woundwort
El-ahrairah - folk hero - ruler of the rabbits in folklore
elil - enemies of rabbits. U Hrair is used to denote all enemies of rabbits at once, meaning "The Thousand"
embleer - stinking, as in the smell of a fox. Thus "Embleer Frith!" is a curse meaning "stinking Frith!"
flay - common food eg. grass
flayrah - unusually good food, eg. lettuce or carrots
Frith - the sun, = God to rabbits (ie. personified as a god by rabbits)
fu Inlé (acute) - afer moonrise
hlao - any little hollow, dimple or depression formed in the grass, such as that formed by a daisy plant or a thistle, which can collect moisture
Hlao-roo - an affectionate diminutive of the name "Hlao". So Hazel uses it as a friendly endearment for Fiver
hlessil - vagabonds, wanderers, scratchers - a rabbit living in the open without a hole
homba - fox
hrair - many
Hrairoo - 'Little Thousand', the name of Fiver in Lapine
hraka - droppings, excrement
hrududu - tractor - or any other motor eg. car Plural: hrududil
Hyzenthlay - 'Shine-dew-fur' - the name of an Efrafan doe, meaning that her fur shines like dew
Inlé - the moon or moonrise, but it can also imply darkness, fear and death
lendri - badger
marli - doe or mother rabbit
m'saion - 'We meet them'
narn - pleasant or nice to eat
ni-Frith - 'high sun' - noon
Nildro-hain - 'blackbird's song - the name of a doe
Owsla - group of authoritative officers under the command of the chief rabbit. The strongest rabbits in a warren, the ruling clique. Commonly made of physically powerful rabbits of at least 2 years age, although some Owlsa also hold especially intelligent or crafty rabbits as well.
Owslafa - council police
pfeffa - a cat
sayn - groundsel
silf - outside ie. not underground
silflay - go above ground to feed
tharn - glazed and paralysed with shock, stupefied, distraught, hypnotized with fear. Depending on the context, it can also mean 'looking foolish' or 'heartbroken' or 'forlorn'
Thethuthinnang - 'movement of leaves' - the name of a doe
thlay - fur or hair
Thlayli - "Fur-head", used as a nickname (Bigwig)
threar - a rowan tree or mountain ash
the Threarah - chief rabbit in the Sandleford home warren "Lord Rowan Tree"
vair - to excrete or pass droppings
yona - a hedgehog. Plural: yonil
zorn - finished, destroyed, murdered. Denotes a catastrophe

Suffixes
-rah - A prince, ruler or chief rabbit - used to denote something beyond the ordinary.
-roo - A suffix used to denote a diminutive


message 2: by Bionic Jean (last edited Sep 02, 2016 06:43AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bionic Jean Extra Quotations: (which I wished to include, but did not have room for in my review)

"Look!" said Fiver suddenly, "That's the place for us, Hazel. High, lonely hills, where the wind and the sound carry and the ground's as dry as straw in a barn. That's where we ought to be. That's where we have to get to."

"Some elil wait for their prey, but the white owl is a seeker and he comes in silence"

"I can see!" replied Dandelion with a kind of excited joy. "Come and look! You can see the whole world!"


Captain Holly - "Although he decided on his own initiative to arrest Bigwig, he had not the reputation of being vindictive. He was, rather, a stander of no nonsense who knew when duty was done and did it himself. Sound, unassuming, conscientious, a bit lacking in the rabbit sense of mischief, he was something of the born second-in-command."

"I always think these traditional stories retain a lot of charm," said another one of the rabbits, "especially when they're told in the real, old-fashioned spirit."

"Yes," said Strawberry. "Conviction, that's what it needs. You really have to believe in El-ahrairah and Prince Rainbow, don't you? Then all the rest follows."


Fiver on the warren of snares - "They forgot the ways of wild rabbits.They forgot El-ahrairah, for what use had they for tricks and cunning, living in the enemy's warren and paying his price? They found out other marvellous arts to take the place of tricks and old stories. They danced in ceremonious greeting. They sang songs like the birds and made shapes on the walls, and thought these could help them not at all, yet they passed the time and enabled them to tell themselves that they were splendid fellows, the very flower of Rabbitry, cleverer than magpies."

"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."


Later on in the novel, "Hyzenthlay's song", by an oppressed doe in the fascist regime of Efrafa, communicates its message to all Hazel's group, where the beautiful but empty poems of the progressive warren could not. Here's the beginning,

"Long ago
The yellowhammer sang, high on the thorn.
He sang near a litter that the doe brought out to play,
He sang in the wind and the kittens played below.
Their time slipped by all under the elder bloom.
But the bird flew away and now my heart is dark
And time will never play in the fields again."

"Bigwig's strength, Fiver's insight, Blackberry's wits, Hazel's authority"

"Buckthorn - tough, sturdy fellow. Silver - quiet, straightforward fellow Hawkbit - slow, rather stupid rabbit"

"Afterwards, they all remembered how Bigwig had taken orders. No on could say that he did not practise what he preached."


Strawberry - from Cowslip's warren - designer and engineer
Bluebell - Captain Holly's sidekick - joker

“We do not take moonlight for granted. It is like snow, or like the dew on a July morning. It does not reveal but changes what it covers. And its low intensity - so much lower than that of daylight - makes us conscious that it is something added to the down, to give it, for only a little time, a singular and marvellous quality that we should admire while we can, for soon it will be gone again.”

“Bluebell had been saying that he knew the men hated us for raiding their crops and gardens and Toadflax answered, 'That wasn't why they destroyed the warren. They killed us to suit themselves.'”

"in the Honeycomb ... one of Dandelion's tales about El-ahrairah was followed by an extraordinary story, that left everyone mystified but fascinated, about a time when Frith had to go away on a journey, leaving the whole world to be covered with rain. But a man built a great floating hutch that held all the animals and birds until Frith returned and let them out."

"Hazel had acquired, in everyone's eyes, a kind of magical quality"

"How comforting to be a slug, among the dandelions so snug -
And feel the blackbird's sudden tug"

"There is nothing that cut you down to size like coming to some strange and marvellous place where no one even stops to notice that you stop to stare about you."

"General Woundwort was a singular rabbit...In combat he was terrifying, fighting entirely to kill, indifferent to any wounds he recived himself and closing with his adversaries until his weight overbore and exhausted them...Woundwort was ready to fight anything except a fox...He fought rats, magpies, grey squirrels and once, a crow."

"As he reached the clump of thistles where he had spoken to Kehaar that morning, a long roll of thunder sounded from across the valley beyond. A few great, warm drops of rain were falling. Along the western horizon the lower clouds formed a single, purple mass, against which distant trees stood out minute and sharp. The upper edges rose into the light, a far land of wild mountains. Copper-coloured, weightless and motionless, they suggested a glassy fragility like that of frost. Surely, when the thunder struck them again they would vibrate, tremble and shatter, till warm shards, sharp as icicles, fell flashing down from the ruins. Racing through the ochre light, Bigwig was impelled by a frenzy of tension and energy. He did not feel the wound in his shoulder. The storm was his own. The storm would defeat Efrafa."



Petra Great review, Jean!


Will Few books have entranced me as much as WD. Looking back, I credit WD to the formation of my strong feeling about environmental conservation. Your review reminded me why I love this book so much.


message 5: by Deanna (new)

Deanna Fantastic review, Jean!!!


message 6: by John (new)

John Frankham So loved it when it came out in 1972. One of those magical reads. Not sure a re-read could be half as good!

So agree with your summing up last paragraphs. Poetic myth, etc.


message 7: by Bionic Jean (last edited Sep 03, 2016 01:00PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bionic Jean Thank you so much for commenting Petra, Marita, Will, Deanna and John. I'm so pleased you enjoyed the reminders :)

John - I felt exactly the same hesitance before rereading, but immediately I became caught up in the spell with his evocative writing. It remains magical!


message 8: by John (new)

John Frankham Thanks, Jean: on my re-read list!


message 9: by Lynne (new) - added it

Lynne King Well Jean what a splendid review. You've really brought this super book to life. I only read it two years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it but couldn't get myself together to write a review on it.


Jenny Clark I absolutely loved this book, the rabbits were, as you said, so true to rabits and yet it was easy to sympathize with them. Bigwig's suposed final scene almost made me cry, and was one of Hazels best moments.


message 11: by Colleen (new) - added it

Colleen I need to read this one.


Melanie Fraser Wonderful review, Jean, about one of the most moving books and one that stays with you.


message 13: by Sara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sara This is the year that I re-read this book. I read it back in the 70s with a friend, and I can remember sitting up late talking about it in great detail and being swept up into the story and all the levels of meaning we could find there. Your review brought all of that back to me. Thank you.


message 14: by Hélène (new) - added it

Hélène Maybe our librarian (Maud) will choose it for the reading circle of La librairie du Quartier! Fingers crossed.


message 15: by Bionic Jean (last edited Dec 28, 2016 03:02AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Bionic Jean Thank you all for your kind comments :)

I am sharing this review again, in honour of the great writer Richard Adams, who sadly died yesterday at the great age of 96.


message 16: by John (new)

John Frankham Amen to that.


message 17: by Sara (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sara I'm glad he had a long life. His Girl in a Swing has been a favorite of mine for forever, The Plague Dogs was very good, and of course this one is now a modern classic.


Bionic Jean Reposting in honour of the author, who died just 2 days ago, aged 96.


``Laurie Henderson Beautiful review of one of my all time favorite books.


Linda Loved your review. Will be reading this for the first time in a few months in a book group. Can't wait! I just finished reading Animal Farm (also for the first time -- my exposure to Classics is sadly lacking), and I wonder if comparing some of the themes in the two books might be warranted? Is Watership also a political satire in the same vein?


message 21: by Praveen (new) - added it

Praveen Thanks for such a beautiful write up Jean! This book is n my list. Your review truly provides the essence of this book.


message 22: by Cindy (new)

Cindy Newton Fantastic review, Jean! I've never read this because I thought it was a middle-school book, but you have shown me the error of my ways. I need to rectify that this summer.


message 23: by Crumb (new)

Crumb Excellent review, Jean!


Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽ Great review of one of my favorite books!


Xan Shadowflutter Great review of one my most pleasurable reads.


Leila Now I know how to find your reviews with the ability for me to comment on them Jean, I remembered I wanted so much to tell you how I enjoyed this one. Watership Down was a book I read very many years ago and of course like lots of people young and old I watched the film too. At the time I truly didn't see what you saw in it, so what a revelation it was to learn so much of what I missed on my initial reading. I think this might probably be one of your finest reviews. I am looking forward to reading the book again. Thank you!


Jenny Clark Reading this review was a pleasure Jean! You write such lovely, informative reviews! I actually came here to say not just that but to ask if you have ever read the Redwall series? It is rather like a mix of this and The Wind In the Willows. It has the action of this, with the anthropomorphicness of Willows, and the simpler language of that as well. Just curious to see your thoughts on that series!


message 28: by Beth (new) - rated it 5 stars

Beth Watkins While I loved Watership Down, I loved The Plague Dogs even more.


message 29: by Emma (new) - rated it 5 stars

Emma Wow... what a thorough and well written review. This is one of my favourite books of all time and you’ve completely given it the justice it deserves. Brilliant review, thank you x


Spiderorchid Thank you for this lovely, in-debth review of one of my favourite books ( I re-read it every few years and it continues to be amazing ). And it is important to point out that it's not for little children - Personally, I'd recommend the book and the film for ages 12 and up with the parents there to explain the violence. As an adult, I've found new things to admire with every read, especially in the beautiful descriptions and the way Adams sets the mood of the scenes and how he fleshed out the large cast of characters.


Beverly Leila, one of my friends on here told me to read your review of a book that we both love and I have to say that your review is the best I have ever read on this forum. You summed up the book so well and pinpointed what makes it such a wonderful story. I am following you now if you don't mind.


Laura I remember exactly the moment this book came into my hands. Year 4 Junior school - I would have been 11, 1978. The teacher called across the classroom to take - that one I had my hand on - so I did. I think it formed the basis on my ongoing and continuing interest in Environment, animal protection, nature etc. It was a very powerful read and distinctly formed who I am now.


back to top