Gavin F (gavluvsga) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Gavin F
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Book #14: Watership Down by Richard Adams



Number of pages: 478

I absolutely loved this book and the movie based on it when I was a kid; I just couldn't get enough of this, and I absolutely loved the characters (mostly Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and Kehaar the seagull).

It starts off as a story about rabbits escaping from their warren to escape an impending disaster that Fiver sees in a vision, and turns into a story of rabbit politics as the rabbits realise that they have no does (females), and so won't be able to mate.

The story has some very light-hearted and cheerful moments, but becomes very dark and shocking at times, particularly in a flashback sequence where the destruction of the warren by humans is recounted by one of the survivors (although the book never manages to be quite as dark as the movie).

I loved the fact that the book described rabbits having human-like systems in their warrens, which are mostly run by a chief rabbit and a band of "Owsla" (similar to security guards). The book also portrays warrens run in different ways, with two warrens that show different extremes. Cowslip's Warren, shown early on in the book, almost feels like a communist state or a hippy commune, with rabbits treating each other as equals, while being provided for by humans; but of course it harbours a dark secret, which I won't give away here. On the other hand, Efrafa is an oppressive warren run by the dictatorial General Woundwort, where rabbits are not allowed to escape due to the strict security regulations.

I like the fact that the rabbits are given their own (fictional) language, which is used occasionally and their own systems for how they behave throughout the book, and I got the sense that Richard Adams had researched rabbit behaviour considerably, as well as the geography of the area in South-West England where the action takes place, allowing him to give detailed descriptions of many of the locations.

The rabbits are even given their own belief system, with the first rabbit, El-ahrair-rah, given an almost Jesus-like image. He features in the rabbits' story of creation, told early on in the book, and four futher adventures that could come from the tales of Brer Rabbit (or even Robin Hood). Most of these are quite light in tone, with the exception of the story in part three that tells of El-ahrair-rah meeting the Black Rabbit of Inle (basically, the rabbit grim reaper), to bargain for the lives of his rabbits. It occurred to me on this read-through that Richard Adams seems to have placed these stories deliberately adjacent to events in the main narrative that almost echo El-hrair-rah's adventures.

Overall, this is a really good book. Although the narrative does occasionally go off on tangents where rabbit behaviour is discussed, and Richard Adams occasionally starts talking about classical mythology, I loved the characterisation of the rabbits, and there was a noticeable message in the book about how humans treat animals (gassing them in one chapter, and shooting one of the main characters in another). There are a few perspective switches, and it even manages to make General Woundwort seem more three-dimensional (especially when you learn of his childhood). There is also a chapter told from the point of view of humans, which mostly serves as a reminder than not every person on the planet just wants to commit acts of animal cruelty or kill every animal that gets in their way.

Richard Adams also wrote a sequel, Tales from Watership Down, more recently, and I intend to read this again soon.

Next book: The X-Files: Year Zero (Karl Kesel, Greg Scott, Vic Malhotra)
Tags: animals, british, fiction, nature
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