I’ve been listening to the audiobook version of Richard Adams’s 1972 novel, Watership Down.
This is my third exposure to the story. I watched the animated version when I was a kid, back in the 1970s. Then, the summer after high school (1986), I read the book. This time around, I’m consuming it in bits and pieces, mostly listening as I perform other tasks. (Today I listened to about three hours of the book, while I cut two lawns.)
As you might guess, I like this story a lot. Although the characters are rabbits, this is primarily a story about human beings and human struggles, told through the eyes of anthropomorphic animals.
It occurred to me as I sat down to write this that my three exposures to Watership Down have occurred at very different and distinct phases of my life. When I watched the cartoon as a child, it struck me as a simple children’s adventure tale. I got a bit more from the book at age 18. This time, I’m seeing many more layers of meaning.
There is a reason why Watership Down is such a beloved book, for so many years. Read this novel, and you’ll find parts of yourself in Fiver, Hazel, Bigwig, and Holly. And who hasn’t known a General Woundwart or two?
(I’m pretty sure Adams intended Efrefa to be a metaphor for the Soviet Union, but I can’t be certain about that. And Adams (born 1920) is of that generation for which absolutist tyrants—Stalin, Hitler, Mussolini—loomed large.)
This is not Adams’s only book. He’s published a handful of other tales, including Maia and Shardik. But he’s best known for Watership Down.
Any criticisms? Well, yes; but they’re minor. Actually, I have only one.
There are numerous storytelling interludes in the book, in which rabbits tell stories of El-ahrairah, a mythical, semi-divine rabbit. For me, these asides (which didn’t have a direct impact on the main plot), occasionally grew just a bit long.
But then, I don’t like books that overindulge in so-called “world-building”. I like my stories lean and to the point. (That’s my preference, by the way, not an absolute law of storytelling.)
Will I ever revisit the world of Watership Down for a fourth time? Well, we’ll see—maybe when I’m eighty or ninety, if I live that long.
Should you read Watership Down if you’ve never read it? Yes, by all means. As I’ve mentioned, this is a very good book.