By Alia Khan
Watership Down by Richard Adams has been on my TBR for the longest time. I originally started reading it a few years ago but I lost the copy while I was part way through and I never picked it up again. Then, while I was unpacking my boxes in my new apartment, I found it again! I guess it must have been on my bookshelf this whole time and it just blended in. So I finally decided to read last month and share my thoughts with everyone.
Here’s the story (from Goodreads):
Set in England’s Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of friends, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society.
The author originally wrote it as a children’s novel, although a lot of people would argue it contains some intense literary themes (the dangers of trying to create a utopia, power and corruption, and humans versus nature). I really enjoyed the story from start to finish, plus it makes for a great summer read. It essentially follows the story of a few rabbits, the main ones being Hazel, Fiver, and Bigwig, trying to find a new home after leaving their old warren.
Adams created an entire rabbit culture, without getting to bogged down with the details. As the reader, you don’t need to learn new made up words, as you normally would in any high fantasy book, instead it’s just a few terms that Adams explains very well in the context of the book. One thing to note, he does use footnotes pretty liberally, so sometimes it can feel like you’re reading a textbook. In general though, it avoids most of the pitfalls of trying to read a “classic” novel.
My favourite part of the novel is the story withing the story. Rabbits love to tell tales and most of them involve El-ahrairah, the prince of rabbits. There are chapters in the book that solely tell various adventures of El-ahrairah and how he outwits his enemies. The last story about him in particular gave me chills (but I won’t spoil it here) and if there was ever a book just about this rabbit, the Prince with a Thousand Enemies, I would pick it up in an instant! I love how they tied his story in with Hazel and his friends. It also made the rabbit culture more vibrant and detailed, without the book becoming a huge info dump.
“You know how you let yourself think that everything will be all right if you can only get to a certain place or do a certain thing. But when you get there you find it’s not that simple.”
It was also interesting to see the rabbits interact with man-made things. Sometimes it was very obvious to them that it was made by humans, but other times they would think it was a strange part of nature. Some things we define seem so natural to us (such as roads or the ocean) but are completely foreign to a rabbit, to whom a pond could seem just as big as an ocean. It also painted humans in a negative light (no surprise there) considering the fear rabbits have of hunters, or of being cooped up in a farm. These parts always made me feel sad (which, I think might have been the point) because so often our relationship with other animals ends in violence.
The book is fairly easy to read but it can be dense at times. I also think this is one of the few stories where you’re not too sure how it’s going to end or who’s going to be there by the end of it. There were a lot of twists in the story that I didn’t predict at all! It was refreshing to read, especially this year when I feel like I haven’t read too many good books. Overall, I gave it a 4/5 stars.
You can check it out here.