Monday, June 15, 2009

Watership Down: Richard Adams

Watership Down is another one of those books on my "must read" list. It is often alluded to, and even shows up on many canon lists. I expected to pick up a piece of epic literature; a novel that would change my view of the world, or at least make me think about it.

Obviously, I was unaware that it was about rabbits.

This is not a novel about a sinking ship. It is, in some ways, a novel about war, but mostly, it's a novel about rabbits. Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, and all of the other rabbits are in hot pursuit of freedom. The novel is broken into four parts relative to the various parts of their journey. The rabbits leave their home warren to find a new home where they are free to be wild rabbits. Then comes the segment where they must intrude on a neighboring warren to steal away some females so as to propogate. There, they run into some trouble and it becomes a bit of a war story. But have no fear, there is a happy ending. Because after all, this is a children's story.

Yes, you read that right--it's a children's story. Richard Adams wrote this novel much like Rowling wrote Harry Potter--as bedtime stories for his kids. As a lit person, I have been well trained to look for the allegory in every story. I look for hidden meaning in subtle symbols. About halfway through Watership Down I found myself floudering, unable to explain what the story was really about. So I did some research and found an interview with Adams in which he explains that the book was comprised of just a bunch of stories he told to his kids. He did mention that he may have woven stories of his own military experience into the story. But ultimately, it was just stories for his little girls.

The book has never been out of publication, and has been made into a movie (a cartoon). Would I recommend it? Sure--read it to your kids!


  1. Interesting. I am reading Watership Down. My son recommended it to me and he's an extremely critical reader, so I am trying to find what the story is really about! Your assessment helps! Now that I know it was written for Adam's children, I'll stop trying so hard! Great post!

  2. Hey Pom Pom, thanks for reading! I tried so hard to figure out what the story was really about and why I was supposed to invest so much interest, until I finally had to go somewhere to find some criticism on the work so that I knew what it was I was supposed to be seeing. I read somewhere (not sure of the cite now, but I remember reading it!) that Adams says some of the experiences of the rabbits are based on experiences of his and his war buddies. So I suppose a great allegory could be made for war, but I think it's a reach. I think you have to be working at it on that one.

  3. where did you find the interview?