This is the famous story of some rabbits who, warned by a prophecy, leave their warren shortly before it encounters disaster to set up a new warren on Watership Down. Then they try to find does. In their adventures they encounter dogs, cats and foxes; and they meet rabbits who are fed and harvested by humans; pet rabbits; and rabbits in a warren run by a military dictator.
What a strange book! Although marketed as a children's book and about bunnies it pulls no punches. The prose is not easy, the paragraphs are long. Every chapter is introduced with a quote; the quotes start with Aeschylus and include Xenophon, Yeats, Tennyson, Blake, Clausewitz, a company prospectus from the South Sea Bubble, Plato, Congreve, Shakespeare and many more. I cannot imagine the typical child buying the book; I can imagine middle-class mothers buying it for their children.
As Tolkien did with Elvish, Adams invents Lapine, with words like silflay (to eat?) to hraka (rabbit poo) and pfeffah-rah (king of cats). They rabbits also have a rich folk-lore; Adams recounts some of their myths. He also requires his rabbits to communicate with other creatures and so he invents a rather comical lingua franca. When Kehaar the gull talks he speaks with French vowels, (Meester 'Azel), German and Welsh consonants (v for w and p for b) and the odd lapse into Jamaican patois. (It is rather difficult to talk Kehaar seriously.)
There are clear sub-texts to the work. Wild creatures should be allowed to wander where they will, and feed and defecate when they will. Nature is beautiful and should be enjoyed. Building is bad. Animals, and by extension humans, should be free.
On the whole I enjoyed the book. I stopped in the middle and it took sometime before I got started again (during which break I read two different books) but this is almost because the book itself is in two halves: first the escape to Watership Down and second the quest to find the does.
And it is a quest. Adams, I think deliberately, weaves the classical quotes and the strange language and the folk-tales of the rabbits themselves into the great Ur-myth of the warren. It is a little like Virgil's story of the founding of Rome by the refugees from Troy followed by the Rape of the Sabine Women.
I don't think this is a children's book at all. It is written for adults but, because it is about bunnies, it had to be marketed for kids.
Mostly enjoyable, April 2013; 478 pages
- I live in Bedford, England. Having retired from teaching; I am now a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Threshold Concepts in the context of A-level Physics. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. I have also recently become a keen playgoer to London Fringe Theatre. I enjoy mostly classics and I read the playscripts and add those to the blog. I am a member of Bedford Writers' Circle. See their website here: http://bedford-writers.co.uk/ Follow me on twitter: @daja57