Scrolls reviews – Watership Down

Watership Down by Richard Adams (ISBN 9780380002931)

Why on earth review Watership Down on a respected Geek site of note?  I could stand accused of crimes against geekdown threatened with all manner of heinous punishments like a Smallville marathon or going to a convention in cosplay as Sean Connery from Zardoz (but that would be no fun for anybody.)

The case for the prosecution could no doubt bring such arguements to bear as

  1. Fluffy bunnies
  2. It’s a kid book
  3. It’s twee and/or quaint
  4. The dodgy kids telly cartoon (not the Movie – they wouldn’t dare)
  5. The quaint and perhaps consciously post war middle class English of the characters

However, united tribes, I am prepared to risk such punishment – and why?  Because Watership Down with it’s rabbits, hints of the hockey field and unfortunate adaptation is the best novel I have read for a VERY long time and as a result I feel almost evangelical about it.

Yes it’s about rabbits – rabbits whose every moment is shadowed by death.  This may have been written for kids but it’s a dark book.  And I know dark – I’ve read James Ellory novels that make you feel like showering after a chapter and watching HBO’s Rome for light relief.  They are prey and they know it – they are taught it from birth and survival is their game.

Adams skilfully lays out an entire alien culture for rabbits.  Not the neat analogies of nose bump star trek aliens of the week or the ham-fisted appendices of genealogies and histories of a Tolkien wannabe but a real vibrant alien culture.  This is done:

  • Through the Rabbit language which is used to illuminate their culture not strangle the flow.
  • Through their mythology which accurately shows their place and in the world and the skills they need to survive.
  • Though their senses – Adams avoid the sight centric descriptions you would use for a human novel.
  • Through their biology which with the exception of a rabbit tongue and fiver’s premonitions is true to real rabbits and shapes the characters priorities and interactions.
  • Through the different rabbit societies encountered showing the perils and pitfalls that exist in a man’s world and not only for rabbits. Questions of comfort, liberty and security raise their heads.

It’s a beautiful book that balanced between the yin of Hazel’s party’s adventure and the Yang of the stories they tell each other for their comfort on way races along.  The skilfully created characters of both the Hazel party and other creatures encountered deliver a book that breathes life on every page.

The book may have origins in tales Adams told his daughters.  Stories based on his survival as a Paratrooper behind enemy lines after ‘The Bridge Too Far.’  It makes his delivery of the rabbits-eye view understandable but no less impressive.

I have risked ridicule and humiliation to bring you this message Brothers and Sisters of the United Tribes of Geekdom – but do not mock until you have tried Watership Down.  I am confident many of you will be most pleasantly surprised by what you find.

5 out of 5

Review by Kehaar

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