a review of Watership Down by Richard Adams

It’s been a while.  I’m still around, and I’m still reading.  I did finally finish Watership Down, and I started reading The Lonesome Gods.  I haven’t written a review of Watership Down because I just don’t feel strongly about it one way or the other.  I know that for many people, this book holds a great deal of meaning, and it is well loved.  I don’t want to write a bland review for a book that is held in such high esteem, so I have put it off.

watership down

my personal copy
first Avon printing, April 1975

For those unfamiliar with the story, Watership Down is about a group of rabbits who embark on a perilous and exciting quest to find a new home.  They leave their home warren because of the warning of a rabbit named Fiver, who possesses a sense of impending danger that might be called clairvoyance.  A small number of rabbits believe his vision of disaster, and Fiver’s brother, Hazel, leads them all away from everything and everyone they know, without a concrete plan or destination.

There are some who seem to see this novel as one big allegory, who say that those who love the book are those who know that it is about much more than just rabbits on a journey.  I can see that there are deeper messages, that there is meaning beneath many of the events and the choices the rabbits make.  A rabbit named Dandelion is the group’s chosen storyteller, and he retells the myths of a legendary rabbit who stands for many of the principles that these animals embrace.

One does not need to dig very deep to find the morals of cleverness and fairness, freedom and cooperation in those old tales or in the main plot.  To me, however, the book is largely a story of mismatched individuals who find a common cause and risk it all to pursue their goal, and it is an action-packed adventure.

Though entertaining, the book was a touch too plot-driven for my personal tastes.  Whenever I thought the rabbits had succeeded in their aim, some new antagonist would enter the scene or some new scheme would be contrived.  There was always more menace and bravery to be had, with little down-time in between.  Some people love that type of book, but it was too epic for me.

On several occasions, I thought that the story seemed to be over, but I could clearly see that there were too many pages left unread for that to be the case.  After the second time I was fooled, the story began to drag on for me.  I was ready for it to be done, but the author had other ideas.  While I was reading, I felt that the book could have ended much earlier than it did, and those adventures that occurred after the rabbits had found their forever home could have been made into a sequel or two.

By the time I reached the end of the book, I could see why Mr. Adams continued on the way he did.  He left no loose ends, no question of how things would go.  Any foreseeable problems had been tackled and conquered.  I appreciate that commitment to thoroughness.

Watership Down did not have any profound effect on me, but it was a very good story.  While I won’t be counting it among my favorites, it’s clear that the affection so many people have for it is well deserved and earned.


About Elizabeth M. Lee

I love to read, write, and take nature photos. I do other stuff, too.
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