My dad used to read to me and my brother almost every night before bed, and those nights are some of my favorite childhood memories. Many of the books we read together have stuck with me through the intervening years, but I have particularly fond memories of listening to him read Watership Down. 25 years later, I can still remember the feeling of being completely absorbed in the story. I was so enthralled that, when he had to go on a business trip before we finished the book, I got it down from the shelf and sounded the words out myself because I just couldn't wait until he got back to find out what happened. Watership Down, along with my dad, gets the credit for teaching me to read, turning me into a bookworm, and all my subsequent bookish career and life choices. All of this made me afraid to reread it. I'm always scared to reread childhood favorites and revisiting this one felt particularly daunting. What if it isn't as magical as I remember? What if it's dated or problematic, or just doesn't live up to my memory of it? I shouldn't have worried. I finally read it again this past year and I can tell you that it is one of those rare books that is just timeless. At five, it was an epic adventure story about bunnies. At 30, it is a remarkably deep epic adventure story about bunnies and (49-year-old spoiler) Hazel's passing still makes me cry. Recommended By Emily B., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
One of the most acclaimed, best-loved novels of the 20th century, here is the remarkable epic adventure of courage and survival, as a hardy band of rabbits flee the destruction of their fragile community to face overwhelming adversity in pursuit of a glorious dream called "home".
"A Classic....A great book." Los Angeles Times
"Published by arrangement with Macmillan ..".--T.p. verso.
"'That's the place for us.... High, lonely hills, where the wind and the sound carry and the ground's as dry as straw in a barn.... That's where we have to get to." -from "Watership Down Note to Teachers "Watership Down had its beginnings in a series of tales Richard Adams told his two daughters to pass the time on lengthy car trips. Adams spent two years writing the novel, which was then rejected by several publishers before being accepted by Rex Collings, a small London-based publisher. With an initial printing of 2,000 copies in 1972, Watership Down met with critical acclaim in England. The book then went on to become an international bestseller, a story read by adults and children alike. Adams is the author of several other novels and volumes of poetry, including "Tales from Watership Down, the much-anticipated follow-up to his first novel.
The seeds for the rabbit epic were sown many years before Adams began reciting tales to his daughters. In his autobiography "A Day Gone By, he talks of the English countryside in which he grew up and still resides, which provided the setting for the rabbits' adventures in "Watership Down. He describes rabbits and kestrel, and a landscape filled with flowers and trees -- such as Cowslip and Bluebell Wood -- that inspired the names of some of the characters. Also in "A Day Gone By, Adams, who spent five years in the army in the 1940s, speaks of the officers in his company as having an "importance to this book, since later, from my memory, they provided the idea for Hazel and his rabbits.... Certainly the idea of the wandering, endangered and interdependent band, individually different yet mutually reliant, came from my experience of thecompany."
A number of elements combine to make Watership Down an intensely compelling novel. There is an interesting, diverse cast of characters that come to life and have the reader rooting for them during their long journey. There is a gripping narrative fueled by a fast pace and filled with life-or-death situations. There is a fascinating glimpse into the mysterious world of rabbits, for which Adams drew upon R.M. Lockley's "The Private Life of the Rabbit to ensure the authenticity of rabbit behavior. And there is the breadth of imagination that gives the rabbits the power of speech and allows the reader to identify with the challenges they confront.
From the first pages of "Watership Down, the reader is drawn into the story. Sensing danger approaching their warren, Hazel and his brother Fiver gather together a small band of rabbits and go in search of a new home. Guided by Hazel's leadership, Fiver's visions, and Bigwig's might, the rabbits encounter danger at every turn as they travel across the English countryside. They cross a river, fight battles, elude foxes and other dangerous animals, and rescue rabbits from captivity. By the novel's end, they have come on much more than just a physical journey.
"Watership Down creates a world where the heroes are rabbits, where the weapons are claws and cunning, where survival depends on trust, and where good ultimately prevails over evil. It is an allegorical fable and an exciting adventure tale. It is a story about tolerance and acceptance, the value of friendship, strength of spirit, courage in the face of adversity, and the desire and resilience to pursue a dream. All you have to do is open your mind to the possibilities. Andso the journey begins... Questions for Class Discussion "Rabbits (say Mr. Lockley) are like human beings in many ways. One of these is certainly their staunch ability to withstand disaster and to let the stream of their life carry them along, past reaches of terror and loss" (p. 73). In what others ways does the book illustrate how rabbits are similar to humans? What was your perception of and knowledge about rabbits and their behavior prior to reading Watership Down? Has your view changed in any way since reading this story? In the Sandleford warren, much emphasis was placed on hierarchy. The stronger rabbits were generally the ones in positions of power such as the Owsla. However, despite the fact that he is not the strongest rabbit in his group, Hazel becomes the Chief Rabbit. How does this come about? What leadership qualities does Hazel exhibit? When they first leave the Sandleford warren, Hazel has misgivings about Bigwig. "'Wherever we're settled in the end, ' thought Hazel, 'I'm determined to see that Pipkin and Fiver aren't sat on and cuffed around until they're ready to run any risk just to get away. But is Bigwig going to see it like that?'" (p. 34). Why does Hazel change his mind concerning Bigwig and come to view him as a trusted friend? Could the rabbits have successfully made the journey without Bigwig? When the rabbits happen upon Cowslip's warren, everything seems perfect-plenty of good food to eat, no dangerous animals to evade. Fiver is the only one who is afraid and senses something terrible about the place and its inhabitants. Why are the others, including Hazel, so quick to believe that it is truly as idyllic as it seems? Therabbits in Cowslip's warren are willing to sacrifice their freedom and risk death in exchange for a warm, dry place to live and a constant supply of food. Cowslip tells Buckthorn that rabbits need "the will to accept their fate" (p. 114). Why do Hazel and his group of rabbits refuse to accept this way of life? Why does Cowslip later instigate an attack on Captain Holly and Bluebell and kill their companion? When Silverweed, a rabbit in Cowslip's warren, recites a poem, Fiver's reaction is one of terror. "Fiver, as he listened, had shown a mixture of intense absorption and incredulous horror. At one and the same time he seemed to accept every word and yet to be stricken with fear" (p. 116). Why is Fiver afraid of Silverweed? What meaning did he construe from the poem that caused this reaction? Hazel makes friends with the bird, Kehaar, and with the field mouse despite the objections and skepticism of the other rabbits. Both of the animals, in particular Kehaar, later play an integral part in helping the rabbits preserve Watership Down as their home. What is Richard Adams' message here? Would the outcome for the rabbits have been different if Hazel had not befriended these animals? A vision in which Fiver foresees the destruction of the Sandleford warren is the catalyst that propels the rabbits to go in search of a new home. What role does Fiver-and in particular his visions-play throughout the journey? What does the bird Kehaar, who travels great distances to and from the ocean, mean when he says that "Fiver was one who had traveled a good deal further than he had himself" (p. 263)? When referring to the need for the rabbits, who are all bucks, to digburrows at Watership Down, Blackberry says, "There's nothing to stop us having them, except that buck rabbits won't dig. Not can't-won't.... I'm quite sure, myself, that if we don't change our natural ways we shan't be able to stay here much longer. Somewhere else perhaps; but not here" (p. 145). In what other instances do the rabbits expand beyond their natural instincts and behaviors to overcome a challenging or unfamiliar situation? What other setbacks do the rabbits experience on their journey? Describe one of their challenges and how they overcome it. 11. with the does-it could be supposed that Woundwort is defending his territory. However, the second battle General Woundwort wages is a premeditated attack on Watership Down with the intent to kill the rabbits or force them to return to Efrafa. After rejecting Hazel's proposal of peace, Woundwort says, "We are g