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51 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The greatest book and film ever written.
"The primroses were over. Towards the edge of the wood, where the ground became open..." - Richard Adams, Watership Down.
The title about says it all. I have cried at this book more often than I can remember; I get a shiver up my spine just hearing those opening words. I currently have four copies of the book, in varying states of disrepair, and on VHS video and...
Published on 11 May 2004 by grumpyfisherman

versus
7 of 53 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars poor
It's classed as a children's book, but I would doubt children (of a very young age) could really read this. I had some problems with the dialogue of some characters, which I found to be very off-putting and jarring at times. I didn't like this book - it's a classic, sure, but the narration was too detached for my tastes and there was far too much description. I did...
Published on 9 Sept. 2006 by xenofan


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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome to the amazingly complex world of rabbits, 25 July 2013
This review is from: Watership Down (Paperback)
I will never look at rabbits in the same way again. This is perhaps the greatest achievement of Watership Down. Richard Adams has created a world in which rabbits, those small furry and scared animals you see on dewy mornings walking your dog, are brought to life in an amazing way.
Watership Down tells the story of a small group of rabbits that need to leave their original burrow as the field on which it lies is being developed by humans. Although this truly is the synopsis, it isn't what the book is about. Watership Down is about the rabbits themselves, a long story about what it is like to be a rabbit, governed by fear of everything, the thousand enemies that surround you at all time, the limits of your world and how to deal with that. Adams' achievement lies in the fact that although this all may seem rather far fetched, there is not a moment when during the reading of this book I thought it was going to far, the narrative never felt like a stretch.
Quite the opposite, I was connected to those rabbits and that is in no small part due to the intricate web of stories they tell each other, the mythology they breathe to life when they are basking in the sun or are seeking comfort huddled together in their burrow. The rabbit world is deep and complex, yet at the same time Adams knows where he needs to stay close to the reality of his subject. Breeding, buck/doe hierarchy, perception of threats, feeding habits, these are some of the boundaries within which the author weaves his tale and it works well to allow the reader a suspension of disbelief.
I loved this book. The characters are vivid and interesting, the story is simple but works as a framework for the development of characters and the lapine-world, the mythology is a great piece of writing as the rabbit universe feels like that of a not yet discovered tribe of people rather than the something out of La Fontaine. However, the thing that struck me with awe was the way in which a journey across 5 miles of terrain feels like an Epic. This again is due to the fact that the reader is so immersed in the rabbit's world that every yard, every snare is felt as a true challenge to be met and overcome.
Everybody knows the film, yet please read this book as well. To my mind, it is much better and less dramatic.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining & Fun Adventure Story about Rabbits, 25 April 2012
By 
My first ever introduction to the story of "Watership Down" was when I was about 8 or 9 and my school headmaster discussed the movie version that had recently been on TV. To be honest, the only part of the discussion that remained in my memory was how he said it was about rabbits and it had led to him having tears in his eyes. As a young boy I therefore straight away decided that there was no way I was going to watch a movie or read a book about rabbits that made some people cry, it just wasn't manly. However, now at the tender age of 31 I have decided that I should embrace a little bit of my softer side and read "Watership Down" as part of a 2012 Classic Fantasy Books challenge.

The story itself begins with a small rabbit named Fiver having a premonition about death and destruction coming to the warren. His brother, Hazel decides to believe in Fiver's premonition and therefore leads a small group of rabbits out into the wider world in the hope of finding a new, safer place to call home. The journey to their new warren is fraught with dangers and adventures but the real struggle comes later once they have built their new warren on Watership Down. For the rabbits are all male and therefore they must find a way to bring female rabbits into the warren to ensure they grow and remain happy. This need to bring in new rabbits leads to dangerous confrontations with humans, predators and a dictatorial rabbit that rules another warren with an iron paw.

As seen in the details above, the story is basically about a group of rabbits, there is no denying that but as long as you accept this basic premise you should find the book to be a really enjoyable adventure. The world Adams has created is rich, deep and whilst the novel does start off at quite a slow and leisurely pace, it builds up wonderfully to a tense and engaging final confrontation before providing a meaningful and emotional ending.

One aspect of the novel that I really liked was that unlike most anthropomorphic animal stories, the rabbits and other animals in this novel actually continued to behave like animals. None of them were dressed in clothing, cooked or built little houses with furniture and it really felt like Adams had actually put some research into the behaviour and foibles of rabbits. All of this just made the story feel a little bit more believable and realistic as an adventure that these creatures would really undertake if they actually had the intelligence required.

However, Adams has also managed to give each creature their own individual personality in a manner that a reader can actually relate to even though they are animals. This helped to ensure the story was enjoyable and entertaining as the reader can actually cheer on and support the rabbits as they attempted to secure a better future for themselves. In particular I loved the rabbit character known as Bigwig. At first he comes across as being a rather simple tough, brute of a rabbit, but as the story progresses he is developed really well and his honour, loyalty, courage and strength really come to the fore. Each of the characters really grow as the story progresses which adds to the storytelling.

Overall, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this novel; it was fun, engaging and full of entertaining adventures. The whole story is cleverly told and personally I am now glad that I have finally read this classic story. I feel that anyone normally interesting in anthropomorphic animal novels should definitely give this one a whirl. However, for those of you who don't normally read that type of novel, don't be put off by the rabbits premise, the characters should be engaging enough despite this to ensure most people will finish this book with a smile on their face.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional, 27 Nov. 2005
By 
This review is from: Watership Down (Paperback)
This is billed as a book for children, and it is, but I also enjoyed it immensely when I re-read it (I'm in my 20's).
Richard Adam's does any amazing job with this book of both accurately depiciting rabbit behaviour and at the same time adding a rich and well-thought out mythology to the rabbits that fits in with their behaviour. All this serves to bring the characters he writes about to life.
Having such feeling for his characters really makes you invest in them throughout the book and you get sucked into their world. This makes all the trials they go through all the more tense for the reader because this book is a fantastic adventure story.
It has a terrifying villan in the shape of General Woundwort and two (or three) spectacular heroes in the shape of Hazel and Bigwig. They show bravery and courage in spades to fight against the General and there are two sequences in particular (the escape and the final showdown) where you will not be able to put the book down. The ending is also fantastic.
This is one childhood book that I have been happy to display on my book shelves along with all my history and literature because it is a masterpiece of story-telling, at times uplifting, scary, and heartbreaking.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An all-time favourite, 2 April 2010
By 
Helen S - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
This review is from: Watership Down (Paperback)
I first read Watership Down when I was about 10 years old. It immediately became my favourite book and I've re-read it many times over the years. I know some people may consider a book about talking rabbits to be silly and childish, but Watership Down is not really a 'children's book'. It's one of those books that can be enjoyed on different levels by people of all ages. In fact, the writing style and vocabulary used in this book is of a higher standard than many 'adult' books. It's also not just 'a book about rabbits' - it's a book about friendship, leadership, freedom, adventure, happiness, sadness and so much more.

Hazel and his brother Fiver are two young rabbits living in the peaceful Sandleford Warren. When Fiver has a premonition that the warren is going to be destroyed, he convinces Hazel and several of their friends to embark on an epic journey to find a new home. During their search for Fiver's 'safe, high place', they encounter a number of problems and dangers including humans, predators and even other rabbits. The biggest obstacle of all, however, comes with the realisation that as the group consists solely of male rabbits, they urgently need to find some females - this leads to a daring attempt to rescue some does from the overcrowded enemy warren of Efrafa...

Hazel and his friends are not cute little bunnies. They are intelligent, resourceful animals capable of solving almost any problem that is thrown at them. When faced with having to cross a river, for example, they observe that a plank of wood is floating on the surface of the water and they figure out how to use it as a raft. The rabbits are given such human thoughts and emotions that you can easily forget they're actually not human! However, from a physical and behavioural point of view, they always behave like real wild rabbits. They each have their own individual personality - Hazel is the leader, Fiver the sensitive prophet, Bigwig the fighter, Blackberry the brains, Dandelion the storyteller, Bluebell the clown, and so on. This allows every reader to identify with at least one rabbit and to choose a favourite.

One of the things I love about this book is the way Richard Adams has created an entire rabbit world. This includes: (i) A rabbit language, known as Lapine. Even before I began my re-read of the book, I could still remember that hrududu is the Lapine word for car, that a lendri is a badger, and Elil means enemies. (ii) A rabbit religion. Rabbits are taught that Frith created the world and is represented by the sun. Inle is the word for moon, and the Black Rabbit of Inle is a grim reaper-type character who appears when a rabbit is about to die. (iii) Rabbit folklore. The rabbits love to listen to stories about their hero, the legendary El-ahrairah, 'the Prince with a Thousand Enemies'.

I think the author's wonderfully detailed descriptions of the English countryside also deserve a special mention. As almost all of the places he writes about - the farms, hills, valleys and meadows - are places that really exist, it would be possible to follow the rabbits' journey on a map or even to visit them yourself.

So, do I still enjoy this book as much as I did when I was 10? Yes, of course I do! No matter how many other books I read, Watership Down will always hold a special place in my heart.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic tale never to be forgotten, 27 April 2007
By 
M.D. Smart (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: Watership Down (Paperback)
It's unbelievable that one misguided individual has actually taken the time to write five negative reviews about this book (they are quite obviously by the same person as their content is virtually identical). That particular reader attacks the book for having a "low reading level" yet the reviews themselves are full of mistakes and non-sequiters... The same person calls the book "too cute"; anyone who has actually read and understood the book will agree that one of the most remarkable things about it is the way the rabbits and other animals are always true to their nature, and there is a marked absense of anything 'cute' - in fact the book is decidedly harrowing in parts. To compare this book with 'Animal Farm' is pointless; Orwell's tale is a political allegory that happens to feature animals, whereas this is told from an animal's perspective (although there are some political allusions). Not only is it a wonderfully imagined rabbit's-eye view of the world, it's also an exciting adventure, a moving plea for compassion in our treatment of animals and the environment and a classic tale of freedom versus oppression. The prose is excellent, far better than anything Tolkien or CS Lewis ever produced, and the book can be enjoyed by older children and adults alike. In the 'Seventies Watership Down was an absolute phenomenon, selling well over 30 million copies worldwide. It's a great pity that it no longer recieves the public attention it so richly deserves. Adams's other animal fiction - Shardik, The Plague Dogs and Traveller, all of which are aimed more directly at adults - are also worth seeking out, but this remains his finest work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars hazel luther king, 17 April 2010
this book is an old favourite. I first read it when I was about 9, and have read it many times since. Still got my original copy, held together with sellotape! It's a rollicking good story, with plenty of 'den-den-denn!' moments - I can still remember how wide-eyed I was, reading 'It was Captain Holly of the Sandleford Owsla' for the first time. It's beautifully written, and I can never get over the imagination of it, and the detail of it. Adams has a real gift for personifying these rabbits without descending into making them cutesy Beatrix Potter types . They're all very real characters, from the blokey Bigwig to the peevish Hawkbit, not to mention the seriously annoying Bluebell. I made the mistake recently of (finally) watching a couple of minutes of the film, and now picture Fiver with Richard Briers' face, but hopefully that will fade. It's a classic example of a kids' book that adults can enjoy too, and one I will always return to.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very good read, 2 Jun. 2011
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This is now a classix, and rightly so as it is a compulsive and vastly entertaining book.
Adams creates a completely believable world of talking rabbits, so much so that you come to think of them as almost human in intelligence and personality. The prose is both simplistic and elegant and its clear why this book is loved by so many, young and old alike.
The story follows the journey of a band of rabbits who leave their warren when one of them has a premonition that forebodes terrible events will come to pass. They set off on a, waht could be called, epic adventure to find a new place to live. On the way they encounter many dangers and perils. Adams weaves a finely crafted and inspirational tale where he creates a highyly detailed and believable world, his gift of storytelling is virtually incomporable.
Read it! Don't hesitate because this is one book you should definitely read before you die.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "A true masterpiece", 4 Dec. 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Watership Down (Paperback)
From the moment I began reading this book I was transfixed, and could not put it down. The trials and tribulations are depicted by Adams with amazing detail and preceision, and although anthropomorphism is obviously used, the rabbits still possess their "bunny like" qualities which is so important in a novel designed to pull our heart strings. Perhaps this book is so amazing as it appeals to all ages and all types of people- we can relate to the rabbits as we never would have imagined possible before. I recommend this book to everyone, everywhere. Don't be put off thinking this is a childrens' novel, I know many who, at mature ages, continue to re-read this book over and over again. I can honestly state that this book is a true masterpiece by Adams. Possibly the best novel ever written.-Joanna Lupa
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Savagely Beautiful, 16 May 2006
By 
Miss H. L. Matthews (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Like most other people, I read the book after seeing the cartoon film version of it. The film had terrified me within the first five minutes, and the book was no different. This is very far from your average children's story, almost like an angst ridden teenage descendant of the Beatrix Potter books. Beautifully written with amazing character development, you almost find yourself forgetting that the main characters are rabbits. All of the main rabbits have their own distinctive personality, and it's up to you to choose your favourite; whether it's defiant Bigwig, passionate Fiver, cute, nervous Pipkin, brave Hyzenthlay, or my own personal favourite, practical Hazel. This book is worth any amount of money for the endless pleasure it gives.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Oh, Frith on the hills! He made it all for us!", 5 Sept. 2013
By 
This review is from: Watership Down (Paperback)
The following is designed to be read by people who have already read the book - more of a retrospective appreciation than a review - so WATCH OUT FOR SPOILERS!

Watership Down: the amazing rabbit Odyssey from the 1970s, and yes, it works. How shall I count the myriad pleasures this book has given me in the intervening years? The heart-in-the-mouth story-telling power, to begin with, as one exciting climax is piled on to another. When I first read it, my favourite character by far was the dashing Bigwig, and my favourite chapters were the ones in which, like some World War II secret agent, he infiltrated the hostile warren of Efrafa to arrange the does' escape. I still think this section is a masterclass in how to tell a story: the mind-bending claustrophobia, the lowering threat, the way in which the best-laid plans go astray and have to be replaced by inspired improvisation, the apparently hopeless last stand and last-minute rescue ... brilliant! On growing up, however, one learns to appreciate the organizing genius alongside the lone hero. Hazel's steep learning curve as he cajoles and co-ordinates his motley crew of rabbits, suiting his tactics to their characters, and finally becomes their recognised chief, is absorbingly depicted. The third of the leading trio, Fiver, I'm not quite so sure about. I always found his prophetic visions a tiny bit contrived: whether any modern, rational writer can really `do' mysticism is moot. But in the narrative context these doubts are easily swept away.

The in-depth descriptions of the natural world seem to hold up the action at first, but on further readings are relished as providing the solid underpinning of reality for this apparently whimsical tale. The epigraphs from poetry and prose that open every chapter are a joy in themselves, incredibly well chosen, and anchor the book without pretension in the great sea of literature. For instance the Threarah, a one-rabbit distillation of the Establishment, whose equivocal leadership is wholly inadequate to the challenge he faces, is introduced with lines from Henry Vaughan's Eternity that are almost more telling in this context than in the great original poem:

`The darksome statesman, hung with weights and woe,
Like a thick midnight-fog, moved there so slow,
He did not stay, or go.'

The gem-like stories within the story, the rabbits' creation myth and legends of their folk hero, El-ahrairah, the Prince with a Thousand Enemies, are endlessly apt and resonant, ranging from uproariously funny to deeply serious, as when El-ahrairah confronts the `Black Rabbit of Inlé', the embodiment of death:

`The Black Rabbit drew his claws along the floor.
`"Bargains, bargains, El-ahrairah," he said. "There is not a day or a night but a doe offers her life for her kittens, or some honest captain of Owsla his life for his Chief Rabbit's. Sometimes it is taken, sometimes it is not. But there is no bargain, for here, what is, is what must be."'

And now the pleasure has been multiplied by being able to read the book aloud to my own children and see its language pass into family parlance - especially the bits that convey the rabbits' touching conviction of their own centrality in the universe, the `Great Indestructibility of the Rabbits'. `You must realise, Lord Frith, how important they are and not interfere with their beautiful lives.' `Oh, Frith on the hills! He made it all for us!' And the ever-popular `Hoi, hoi, u embleer Hrair ...'

In interviews since Watership Down became a world bestseller, Richard Adams has been at pains to downplay the `political allegory' and `symbolic meanings' read into the book and to emphasise the spontaneous, storytelling aspect, and he is right. Adams the artist, letting his patterns emerge by feel, is far better than Adams the conscious thinker. This is clearest in the treatment of the female rabbit characters. The emphasis on male adventure to the almost complete neglect of females has earned him a lot of adverse criticism, understandably when you come to passages like this:

`The kind of ideas that have become natural to many male human beings in thinking of females - ideas of protection, fidelity, romantic love, and so on - are, of course, unknown to rabbits ... they are not romantic and it came naturally to Hazel and Holly to consider the two Nuthanger does simply as breeding stock for the warren.'

This makes it sound as if, for Adams, the only possible male approaches to the female are pedestalization on the one hand, or dehumanization (derabbitization!) on the other - you are either a shining ideal, or you are `breeding stock'. Fortunately, things look up as soon as he introduces any actual female characters. When Bigwig goes undercover in Efrafa, he is far more concerned with the reliability of the does as fellow conspirators than with their `breeding' qualities. The undoubtedly eugenic Nelthilta almost betrays the whole attempt with her big mouth (in a subtle touch, Bigwig admires her `spirit', not quite realising that she is an immature version of himself - Bigwig the way he used to be before the wide world taught him better). On the other hand, Hyzenthlay, although on the verge of a nervous breakdown, is Bigwig's real equal in courage and intelligence:

`Bigwig realized that he had stumbled, quite unexpectedly, upon what he needed most of all: a strong, sensible friend, who would think on her own account and help him bear his burden.'

Notice, too, that Hyzenthlay is less prone to uncritically accept the culture of her warren than are the males. She neatly analyzes an Efrafan's face-saving, conformist behaviour for Bigwig's benefit. `But you're an Efrafan,' objects Bigwig. `Do you think like that too?' To which Hyzenthlay wryly replies, `I'm a doe'.

Actions speak louder than words in Watership Down - and to those who are against the very idea of a male-dominated quest narrative, I would gently say that storytelling is many thousands of years old, while gender equality is in its infancy. It may be a long time before stories catch up, and it's a bit unfair to expect individual authors, like Richard Adams, to pull it off all at once.

What I find as disturbing, or more so, is the treatment of art and what we usually think of as civilisation. The rabbits' tales emerge from the `collective unconscious' in a very Jungian way: handed down from one storyteller to another but with no identifiable authors. During its travels the rabbit band arrives at a luxurious warren where the stories of El-ahrairah are considered old-fashioned. The rabbits here go in for experimental poetry, and have also discovered the concept of visual art (`shapes' made with stones in a wall, meaningless to our heroes). But this artistic development comes at a terrible price: it emerges that the warren has lost control of its fate, being fed and protected by a local farmer who sets snares around it for a constant supply of rabbit meat. These rabbits' advanced culture is merely a distraction from their helpless state. Does this mean that Adams thinks that a tribal society is natural and best for humans, and that civilisation is literally a `snare' and a delusion, in which our vital survival skills are atrophied by the social and technological defences we have set up for ourselves? If he did, I would think him seriously mistaken - but in fact I think that is only one position in the complex dialectic of Watership Down, belied by Adams's revelling in the depth of his own literary culture.

This aspect of the story, however, was taken up with enthusiasm by the conservative journalist Christopher Booker (in The Seventies: Portrait of a Decade). For him, Watership Down was a protest at the way our technological civilisation dehumanises us while despoiling nature - though a protest that was likely to stay on the level of fantasy. `It is all very well to dream of getting back to a simpler, more natural world where we might once again become fully human. But in the conscious, outward world, the truth is that we are still doing almost everything we can to ensure that we are travelling self-destructively in the opposite direction.' Well, as a mere `doe', I have to say that Booker's notion that we might be more fully human in a state of raw nature fails to inspire me, and indeed strikes me as false and sentimental in itself. Humans are technological animals by nature, and the `drive to subject nature to our own use and comfort' - when it results, for instance, in hospitals and libraries - is far from self-destructive, ignoble or lacking in compassion.

Again, Adams is a more subtle storyteller than all this might imply. The rabbits themselves are not averse to technological experiment - an old pallet that floats across a river, for instance - and human intervention more than once has a positive, rather than a destructive effect in the story. The rabbits, of course, are human, more than anything else in their tricksterishness, their adaptability, and their playfulness. It is more than anything the sheer spirit of play, of thought-experiment, something that would be lacking in `mere' nature, that suffuses Watership Down with joy rather than doom.
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Watership Down
Watership Down by Richard Adams (Paperback - Nov. 2005)
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