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Watership Down Paperback – 1 Mar 2012
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|Paperback, 1 Mar 2012||
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...stunning, compulsive reading (Sunday Times)
...a proper grown-up novel for children (The Times)
About the Author
Richard Adams grew up in Berkshire, the son of a country doctor. After an education at Oxford, he spent six years in the army and then went into the Civil Service. He originally began telling the story of Watership Down to his two daughters and they insisted he publish it as a book. It quickly became a huge success with both children and adults, and won the Guardian Children's Fiction Award and the Carnegie Medal in 1972. Richard Adams has written many novels and short stories, including Shardik and The Plague Dogs.
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The story follows a small band of rabbits looking for a place to make their home after escaping the ruin of their previous warren and tells of their adventures trough the exquisitely depicted English countryside. On the surface that's all this book may be about to some... but to me it's so much more. The things that struck me most were the strangeness of mankind in the way we change and use the environment and the incredible importance of stories in shaping our actions, beliefs and identity. Before any major undertaking the rabbits tell stories of El-ahrairah, Prince of the Forest, who the rabbits hold in religious esteem. El-ahrairah's qualities in these stories define the qualities that the rabbits believe make them different, unique amongst all the other animals. His actions empower them to be brave, take risks.
It reminded me of a TED talk by Yuval Noah Harari about the rise of humans. He proposes that the great feats of cooperation humanity accomplishes stems from an ability to believe in stories that we cannot directly see or prove. And in this book the rabbits do great things through their belief in their stories. It's a beautiful thing that really resonated with me. How our perception of our place in the world can so influence what we can achieve.
I'd recommend this book to anyone who'd be willing to read about rabbit adventures on the advice that this book is about so much more :)
The idea of rabbits being intelligent enough to speak and have their own culture has had a lot of imitators using other animals ("Redwall", "Tailchasers Song", etc) but this is the first book to approach the idea with so much depth. In many ways the rabbits journey is a lot like "The Odyssey" as they face different trials and tribulations in search of home, only on a smaller and furrier scale.
There are a lot of interruptions within the story as the rabbits tell tales of their own mythology. While this adds to the cultural depth of their world it does slow down the pace of the story somewhat.
In the end "Watership Down" falls into a strange middle ground where adults might shy away from it because of the subject matter, and children might be intimidated by the length of the story. For others though it is able to bridge the gap and is an enjoyable read at any age.
Please do not make the mistake of thinking the book is anything like the movie, which automatically makes people think of trauma and terrifying childhood memories. The book is far superior and is one of the warmest tales of friendship and adventure and courage you will ever read, all topped off with beautifully descriptive writing and gentle humour.
Some people think this is metaphorical story about war or religion, it's not. It's just a wonderful story about a bunch of rabbits.
I love this story and every time I read it is like revisiting my dearest friends. I hope this review makes you decide to read it and that you love it too.