It would be an understatement to say Watership Down took me way longer to finish than anticipated. If you couldn’t tell from my recent lack of blog posts, I had a hard time getting through this particular part of my reading challenge.
The book was actually quite a delightful read — it just wasn’t a page turner. It’s an adventure novel about a few members of a community who sense an inevitable upheaval, and to avoid it, go out on their own. There was action, but it wasn’t the kind that makes it hard to put the book down. I can see why this novel was a classic when it was first published in 1972. It was groundbreaking, and even today the idea of an action novel starring not just animals, but rabbits seems sort of strange (oh, yeah — the characters are bunnies. They also don’t speak English: they speak Lapine). Another obstacle of this novel is that a lot of the words need translation (there’s a glossary at the back for major terms, lest you forget the definition of a Lapine word from when you read its footnote). “Hrududu” is anything with a motor. “Elil” is any enemy of the rabbits, i.e. a stoat, fox or badger. “Frith” is the sun, and also the rabbits’ God. It seems confusing, but Adams does a good job smoothly injecting these words into the prose. The use of this made-up language isn’t overwhelming, but it’s present enough that it might deter some readers.
I really just loved the characters and their self-awareness. Perhaps because, as the author explains, rabbits rely so heavily on their natural instincts to survive, each character knows his or her strengths and weaknesses and adjusts accordingly to be an asset to the “warren” (their community). Hazel, the protagonist, is a natural-born leader. Fiver can sense danger before anyone else. Bigwig is the strongest and largest and is the best fighter. Blackberry is the cleverest (and so on and so forth). They work together to achieve their goals and combat enemies that threaten their progress. It’s a very through-provoking read, but it takes commitment.
I’d recommend this book to someone looking for a leisurely read or hoping to dive into a classic they may have overlooked. This was one of my dad’s favorites after he read it in the ’70s and while I enjoyed it a lot, I wouldn’t put it in my top ten.
Up next? “A book you were supposed to read but didn’t” — A Gate at the Stairs, by Lorrie Moore