Reviews of Watership Down (1972)
Review by felonius (2007-09-25)
The apologue story is well known: a small band of rabbits set out from their home in search of a new better life, urged to do so by one of their number named Fiver who seems to possess an eerie gift of foresight and speaks of impending doom if they remain. Though some are fearful about the larger world, all are united by a mutual dissatisfaction with their present way of life in the overpopulated warren. Their journey unfolds across the English countryside and is the catalyst for numerous external and internal discoveries.
It's a tribute to Adams as a storyteller that this is an event which actually occurs among real rabbits in nature - it's quite common for small groups of bucks to leave overcrowded warrens, travel for weeks (sometimes over considerable distances) and eventually begin new warrens of their own.
The overarching themes of the novel (the vision quest, individual vs. collective, citizen vs. state - communism/democracy, Darwinism, hierarchical societies, role of mythology/storytelling, man's disruption of natural balance, leadership etc.) have been well documented elsewhere, and I don't want to go too deeply into them here. Many different interpretations can and have been applied to the story, which explains its enduring popularity on many high school syllabuses.
Its strength for me always lay in the diverse ensemble cast of characters. Hazel as a charismatic and resourceful but 'common' rabbit thrust into the role of leadership, gradually earning the loyalty of his followers rather than inheriting it; Fiver, a clairvoyant in the mythological tradition of Cassandra, tortured by his gifts but whose foresight alters fate; Bigwig as the personification of strength and honour, rugged and headstrong but tempered under Hazel's leadership; Blackberry as the quiet intellectual; Dandelion as the storyteller whose tales provide diversion and allegory for the rabbits on their journey; Woundwort as dictator and absolutist.
Adams is a writer's writer: events in the novel all occur under a rich backdrop of naturalistic description utilizing real-life locations in the countryside near his home. There's even one fun moment when the rabbits spot a mysterious solitary man watching them from a distance, whom we realize after a moment must be Adams himself. Every chapter begins with a quote which proves delightfully relevant to the action that follows, taken from a wide range of classical sources - one almost gets the sense the author compiled the quotes first and then used these to plot his work. In the last third of the novel he shifts flawlessly into a completely new narrative point-of-view for an entire chapter, breaking one of storytelling's cardinal rules with delicious impunity.
Originally published in 1972, some of the pacing, structure and descriptive passages of the novel could be called old-fashioned by modern standards, and may add a dated feel for younger readers. Nonetheless, an enduring tale that continues to be enjoyed by many generations.
Highly recommended if you're a kid, if you didn't already read it when you were a kid, if you have your own kids, or if you feel like being a kid again for a while.
Review by harryhermionerw (2006-04-20)
Watership Down is - no matter what anyone says - a kiddie story about rabbits running away. I loved this book - it's a really good story. As it says on the cover of my book, "Everyone who can read English should read it." (St. Louis Post-Dispatch) It's a great book about courage, survival instints, and moving on when you need change.
Review by bookworm89 (2005-11-09)
Watership down is one of the most important and necessary books that I have read in my entire life until now. It is such an unexpected book with issues that is so realistic, even if it is described in the lives of a group of rabbits. All simply, I love this book and I highly recommend anyone to give this book a try, if you haven't done it yet!
Review by Jago360 (2004-02-28)
Quite a good book...more than I expected. It can drag a bit at times, but the overall story is excellent. When I began "Watership Down" I rather expected it to be similar to the "Redwall" series, but Adams' story seems significantly more "natural" - if that makes sense - more like we see the story through the eyes of a simple animal. Worth the read...
Review by Beaver (2003-05-10)
Watership Down is just as good as I remember from reading it when I was younger. Don't let the fact that this is a story about rabbits discourage you from reading this book! This is not a kiddy story; it's a fun to read, epic adventure that just happens to star rabbits. 10/10
Review by KC7WUE (2003-03-08)
A series of commentaries of different human civilizations using rabbits as the protagonists. When a rabbit warren learns of its impending destruction a few of the rabbits search for a new home. They encounter the warren where the rabbits are willing to accept handouts and be slaughters; the warren where the paranoid ruler keeps all of the rabbits under his iron paw. In the end the travellers do find a new home and start the next warren. An excellent novel with thought-provoking comments.