Publisher: Blackstone Audio, 2010
Length: 15 hours and 51 minutes
Genre: Fiction, Classic
Where I Got It: Downloaded it from Audible
Why I Read It: This book is considered a classic and yet I’d never read it, stupidly thinking a book about rabbits might not interest me
My Rating: 5 stars
A small group of rabbits leave their warren in the English countryside when one of them (a small rabbit named Fiver who has the gift of prophecy) foresees bad things on the horizon. The book chronicles their adventures as they seek a place to build a new warren. Under the leadership of Hazel, the band of rabbits faces many obstacles—from how to cross a river to the lack of does to the penultimate battle with a warren run by the evil General Woundwart.
I cannot believe that I didn’t read this book until this year!! Originally published in 1972, Watership Down has been sitting out there my entire life and yet it took me until 2012 to read it. All I ever knew was that it was a book about rabbits. The simplistic book description is also deceiving. Yet it took only an hour of listening for me to realize that I was in the presence of greatness—a true 5 star read. Watership Down was an incredibly satisfying, rich and magical reading experience—the kind of book that transcends age and time. In my opinion, it deserves a place on the list of best books of all time, and it certainly has earned a place on my list of all-time favorite books.
What makes the book so satisfying is that it works on multiple levels and that Adams strikes the perfect balance between reality and magic. Not only will the book satisfy children looking for a gripping adventure tale and rabbit folklore (the book grew out of a series of stories that Adams told his daughters), it will also satisfy an adult reader, with the rich personalities of the rabbits (we all have a Big Wig in our lives, I’m sure) and how well the rabbits’ lives translate into our human lives. Although Adams talks in the introduction about how the book is not an allegory, it is not difficult to see the differences between the leadership approaches of Hazel and General Woundwart.
Perhaps the best choice that Adams made is that, although these are talking rabbits, he makes them grounded in reality. In the introduction, Adams talks about how he never has his rabbits do anything that a real rabbit wouldn’t do. These are not rabbits who build little houses and wear clothes like Peter Cottontail. They are wild and natural rabbits and they live as such. When faced with an obstacle such as how to cross a river, they come up with a solution that felt realistic, plausible and yet seemed like a huge leap of logic for a rabbit, which is why Blackberry (the “smart one”) had to come up with it.
Adams even gives the rabbits their own language (Lapine), which I found myself easily adopting. (Their word for tractor or car is hrududu, which, when pronounced by an awesome reader like Ralph Casham, sounds just like a vehicle engine as interpreted by an animal.) It became commonplace to hear words like silflay (going aboveground to feed) and know exactly what they meant.
Another wondrous touch was the rich folklore and mythology that Adams creates for the rabbits. One of the ways the rabbits keep their spirits up and adapt to their surroundings is by repeating the stories of El-Ahrairah, one of the first rabbits, whose exploits and trickery are woven throughout the book. I adored these stories about El-Ahrairah and enjoyed seeing how the rabbits would adapt the story to their present situation.
The other thing I loved about this book was that Adams doesn’t shy away from the harsh realities of life. The rabbits face real danger, including death and injury. Yet these moments are leavened by moments of triumph, peace and sweetness. There were also moments of comic relief (the pidgin talk of the gull Keehar and Big Wig’s take on the world just tickled me). In addition, Adams writes one of the most beautiful and satisfying death scenes I’ve ever read in literature.
Nothing I can write can really capture how wondrous and satisfying and pleasing this book was. If you’ve not read it yet, please get a copy (either in print or on audiobook) and read it as soon as possible. You don’t want to miss this book like I almost did. It is brilliant on so many levels, and I applaud Adams for creating such a wondrous work of literature that hits all the right notes.
About the Narration
Ralph Cosham was the narrator I listened to, and he was pitch perfect. He captured the voices of each character perfectly—from Pipken’s timidity to Big Wig’s warm-hearted bluster. At 15+ hours, this was relatively long listen but I never once tired of it and could not wait to immerse myself in this world over and over again. It was with a real sense of loss that I finished this book.
This is as perfect as a book can get and I recommend it to everyone. If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly urge you to do so. I shall definitely be reading/listening to this one again, and I cannot wait for my son to be ready for it.
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