Watership Down, Richard Adams

by Rachael Herman

So then, let’s get started shall we?

My first encounter with the Watership Down story was, rather unfortunately, courtesy of Martin Rosen, whose particularly disturbing film rendition lured one and all into a deep false sense of security with thoughts of fluffy white rabbit tales – and indeed tails – before unleashing lagomorphic insanity upon unwitting and innocent children, myself included. To this day the haunting notes of ‘Bright Eyes’ chill me to the very bone – something I don’t think I can truly forgive Mr. Garfunkel for. Not to mention those empty, staring eyes and gnashing teeth (of the rabbits, not Art), which are enough to place the humble bunny firmly at number one in Steve Backshall’s ‘Deadly 60’.

Anyway, I digress. The book is what needs to be praised and not the film dismantled. First things first: location, location, location. We initially find ourselves delicately dropped into the heart of the gloriously idyllic English countryside – you can almost breathe the fresh, evening air – next to our main protagonist, a rabbit named Hazel. Adams has no trouble at all in evoking feelings of joy and nostalgia with his intricate descriptions of the wildflowers in the hazy twilight – those hours in which one’s senses are heightened. Throughout the novel, one has an notion of being not just an onlooker but actually a part of the environment, a necessity if we are to buy into this world.

Now let us turn to the players themselves. An interesting observation I have made during my reading career – with regards to my own affinity for fictional characters – is that instead of becoming immersed in the campaign of the hero as intended by the author, I tend to develop an adverse penchant for the more troubled soul. I have even been known to share in the tyrannical glee of the main antagonist as he/she wreaks havoc on his/her victims. How naughty. Anyway, back to those troubled ones with prime example being the dark and fitful Fiver, who is perhaps my favourite character. His blatant struggle with that rare form of rabbit – schizophrenia is admirable, bless him, although there are moments when his melodramatic moaning about blood and nightmares does prove to be more than a little tiresome. Why won’t Hazel just listen for once so that all can have a slight reprise from the all rabbiting-on…?

Which brings me nicely to my first real point of contention: Rabbit tales – are they necessary? Could not Adams merely have popped a little sign on a cowslip next to the entrance of the warren, marked FIB (fable in progress), allowing for us to opt out of consuming these scraps of narrative doled out by dear Dandelion and to instead continue with digesting the juicy meat of the real story? No? Oh. I suppose that Dandelion had to have some sort of quality other than ‘he runs fast’. But seriously, I do believe that the omission of these rather drawn-out tales would do wonders for the pace of the main story.

To end this waffle I shall finalise matters by saying that, all in all, I found this book to be a wonderful and absorbing read with veins of melancholic beauty running throughout this enjoyable stay in the countryside; spanning the breadth of the valley, following the course of the river and delving deep down into the temporary abode of the warren. The delightful world of rabbit relations envelops the reader entirely, causing an insatiable desire to speak Lapine; Silflay in the moonlight with good friends and whisper about the latest exploits of the merciless General Woundwart, who is enough to drive anyone Tharn…