Let’s Talk Books — Watership Down

Warning: Spoilers

First thing’s first: this isn’t the post I said I was working on in last week’s update. That’s still being written, unfortunately, but hopefully next week it will be done. However, because it’s been a while since I wrote an actual post, I wanted to give you guys one last something before the year was over. So without further ado, here’s my last Let’s Talk Books post of 2015: Watership Down.

I tried explaining the plot of Watership Down to a couple of friends yesterday, and it wasn’t until then that I realized how simple of a premise the entire book is: a group of rabbits trying to find a new home. However, while the plot is basic and grounded in reality, the narrative is written like an epic journey kind of story you’d find in fantasy books.

To give more detail, Watership Down is about a rabbit named Hazel, who leads a select group of rabbits from their warren in search of a new one. Hazel’s brother, Fiver, is known to have prophetic visions. When he foresees the destruction of their home, he and Hazel try persuading their chief that they need to evacuate as soon as possible. Unfortunately, since Fiver’s prediction is little more than a hunch at this point, their pleas are ignored and Hazel takes it upon himself to leave the warren with whoever wants to come with them.

The group of rabbits travel, attempting to start a new life and home somewhere. They briefly stop at another warren, home to rabbits that live very differently than Hazel’s previous home. When Hazel’s group realizes these new rabbits live in a forced, ignorant bliss where one of them will routinely be killed by a nearby farmer, Hazel’s group flees.

They eventually find Watership Down, an ideal place to start building their new warren. The only problem is, they don’t have any does (female rabbits) in their group, and they’ll need to start populating their new home soon if they hope to survive. At a nearby farm, they’re able to persuade two pet rabbits to come back to their developing warren, but two does aren’t enough.

It turns out there’s another nearby warren called Efrafa that’s overpopulated. A small team of rabbits are sent to ask if they would like to send some does their way to help both their warrens with their problems. But it turns out Efrafa is led by a dictator named General Woundwort and keeps the team prisoners, attempting to assimilate them into Efrafa’s culture.

Hazel’s rabbits escape, and when they return to Watership Down they make a plan to break as many does out as possible. They send their strongest rabbit, Bigwig, into Efrafa under the lie that he’s been traveling the country looking for a new home after his was lost (which I guess is technically true, when I put it like that). After a complicated series of events, Bigwig manages to break out many does and rendezvous with Hazel. They escape on a small boat, of all things, effectively cutting their scent and trail off from the pursuing Efrafans.

Unfortunately, the Efrafans manage to track them back to Watership Down, and a major battle takes place between Hazel’s rabbits and General Woundwort’s. It gets pretty complicated, almost as complicated as the plan to break out the does from Efrafa, but eventually Hazel’s rabbits win and are able to start their new life.

Watership Down also builds an interesting worldview of these rabbits. They speak their own language, which only really becomes apparent from time to time, like when a made up word is introduced to refer to something (my favorite was hrududu, which refers to cars or other motorized, man-made machine) or when speaking to other animals. They also have their own religious-like view of the world. For example, they worship the sun and refer to it as Frith. They also hold a folk-hero like rabbit called El-Ahrairah in high regard, with entire chapters dedicated to telling stories of his past triumphs while drawing parallels to Hazel’s growing role as chief.

It was a really fun and interesting read, but it’s also one of those books that may take a while to get into. And I don’t mean that the beginning is boring — I just personally found myself more invested when I sat down and read for hours as opposed to, say, 30 minutes at a time. The book is also pretty long at almost 500 pages, so make sure you have some time before starting it. Normally books this length overstay their welcome for me, but I really enjoyed it all the way through.

The only real fault I have with the book is, that when it comes down to it, half the book is about rabbits trying to find girls to fuck. That’s crass, I know. After all, despite the humanization of these animals, they’re still rabbits and act entirely on survival. But I couldn’t help but notice a huge section of this book was Hazel’s group trying to include female rabbits for the sole purpose of reproducing. Maybe they could have added in more romance between certain rabbits to make it seem less animalistic.

Or maybe I’m looking too much into it. Or maybe I have a dirty mind. I don’t know. It’s a book about rabbits. I should leave well enough alone.

Anyway guys, I’d recommend it for anyone of all ages. It has a pretty general appeal, and I expect many people that give this one a try will enjoy it. With that said, thanks for reading, and have a happy, healthy new year! 🙂

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Info for my edition of Watership Down:

  • Published 2005 by Scribner
  • Paperback, 474 pages
  • ISBN 9780743277709
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