Dignity & Animality – Watership Down

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You know how you let yourself think that everything will be all right if you can only get to a certain place or do a certain thing. But when you get there you find it’s not that simple.

Richard Adams’ Watership Down

Authors have the power to move their readers and teach them lessons that might not be as well taught otherwise. There have been many novels over my almost 25 years that have entertained me while giving me a deeper understanding of life, and Watership Down is now one of them.

Although this novel about rabbits was made into an animated film in 1978, it is definitely not a children’s book.

Despite a PG rating, the movie isn't exactly kid-friendly either.
Despite a PG rating, the movie isn’t exactly kid-friendly either.

Watership Down tells the story of Hazel, a small rabbit in a big warren. His brother, Fiver, has a premonition about their warren being destroyed by men, and together, they convince a few other rabbits to join them on a journey to the safe place Fiver has seen, “a high, lonely place with dry soil, where rabbits can see and hear all round and men hardly ever come.”

On their journey, the rabbits meet many obstacles – rivers to cross, man-made traps, predators, and even other rabbits from warrens that aren’t quite right. Yet they stay brave and follow their new Chief Rabbit, Hazel. He gets them safely to the place Fiver imagined, and they dig their own warren. Even though they have reached their safe place and made it into a home, they soon find that their trials are not over.

The rabbits’ journey is interspersed by Dandelion, a rabbit skilled at storytelling, sharing stories about the adventures of the father of all rabbits, El-ahrairah. These stories, shared in the style of indigenous people’s legends, keep the rabbits inspired and brave throughout all their trials.

El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inle
El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inle via

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.

The Story of the Blessing of El-ahrairah, Watership Down

While writing a fantasy story about adventurous rabbits, Richard Adams is also teaching many lessons to his human readers, one of the most important being that life is never the straight path you may expect or hope for. Everyone will meet with trials, even when you may think you’ve finally made it past them all.

Just don’t give up hope. Hope is what will keep you going – that and honoring those who have paved their paths before us, even if we have to pave our path differently.

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This review was written as a part of my Before 25 Bucket List. It was the 6th book on my list, and the 30th (and final!) book I read in 2015. Stay tuned for more reviews in the next couple of months!