It’s not every day that I go in for anthropomorphism, most of the time because I find people writing through animal eyes tend to write animals very much like people. Either that or there’s a distinct lack of depth.
Watership Down is something from my childhood, when I had a videotape of Winter on Watership Down. I never read the book, and since by reputation Watership Down is one of the anthropomorphic texts, I decided it was high time to amend that.
Following Chief Rabbit Hazel and his band on various terrible adventures as they seek a new warren, this novel illustrates, with graphic poignancy, the fragility of our natural world. Mixing sympathy with subtle allegory, Adams offers a stark reminder that creatures have lives worth more than losing, but avoids going all-out and creating something which reads like a manifesto.
It is this balance which, I think, makes Watership Down engaging.
‘Hazel realised wearily that Bigwig was probably going to be troublesome. He was certainly no coward, but he was likely to remain steady only as long as he could see his way clear and be sure of what to do. To him, perplexity was worse than danger; and when he was perplexed he usually grew angry.’
For the most part, the characters in this novel are strong, from the prophet-like Fiver to heroic Hazel, the warrior-rabbit Bigwig, and my favourite, the raucous black-headed gull, Kehaar.
I enjoyed the interactions, and whilst the book does suffer from having too many characters (to be expected with rabbits, I suppose), Adams does succeed in creating a convincing hierarchy.
‘Rabbits (says Mr. Lockley) are like human beings in many ways. One of these is certainly their staunch ability to withstand disaster and to let the steam of their life carry them along, past reaches of terror and loss. They have a certain quality which it would not be accurate to describe as callousness or indifference. It is, rather, a blessedly circumscribed imagination and an intuitive feeling that Life is Now.’
I feel, having finished this book, a little annoyed. There is something about it which I can’t quite grasp, and I feel that I ought to have enjoyed it more than I did.
Really there isn’t much to fault. Obviously, reading books aimed at children as an adult is never ideal, but nonetheless, I did think this would be a tearjerker, and it wasn’t really like that at all.
I admit I find the plot a little haphazard, and the number of characters a distraction. That being said, however, this is a fantastically written book, and it is refreshing to find a child’s book which has some bite to it. There are some dark themes, and whilst the ending is not quite the tragedy I had been expecting, Adams writes without flinching.
‘For rabbits, winter remains what it was for men in the middle-ages – hard, but bearable by the resourceful and not altogether without compensations.’
One comparison I can draw is to David Clement-Davies’ Fire Bringer, which is a novel of similar themes. I think if I had read Watership Down around the same time I would have been more captivated.
Still, it’s certainly one for the bedtime story when I have children of my own, and far from a disappointment.