Greetings Brave Adventurers,
Although Watership Down is considered a fantasy classic, I had never read it until recently. The reason for this was partly due to half-remembered snippets of the movie version of Watership Down that I had seen in my childhood, and the vague lingering notion that this book would be very grim and very sad.
To my pleasant surprise, this was no dirge, although at times it was sad, and dangerous and grim. The story goes thusly: Fiver, a young buck who sees the future, receives a frightening vision of the destruction of their warren. After failing to convince the Chief, a group of rabbits led by Hazel set out on a dangerous journey to found a new warren on the eponymous Watership Down.
So what makes a story about talking rabbits a fantasy classic? In part it is the story itself. Adams anthropomorphizes the rabbits, yet they still remain animalistic in their behaviour. Adams himself commented that he didn’t want his rabbits to do anything a real rabbit couldn’t do. He made good friends with a rabbit expert, and the two of them often took long walks on the downs together, lending his writing a detailed and beautiful sense of place. Adam’s military background is apparent in his structure of rabbit society, in the Owsla and the concept of chiefs and generals.
But the real joy of this novel is the rich tapestry of history Adams imagines for his characters. He creates for his rabbits a rich oral mythology, a folklore and a strong belief system which defines them. The novel is scattered with stories of Frith, the sun-god and El-ahrairah, the trickster. Although not a linguist, Adams also scatters the novel with Lapine, a simple rabbit language.
All of this leads to a wonderful tale, worthy of its place amongst the classics of fantasy.