Book Review: Watership Down by Richard Adams

484 pages
Published 1972 by Avon

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.

10 out of 10 fluffy-tailed dragons
10 dragons


  1. It’s been years since I thought about WSD–what a phenomenal blast from the past! I’ve started doing “golden oldies” reviews on my blog of those works we read in HS or college, re-read now in middle-age.

    Thanks for the reminder of a great one!


  2. While I think that Adams’ “The Plague Dogs” is closer to the grim dirge you were expecting with “Watership Down”, I am always amazed when I re-read “Watership Down” how Adams manages to pull so much hope out of what are starkly dark situations under the surface. The tenacious, clever pursuit of survival, buoyed by a rich mythology and history, always makes me feel happier once I’ve finished reading. Considering the number of terrible things that happen in that story, that’s always something I puzzle over afterwards.

    I really enjoyed the review and the reminder that it is probably time for a re-read. 🙂

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