Watership Down (Richard Adams)
31 March 2021
An epic story that has been beloved for generations, Watership Down has become one of the most famous animal stories ever written.
Fiver, a young rabbit, is very worried. He senses something terrible is about to happen to the warren. His brother Hazel knows that his sixth sense is never wrong. So, there is nothing else for it.
They must leave immediately.
And so begins a long and perilous journey of a small band of rabbits in search of a safe home. Fiver's vision finally leads them to Watership Down, but here they face their most difficult challenge of all . . .
Sinclair Manson (5 April 2021 12:08)
There was a lot of discussion at the meeting about how much this book reflected the time and life of its author. The near absence of female characters in the book was a particular criticism. The mitigating suggestion that the book may be a representation of the author's wartime experiences in an all-male environment was an interesting one. Both Hazel's colony and Woundwort's are militarized, and Adams expresses a sympathy and admiration for Wounwort that is lacking altogether from his portrayal of Cowslip's creepy civilian colony. There does seem something Nietzschean about Adams' philosophy, if that's not too absurd a claim to make regarding a story about talking bunnies. Hazel's creativity in overcoming adversity and even seeking adversity is idealised, living up to the rabbits' lively myths. He draws his followers into his schemes and inspires them to emulate him. Woundwort's impressive efforts to utterly vanquish all risk from his followers' lives ends by stifling them and making them miserable. Cowslip's abdolute rejection of the vigorous myths and passive acceptance of a comfortable life of slavery render him and his colony contemptible. This is perhaps a book best read as a record of personal experience and ideals.
Graham MacDonald (1 April 2021 16:56)
Whilst there is a lot to admire in this story of rabbits trying to find the promised land, the portrayal of gender relationships between the rabbits is incredibly dated now and and it's really a surprise to learn that the author wrote this originally for his daughters. The female rabbits are treated as nothing more than commodities by the main characters and the terrifying villain General Woundwort (who doesn't seem to care for gender politics as long as you pull your weight) actually comes across as a far more sympathetic character than Hazel or Bigwig or Fiver or the rest.
It has a slight hark back to the halcyon days of olde worlde England which mirrors Tolkein at his worst but to give Adams his due he doesn't conform to Tolkein's idea that everyone is born to their place and kings are born and bred not made (Woundwort is essentially an orphan who rose to power by skill and brutality; Hazel is not from some romantic royal bloodline). He presents a world in which everyone can become a hero, everyone can rise to power... Well... Unless you're female.