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Watership Down by Richard Adams

Book review and thoughts.

It’s been so long since I’ve read a book like this one–whimsical, clean, happy ending, while touching on things that are deeper without drowning you in the dark. I was rather upset when I found out it was considered something of a children’s story, for I’ve been waiting long for a piece of “grown-up” literature that could illustrate fantastic worlds like those of Narnia and Ga’Hoole, and I’d thought I had finally found it. Nevertheless, Watership Down was most certainly worth the read, and it left me with a great nostalgia for the naivety of a child’s world, which we can only find again in literature like this.

I was brought to this book by Vanessa Carlton and I can see now how it influenced her use of a children’s chorus, and the hints of witchery and magic and nostalgia throughout her album–and I understand better now why her album is titled “Rabbits on the Run”. Her music was a bit too dark for the novel though, for though Adams touches on melancholy and loss and depravity and dystopias, he does so in the same way as the Grimm Brothers or Hans Christian Andersen: the adult reading the novel to a child would be left to muse on these weightier topics, while the child would only see the whimsy, the heroism, and the moral at the end.

As an adult (though only a novice one), I do see how the society of Efrafa could be an allegory for a homo sapien tyranny, and how the warren of Cowslip could be the end result of a hedonistic anarchy, or perhaps of our modern day society where we have become more and more dependent on the luxury of machines, and have forgotten our roots in the good earth. And yet, though I could ponder these things, Adams’ declaration that “It is simply the story about rabbits made up and told in the car.” reminds me to see again through the eyes of a child–to delight in stories and classics and traditions the way the rabbits do. Adams said that publishers had pinpointed the novel as “childish” because it was “about rabbits”, but I believe it’s more than that. The novel falls into children’s literature because it pulls us back to Aesop’s fables, to folktales read in elementary schoolrooms. It’s nostalgia comes from from its happy endings, and the unwavering light in the heart of our protagonists. The characters, like those of many in children’s stories, are much more profound than we give them credit for, and their world is far from simply black and white, good and evil. The rabbits have their psychologies to examine, but in the end, they are pure in their goodness as no character in an “adult” classic can be.

I’m glad to have found Watership Down on the eve of going off to try my hand at being a true adult. May I never forget the world that Adams has brought back to me.

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