Book Review: Watership Down
Watership Down is a masterpiece. Every single page is filled with glistening prose, fascinating characters, and understated brilliance. At first it’s hard to believe that the story really is about rabbits. How will the author will continue to develop such a tale for so many pages? One expects that at some point the rabbits will be humanized, such as in Wind in the Willows or Stuart Little, but in fact the rabbitish point of view persists to the very end. And this is the genius of the book, that the author manages to infuse his characters with such believable motivation and unique personality, all the while keeping their behavior so very consistent with what one imagines as “rabbit life”.
The rabbit mythos developed in the book adds another layer of depth to what is already an extremely engaging story. They are written with a distinct narrative tone in contrast to the rest of the book and are reminiscent of American tall tales or other legendary literature. At first they feel a bit jarring, but as they get woven into the life of Hazel, Fiver, and the other rabbits of the main narrative, one learns to appreciate and even look forward to the next recounting of El-Ahrairah and his exploits.
A few nicked whiskers
All of the main characters are endearing, but Fiver is the most unusual. He functions as the seer of the warren, at first despised and misunderstood, he eventually rises to a place where he is almost outside the story, able to see what is about to happen before anyone else. Unfortunately, he sort of fades from the story right near the end. I do wish the author has allowed us to see what happened to him in the epilogue. As for other minor failings, the use of dialects is a weak point in the novel. The bird Kehaar is the most consistent offender in this area. While one eventually grows accustomed to his manor of speech, his frequent cursing was regrettable and unnecessary. Another flaw would be the transition between books one and two. Book one felt like its own distinct novel and the beginning of book two is extremely slow after the exciting climax at the end of book one.
Despite its minor flaws, Watership Down is a true classic which deserves to be read by everyone. Full of heart, nobility, and sacrifice, this truly epic tale will have you cheering for these rabbits as much or more than any heroes you have ever read about.