03 May 2011

Review: Watership Down by Richard Adams

Not even my copy was this ragged, and it had been in the library for decades!

Take Tolkien. Chop down extraneous text to distill what's great about the writing into a condensed mass. Add drama by increasing number and power of antagonistic agents (and make them inevitable). Replace all main characters with bunnies.

Fluffy, cute, hoppity lil' bunnies.

I was led to believe that Watership Down was a good book. So, I was already opening the cover with a high bar set. Even so, it blew me away. This is a book about rabbits and their lapine adventures. The author has done his research and with obvious exceptions (talking bunnies) and a few very minor inaccuracies, it is very realistic biologically. He has also put in a lot of effort into the actual story: In some five hundred pages we get rabbits, politics of rabbit societies, rabbit wars and rabbit diplomacy, rabbit exodus, rabbit language (And if you pay attention you can translate something near the end for a very cool bonus! Beat that, Ron.), rabbit psychology, rabbit religion, rabbit mathematics, rabbit logic, rabbit technology, rabbit myth, rabbit poetry, rabbit painting, rabbit literature... Rabbit art even has its own distinct movements, which can come into conflict and actually influence politics in a sense reminiscent of our real-world, human history. The story proceeds under the assumption of all these elements being present, in their own form, for other animals as well. We do not of course learn much of, say, fox poetry- fox-rabbit interaction is predictably lean on cultural exchange.

The themes dealt with are very thoughtfully explored, and well presented. Sometimes we find rabbits in struggles identical to our own, and sometimes their concerns are hopelessly alien and incomprehensible to us. In either case, the narrative is a goldmine of wonderful insights.

The plot makes sense, and takes great pains to make sense. The characters are pretty well developed, especially when they are involved in the plot. Really, my only complaint is that there isn't more of it: I wouldn't mind a hundred page or so appendix detailing all the trivial details of Adams's rabbits and their ways, and even better, the other animals too.

Score: 5/5

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