Relics 6: Watership Down by Richard Adams

My battered copy of Watership Down
My battered copy of Watership Down


I dug this out after Christmas because I was feeling nostalgic. I don’t remember if it was a present or came from the school book clubs we used to order books from. I must have been 9 or 10 when I read it and I must have wanted to see the film (which I never did get to see) because I also have a book of full-page frames from the film which I’ll add to this if I ever find it.

I loved it as a child and read it several times but haven’t ever read it as an adult. When I did so, I wondered how much I understood back then because it’s not very childish. Each chapter opens with an epigraph culled from sources such as Shakespeare, Aeschylus, Henry Vaughan which would have been my first, and in some cases only, encounter with those high-brow names.

I was also struck by Adams’ detailed descriptions of nature: the names of trees, weeds and birds. I didn’t retain much of that knowledge but when I read it we were living in the countryside so the world it depicts of fields and farms was familiar.

It’s a strange book though. I’m not sure who it was really aimed at: much of it went over my 10-year old head, but as an adult I’m not particularly eager to read about the adventures of rabbits.

Having said that, although it’s obviously anthropomorphic in that Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig and the others speak and think English and have human emotions, it’s not Disney-fied. They remain rabbits and Adams describes them stamping, nuzzling, digging, fighting and doing rabbity things.

And it’s not sentimental. Death is real and violence is real.

So I found it odd and can’t really remember how I felt about it when I was young. I read 115 pages and I doubt I’ll go back to it. What’s more, the rabbits didn’t stand a chance once this arrived:

I'm Your Man by Sylvie Simmons
I’m Your Man by Sylvie Simmons


2 thoughts on “Relics 6: Watership Down by Richard Adams

  1. Like you, I read it when I was pretty young and barely remember it except for the fact that I liked it. But I also remember my neighbor reading it and remarking that the book was contrasting fascism and communism in the two rabbit warrens Adams described. I think that went over my head.

    1. Like the classical epigraphs! I think it was a pre-video age substitute for not being able to watch the film. Glad I did though: it helped me get the reading habit early on.

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