It’s not just about bunnies.
Well, they’re included, but it’s so much more than that, at least to me. This is a book that deeply shaped my outlook on life to a large extent, and given that I figured it also inspired my name online discussing it was only logical. So this isn’t as much a review as it is a recommendation. Skip this down to the 5th paragraph if you just want the review.
I’ve been a lifelong and voracious reader for as long as I can remember, back to when I started outstripping my mom when she would read to me at night. It got so I’d not be able to tell where we were going on yearly family vacations because I had my head in a book. One of the most repeated phrases I heard growing up was “Put down the book. Try to do it with two hands.” I walked with books nearly everywhere (and still do, which is not always wise). Hell, if I could figure out a way to cheaply laminate them, I’d shower with them too. I’m also fast, which means I go through them quickly. Just eat ’em up. Mostly Hardy Boys mysteries, a few comics, pretty forgettable stuff, except for the Hobbit and LOTR, King (Eyes of the Dragon was my first all-night reading binge).
But Watership Down was different, and I’m still not sure why. when I started it, I really got sucked in. It was my first can’t-put-it-down. The story just grabbed me and didn’t let go. I think it hit me so hard because I was just entering my teens, when I was getting aware of a wider world and the struggles that could face me. I’d made good friends, and recognized the bonds of the characters in the book. Moreover, the viewpoint of the rabbits was so unlike my own in other ways, and yet similar, that it forced me to look around my own surroundings as they did. I’d seen rabbits before, of course, but I’d not thought about what life as prey might be like. It was an eye-opening experience for a young man.
As far as reviewing it….I’d almost say I’m not qualified, but that would be easy and unfair to anyone, myself included. The writing is simple and vivid. Every scene is painted in strokes that can be quickly visualized. The characters, too, are sharply drawn and tidy. Everything fits neatly within the framework of the story and it’s larger picture. You never once forget that they are rabbits, animals with an alien view and reaction to the world, and yet they are made sympathetic enough that you can (hopefully) understand their fears, struggles and triumphs. Individuals together can accomplish amazing things is also a central theme, and one that likewise influenced my thinking for years to come. Heady stuff for a teenager.
The story also made me reflect on my theological beliefs as well. In the rabbit’s world, everything is out to get them. Everything could be a risk or an enemy, and that’s a cornerstone of their psychology. I’m not, and have never been, a religious person by any means but reading this book also made me understand the reassurance faith can have for those in difficult circumstances. Given that I’ve gone to religious schools all of my life, this was an eye-opener. In essence, this book awoke my empathy for other people to a large extent. It also made me want to live underground, but that’s probably not a common reaction.
Watership Down is at the top of my book recommendation list. I push it (gently) on anyone I meet who I think would be interested. I’ve reread it multiple times and never gotten bored or disappointed, the way you do when you come back to a favorite to find it’s changed for the worse after time. Perhaps those old feelings and revelations are coloring my view of it. Possible. But I’ll still maintain it’s a great read, a classic, and will put it up against anything else.
A fun note I did not know till later: all the geography is accurate and the paths and landmarks described can be found and walked.