Back to the serious business of reviewing Watership Down. I'll start with the negatives, so we can end on a positive note.
The author himself states in the introduction that it was difficult to get his novel published. It is a tale (tail?) about talking rabbits written in a decidedly adult style. I had a tough time adjusting to the idea of rabbits with rabbit lives (the author allows the rabbits to physically act only like those found in nature) with human adult personalities. In the end, I almost had to separate the two aspects of the story in my mind. Running parallel to each other were a detailed lesson on the lives of wild rabbits along with the surrounding nature and a fascinating story of leadership and the art of war.
Secondly, the story didn't draw me in immediately. I spent many a night reading because I wanted to finish the book, not because I was wrapped up in the story. It wasn't until halfway through the book (a hefty 200 pages, or more) that I picked up the book because I couldn't wait to find out what happened next. Was this because I am not fond of animal stories? Possibly, except that the other 3 members of our 13 member book club who happened to make it past the beginning of the book felt the same way.
This is where my complaints end, and my praises begin. Richard Adams is obviously a well-read, talented, and clever writer. While the story was sometimes quiet and uneventful, the writing was never stilted or awkward. Often throughout the story I marveled at the creativity and sheer genius the author displayed. By the end, I thought he was brilliant.
The story opens with a small group of rabbits leaving a warren for fear of their lives. Over the course of the book they search for a new home, meet strange rabbit societies, defend themselves against predators, create new allies, confront fears, fight against enemies, and discover their strengths. The personalities of the characters were highly developed. I felt honored to get to know each one in the unlikely, close-knit 'band of brothers.'
Hazel, Fiver, Silver, Bigwig, Dandelion, Speedwell, Blackberry... the name of each rabbit added a great deal to the story and made a vivid impression in my mind.
Using visionary leadership skills and cleverness the Chief Rabbit, Hazel, is able to lead his band of rabbits into victory against an enemy much larger, stronger, and more highly-trained. They learn to respect each other for their given talents and work together for their safety, freedom and future life.
I have placed this book high on the list of stories to share and discuss with the boys when they are old enough to draw out and internalize the rich lessons to be learned from a rabbit named Hazel as well as understanding the cautionary social illustrations.
At that moment, in the sunset on Watership Down, there was offered to General Woundwort the opportunity to show whether he was really the leader of vision and genius which he believed himself to be, or whether he was no more than a tyrant with the courage and cunning of a pirate. For one beat of his pulse the lame rabbit's idea shone clearly before him. He grasped it and realized what it meant. The next, he had pushed it away from him. The sun dipped into the cloud bank and now he could see clearly the track along the ridge, leading to the beech hanger and the bloodshed for which he had prepared with so much energy and care.
::As an aside, thank you, book club ladies for an amazing meeting. I could have stayed all night. The conversation was animated, entertaining, and fascinating. I feel blessed to be a part of this group!