Saturday, March 29, 2008

Watership Down

Watership Down is unlike any book I've read before. Compelling, poignant, and intriguing, the author crafts a lyrical tale. Just kidding, Trish. Now I will suffer acute attacks of 'should I use that word?' I have no intentions of claiming to be a writer. I am simply an annoying, novice book reviewer.

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.

pg. 421

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!


Sherry said...

How old do you think is old enough for Watership? I' not sure. I read and enjoyed it a long time ago, but I'm not sure my eleven year old son would be quite ready for it.

Also, could you post about how your book club works. I'm starting one, and I'd like to know what others do.

Laura said...

I enjoyed Watership Down years ago as a teenager, enough that as my children came along I've foisted it on them. Thus far, two have read it and one is in the process of reading it. I think the one currently reading it would agree with you on the difficulty of getting immersed in the story at first. He attempted to read it last year when he was 12, but couldn't get into it.

Great review, thanks!

Anonymous said...

A book club sounds SO did you find one?

Precision Quality Laser said...

This book sounds a lot like the Abbey of Redwall ( I think that is the title...) series. If you haven't read it, grab it from the library today! It is about forest creatures set in medieval times and about their adventures, wars and conquests. Lots of strategizing, companionships, even a little romance woven in. You could read the whole series in a matter of days, it is that compelling of a story. I plan to read it to my sons when they are a little older.

Anonymous said...

I read this long ago and loved it. Thanks for this review.

Sarah at SmallWorld said...

This is one of my favorite all-time books. I have a wonderful memory of reading this aloud to my oldest when he was probably 12. I think this was the last bedtime "story book" we read together before he moved into reading all by himself at night. :-(

Wendy said...

I read this book eons ago - and can't remember much about it other than I thought it was cool the rabbits could talk! Thanks for the reminder that this is really classic literature...I'll have to re-read this one, I think.

And, by the way, you are a great book reviewer!!! Compellingly so!

Heidi said...

Sherry~ I left a message on your blog, but thought I would answer here as well. I imagine that a 10-13 yo would be able to enjoy the story, but I think I might hold off until about 9th grade so that my boys can get more out of it. Hard to say, though. I posted last year about forming a book club. Maybe that will be the next 'from the archives' post...

toomanyhats~ I started one. :) If you can't find one available to you, I would highly recommend getting your own started. I'll repost my 'how to start a book club' in the next week.

Jenni~ I've heard a lot of great things about Redwall and hope to read it with my oldest in the next couple years. Thanks for the recommendation!

Wendy~ Thanks! ;-P

Sarah said...

I LOVE this book!
I read it several times in elementary and high school years- and now I feel compelled to make a trip to the library for it again.

Dreams of a Country Girl said...

you are an amazing woman -- kids, decor, books, hubby, cook....if i didn't already love you so much i would hate you.

i am going to have to start a book club when you know hwat happens....
~wink wink~

Anonymous said...

I read Watership Down in high school, many years ago. I will never see rabbits eating grass and not wonder about what is really going on in their world... silfray hraka?

Jennifer said...

This was a favorite of mine in my teen years...I still have my worn copy tucked away in a bookshelf. You've made me decide to pull it back out and read it again...:)

heather said...

M read this book to me while I was in the hospital waiting to give birth to A. I will always think of that when I see that book!