I owe a debt of gratitude to Richard Adams. I’m getting into my mid-30s, but reading Watership Down for the first time made me feel like the kid I used to be, the kid getting transported to vivid, imaginative worlds through books’ words.
The anthropomorphized rabbits of Watership Down are not on a grand adventure to recover a mystical jewel or defeat an ancient evil (this isn’t that kind of fantasy novel) – they are simply trying to survive. Even simple acts that humans take for granted, like crossing a stream, are overwhelmingly intimidating for rabbits who are journeying far beyond the only world they’ve known. But what is truly endearing about the lead characters, including Hazel, Bigwig, and Fiver, is their mutual dependence and appreciation for each other. Each rabbit has strengths, and these strengths are recognized and utilized by the group as a whole. Chief Rabbit Hazel empowers those around him and is careful to keep smaller, weaker rabbits from feeling less valuable. I didn’t expect an adventure story about rabbits to teach me lessons on leadership, but I’ll take what I can get.
Adams builds a rich world in Watership Down complete with folklore, mythos, and supernatural second sight abilities that lead to rewarding instances of foreshadowing (one rabbit even ruminates on the unconscious mind). With all that being said, it would be a disservice to think of Adams’ work as a simple children’s book. This book sunk its claws into me, and I read forward eagerly whilst remaining fearful that one or more of my favorite characters would meet a grim end. I’m looking forward to re-reading Watership Down in a few years, and I’ve already bought the sequel Tales from Watership Down. Bigwig forever.