This is part of an ongoing series looking at books that have affected one fantasy author.
by Richard Adams
Those who know me know I’ve been a fan of rabbits for a long time now. Why that is, I do not know. My mom says it’s because I had a rabbit pillow when I was a baby. I think it’s got something to do with me finding innocence and potentially helplessness in such tiny creatures, and a feeling I need to protect them. But that’s only when I pause to think about it, which I rarely do.
I have pet rabbits, two at the moment. I’ve had more, and others, in the past. I’ll probably have pet rabbits as long as I live. Especially since my beagle gets along with them just fine.
But perhaps another reason I love rabbits so much is because of the novel Watership Down.
I first read this book in high school. I liked it, but I don’t remember it blowing my mind or anything. Later, while in college, in one of my classes about ancient and epic literature, my professor spouted something like, “Watership Down is as classic an epic tale as is Homer’s Odyssey.”
Something clicked for me. I went right out and re-read Watership Down, this time with different eyes. Then I read it again. I couldn’t believe I had missed so much during my first reading, but back then I hadn’t been the experienced and educated reader I was later to be.
My professor had been right. Watership Down is an epic tale, and it’s also a tale of heroics and sacrifice and struggle and … I could go on. It’s truly as good a book as anything Tolkien ever wrote, perhaps even better in some ways.
Watership Down is the story of a group of rabbits who go in quest of a new home after their burrow is destroyed. But that’s just the basics. That just skims the surface of this tale.
I don’t like giving away too much of the plots about books I’ve read, because I don’t want to derive potential readers the pleasure of discovering these treasures on their own and in their own way, but Watership Down is worth your reading if you are a fan of fantasy literature, especially epic literature.
Besides the plots, the characters are memorable, from small Fiver with his special (almost magical) abilities to the evil General Woundwort. And the writing is just darn good. Also, pushing this tale towards the fantastic, the rabbits have their own belief systems, almost a religion of sorts; the fear the Black Rabbit and generally have praise for El-agrarian, sort of a sun deity. The rabbits even have some of their own language, such as “hrududu,” which means car, or “silflay,” which means to eat grass. I’m oversimplifying all this for the sake of brevity, but I’m hoping you’ll get the picture. This is a complex and glorious tale.
And don’t let the cute little rabbits on the various covers of this book fool you. These rabbits aren’t Peter Cottontail or Bugs Bunny. They’ve got a lot more in common with Achilles, Gilgamesh and even Conan the Cimmerian.
Up next: Paradise Lost