The other reviewers mocked me when I said I was going to review Watership Down. ‘I hope you like rabbits!’, they sniggered. Well, Watership Down does have rabbits as the main characters, but it is so much more than a story about bunnies. That would be like saying The Hobbit was about hobbits. Both stories encompasses so many greater themes — adventure, friendship and loyalty, courage in the face of adversity, leadership, the value of home and security, and on it goes (like the road).
If you enjoyed The Hobbit then you should like Watership Down. The writing is similar in some ways and the reading level is about the same. I found Watership Down in my local Chapters bookstore in the section for readers aged nine to twelve years old. I strongly suspect that the novel has not been reclassified since its initial publication, because while that might have been an accurate reflection of the reading level when it was first published in 1972, I doubt the current majority of nine-year olds would easily comprehend something like, for example, this:
The red rays flickered in and out of the grass stems, flashing minutely on membranous wings, casting long shadows behind the thinnest of filamentary legs, breaking each patch of soil into a myriad individual grains.
That sentence, by the way, is not one of the better ones of the book, but it’s a good example of the reading level. In any case, this is a story that can be enjoyed by adults and younger readers alike. If you’ve been put off by the Harry Potter books for any reason and you still want a novel for your children, then this one should fit the bill nicely, even if you do have to explain a few words. And it’s far better written. In fact, the story is so well-told that even people who may feel silly reading a book about bunnies will enjoy it. The themes within it are applicable to adults just as much as children, and the plot is soundly-constructed and not predictable.
Although the characters exist as creatures that we are familiar with and live in a real place in the English countryside, Richard Adams gives them such depth by creating their own language, culture, and beliefs that this world-within-a-world comes to life in ways that I’d never have imagined possible. The personalities of the rabbits are well-fleshed out and based on human characteristics, yet they are still bound by most of the quirks and weaknesses found in real rabbits. For instance, the rabbits startle easily and are prone to bolting, after which they have to find one another again. The behaviour of the rabbits is based not only upon Richard Adams‘ own observations in Watership Down, where he lived, but also on the book of a British naturalist. This adds a strong sense of realism to the characters, making them believable and appealing. I think Adam‘s experiences as a soldier in WWII also filtered into the story through various characters and the ways they face their trials.
This is a truly great story told for children by an adult who knew how to communicate on their level without being condescending or cute, and it is just as captivating for adults. In essence, this is a stirring tale of adventure and friendship, and I highly recommend it for anyone.