I read a lot of books and I like a lot of books — I’m pretty good at prefiltering books I don’t want to read. The list of books I love; the ones that fill me with pure joy and a longing desire to make them real, to travel physically — at any cost — to the land of their origin in order to gaze in wonder upon the place in which the words were penned or inspired, to sit quietly when the book is done and reminisce about the characters as though at a funeral for a dear friend; is a very short list.
The Lord of the Rings and Watership Down are possibly the only two. There are candidates, like Daniel Abraham’s Long Price Quartet that just haven’t been around long enough for me to know if they retain that value over decades of rereading. There are others that, as a younger reader would have been right there on the list but which, with age, have begun to grow pale — the cracks start to show — Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, The Belgariad by David Eddings, the Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan…
I have read Watership Down too many times to count. I will read it again. I will share it with my friends. It is one of a very small list of books that inspire me and fill my imagination with wonder and awe.
And yet, how to describe such a book? It is about rabbits that talk. It is about society and prophecy and adventure and freedom and bravery and life.
Hazel and Fiver leave their home when Fiver has a vision of it being destroyed. They take with them a small group of other young rabbits. They run into all sorts of adventures along the way with one of the most thrilling climaxes of any book and perhaps the sweetest of endings I’ve yet to read.
Adams is a brilliant writer and obviously in love with the English countryside. His descriptions of the fields, downs, farms and woods leaves a pastoral hunger to be THERE, to be in the midst of such verdant life. Add to that his subtle characterization of the rabbits, making each of them different and changing throughout the course of the book while keeping them believable as well. Finally his intimate understanding of rabbits and other wildlife that makes them still rabbits brings a powerful sense of realism that makes this feel like a secret animal history – one that Adams has made us privilege to.
There are other things to recommend this book. It has great social commentary for many political and societal tendencies — we are, perhaps, more like rabbits than we would like. The hero’s journey is woven throughout. The characters each grow and learn and change. There are several outright heroic moments that make the reader want to stand up and cheer.
But, at its heart, those are only small things. Watership Down is loved, not for its prose or its societal allegory but for its ability to speak directly to the heart. Watership Down is a journey taken with friends that I shall forever remember. It is reading a journal of memories — going back to visit again with dear friends. It is sitting in a secluded wood at the top of a green hill in the summer evening while the breeze blows gently by. It is home.
Watership Down will forever be a part of you once you’ve read it and you’ll wish to do so over and over. What are you waiting for?