I first read this book when I was twelve years old and recently I pulled it from the shelf for a reread, due in part to discovering it had a sequel (but that’s another review).
It was a pleasure to find it held up and remained engaging even after all these years, few things dearly recalled from childhood can ever truly manage this.
Watership Down is about a group of rabbits that leave their burrow and search for a new place to call home. You might think, rabbits seeking a home sounds trite or even ridiculous for a novel’s premise, but the book illustrates well the hazards of life for a simple rabbit and weaves an impressive tapestry of culture for them. Everything from general cultural ideals to religion is touched upon, making for an impressive mythology.
Their struggles show the best and worst that their world has to offer, often mimicking ours in subtle ways. Thankfully this isn’t done in a blatant or forced way, the story flows through its rhythms smoothly and effortlessly.
The characters are true to their concepts and they maintain their personalities even as they grow. Making them feel both strange, for being animals and having the logic of a rabbit and yet familiar in the form of their personas. By novel’s end, you may find yourself attached to these characters and smiling at their victories, you won’t be alone.
As an after thought, I feel I should note that many an English professor has used this book as a teaching tool, as the characterization and distinct personalities of each rabbit are solid and relatable.