A few billion years ago I saw a movie that I knew nothing about. And I really liked it. So I vowed to someday read the book. I do that a lot.
Flash forward to 2015 and I finally fulfilled that promise, and over many many months, I consumed the book.
And now I love rabbits even more.
Watership Down by Richard Adams is another unread Holy Grail in my life, now read.
Famed British author Adams originally started his mythological tale while on long car ride with his children. He remembered it all and published his lengthy book in 1972, which was adapted into an animated feature in 1978.
We start with Hazel, our future leader, and his younger brother Fiver. They are rabbits living in a Warren, a rabbit community, and young Fiver has a vision of terrible devastating tragedy that will destroy all. His concerns are taken to their leader, who blows them off because he is an idiot. Very quickly they rally several rabbits to leave the Warren, all to find some safe place, well away from whatever this danger is.
Hence a long and perilous journey begins, as this small clan of rabbits face all sorts of dangers and challenging situations, and worse of all, other Warrens, all in their quest to find happiness.
But even when this appears to possibly happen, all does not go well.
What I find fascinating about Watership Down is the multiple levels at play here. One could look at this simply as a daring adventure tale with rabbits, all being told for children. Or you could see the interesting character interplay and wonder if things will change or evolve between Hazel and Fiver and Bigwig and Blackberry to name a few.
But two aspects of Watership Down kept plucking at me while reading.
Adams seems to be making numerous commentaries on various systems of government, and how the citizens live and accept, sometimes out of fear, how they are lead. Each Warren they encounter and survive illustrates bad governments and governing philosophies in ways that rival Animal Farm in their direness. I heavily suspect Adam was making Swift like pronouncements on then current times.
The second aspect that struck me was the rabbits religion. Tales of El-ahrairah, the rabbit God, are constantly told by the rabbits all though the books. Their God is a rascally fellow, always pulling pranks and getting into trouble and making enemies. And these creatures lionize him and his antics, since El-ahrairah is the inspiration for their survival as a species. I also heavily suspect Adam was making pronouncements on then current times, but not so Swift like this time, more subtle commentary.
Of course I could be wrong. Sometimes a cigar is simply a cigar.
As for the more earthy parts of Watership Down, I fully liked the characters of Fiver, who was always right with his visions, and Bigwig, who always did his duty and put absolute trust in Fiver’s vision. Hazel slightly annoyed me because his plans were sometimes reckless. It was also very interesting with how the rabbits interacted, mostly as little as possible, with humans and our things. They really do not want anything to do with us. Which is fascinating when they adapt at one point to solve a problem, and the solution is very human based. Which confuses the heck out of most of them.
It is interesting the cultural impact this sometimes sad story has had. The creators of the television show Lost have cited Watership Down as an inspiration, which is obvious now. Also, some critics over time have been unhappy as to how the female rabbits are mainly used as commodities for breeding, forgetting that in the animal world, that would be the case quite a bit. Kinda like that line from Jaws about sharks eating and swimming and making little sharks. Kinda the same with rabbits, just not as much swimming.
Watership Down is one of those stories that can be enjoyed by both children and adults, much like Harry Potter or The Little Prince, with all being entertained and made to think.
And you will definitely be rooting for these rabbits.
…is currently reading Angel Love by Barbara Slate, and ‘Mazing Man by Stephen DeStano and Bob Rozakis, both published by DC Comics.
P.S. Today is the FIFTH BIRTHDAY of SCOOPS MENTAL PROPAGANDA!!!!!