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by Richard Adams
Don’t be deceived by the title. The book has nothing to do with a shipwreck, or any kind of vessel whatever. Watership Down is a place–a pleasant, natural place, whose threatened inhabitants include a group of young rabbits. Hazel, Fiver, Pipkin, Hawkbit, Bigwig, Dandelion, and other friends break away from their “Owsla,” flee the destructive encroachments of men, and set off in search of a new home.
It is a long, arduous, and perilous journey. Along the way they are menaced by predators, frightened by mysterious machines, tempted by the deadly allure of farm-grown vegetables, and thrown into conflict with a very regimented community of rabbits. In between frights, fights, and flights, they share their rabbit folklore (particularly, the adventures of legendary rabbits’ rabbit El Ahrairah), and begin plans for their new home.
The climax is a battle in which the rabbits transcend the limits of their cowardly, helpless kind–and in which the spirit of El Ahrairah makes his presence known.
This book is a beautiful story of friendship, courage, danger, and the search for a place to belong. It tells how individuals with different strengths and weaknesses come together to make a wonderful whole. And it creates a fascinating insight (however imaginary it may be, it is still fascinating) into the minds and social structures of the rabbit. Once you’ve read this book, you’ll think differently about rabbits.
Don’t be taken in by the animated movie based on this book, in which a certain group of rabbits sported swastika armbands, etc. I do not believe this is an allegorical book. I think you can simply enjoy it as a drama and adventure about the lives of creatures who can only count up to four and who have only two natural lines of defense–to freeze, and to bolt. It is enough to experience the anxieties, sorrows, hopes, and triumphs of this group of determined, furry friends, and the mischievous magic of El Ahrairah. There is no need for any more than that.
This book won the 1972 Carnegie Medal, the British equivalent of Americas Newbery Medal.