Saturday, March 20, 2010

Rabbits redux

At the FT, Angus Watson walks Watership Down (site registration required).

I must confess that I absolutely adored Watership Down as a child - I read it again and again, and found the scenes of rabbit warfare unutterably moving! I was just thinking a few days ago of Richard Adams - I was reading the first installment of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel series and was very much reminded of Adams' novel Maia, a favorite of mine when I was a teenager.

In the late 70s and early 80s, Adams seemed absolutely central to the (my?) literary landscape - The Girl in a Swing made a huge impression on me as a Young Person, and I was again thinking recently that I should obtain a copy and read it again. But one does not seem to hear of him so much these days - his reputation might be due for a revival...


  1. I was not an "animal book" person at all, but when Watership Down came out I was a student working part-time in a bookshop so I read a copy because all the booksellers said how good it was. I loved it. I was not so keen on the next couple (Shardik is one title I remember) but like you I was blown away by Girl in the Swing, a yellowing/browning copy of which I still have. Maybe one of these days......though I have a feeling I may find it a bit clunky and even sexist these days, from what little I dimly recall of the plot.

  2. I re-read Watership Down about ten years ago, and if anything, it was better than it was when I read it as a kid. Adams does an almost unbelievably good job of making the rabbits into characters we care about and can follow and understand while at the same time never letting us forget that they're rabbits. (It's also, incidentally, a reflection on various ways of organizing society--the moment when General Woundwort meets Bigwig and assumes that the leader behind him must be enormously big and strong, given how big and strong his second-in-command is, is telling.)

    I did try reading Shardik a few years back, and it didn't do much for me. Too drawn out, and its allegorical dimension was too overt.

  3. I loved Watership Down too. Just an amazing amount of plot--I've never seen anything like it!

    I just have two problems with the book:

    1. I find the whole Fiver-as-psychic thing a bit annoying. This is silly, I know: once we accept talking rabbits, it's hard to see how we can be bothered by a bit of ESP--but there you have it. That said, having Fiver in there is a stroke of genius on Adams's part: it adds a key dimension to have a main character who is not completely instrumentally-focused.

    2. The book's a bit sexist, no? The girl rabbits don't have much to do. Not an uncommon thing in an action story, I know, but, still . . . did this bother you at all, or

    And, should I really try to read other Richard Adams books? Watership Down is so great that I've been afraid to ever try to read anything else by him.

    You know what I mean, right? There are some writers for whom, once you read one of their books, you want to read all of them. But others, it's not exactly that one book is enough--I'd happily read another book that's similar to Watership Down--but you just can't bring yourself to suffer the disappointment of reading another by them.

    Uh oh, I think that last sentence got away from me there, but I think you know what I mean.