Watership Down by Richard Adams
Why don’t they write stories like this anymore, at least not for adults? Is this a children’s story? What makes it a children’s story?
I won’t do too much of a plot synopsis for such a well-known and beloved book. It’s a story about bunnies who have a lot of allegoric adventures. It is reminiscent of LORD OF THE RINGS in many ways – unlikely heroes set off on a quest, and battle evil, for the sake of saving the peaceful life of their idyllic pastoral home. It’s a ripping good yarn. And there are allegories and messages and morals to be learned that don’t whack you over the head.
Two topics I found myself mulling as I read it, and the first was the treatment of male vs. female characters (bucks vs. does) and how it shows the book’s age. Had it been written a few years later than it was (1972), we might have had female characters saving the day now and then. As it is, does are gentle, not unintelligent, and brave, but they are subordinate to bucks. Every buck has a name; a few does do, but most of the time they are “a doe” or “the does.” Look, I don’t know what rabbit society is like. I’m sure it’s not as enlightened as 21-st century human society in terms of gender roles. It’s just an observation.
The most puzzling episode I found myself mulling over was the significance of the warren the heroes found, where rabbits were indirectly fed by humans, for the purpose of occasionally being snared and killed. The rabbits in this warren had developed visual art and profound poetry. Indeed – I disliked most of the detours into rabbit story-telling that didn’t advance the plot, and I famously hate poetry; but the poem recited by the rabbit in that warren, I found to be beautiful. That very poem fills Fiver with horror and dread. The heroes ultimately run away from the warren when they discover what’s really going on with the snares. But they are filled with horror not only at the killing, and the warren rabbits’ acquiescence to it, but at the art and poetry as well. They deem this unnatural and a distraction for the warren rabbits so that they forget their miserable position. What is Adams saying about art and poetry? What are they a distraction from? I’m assuming he has some message here for humans, not just rabbits, but what is it? What should we do or face instead of distracting ourselves with art?
If you don’t care for questions like this, it’s easy to get caught up in the story without searches for deeper meaning. Just curl up and enjoy some rollicking good bunny adventures.