|Media type||Print (hardback, paperback & audiobook)|
|Pages||413 (first edition) plus maps|
|LC Class||PZ10.3.A197 Wat|
|Followed by||Tales from Watership Down|
Watership Down is an adventure novel by English author Richard Adams, published by Rex Collings Ltd of London in 1972. Set in southern England, around Berkshire, the story features a small group of rabbits. Although they live in their natural wild environment, with burrows, they are anthropomorphised, possessing their own culture, language, proverbs, poetry, and mythology. Evoking epic themes, the novel follows the rabbits as they escape the destruction of their warren and seek a place to establish a new home (the hill of Watership Down), encountering perils and temptations along the way.
Watership Down was Richard Adams' debut novel. It was rejected by several publishers before Collings accepted the manuscript; the published book then won the annual Carnegie Medal (UK), annual Guardian Prize (UK), and other book awards. The novel was adapted into an animated feature film in 1978 and, from 1999 to 2001, an animated children's television series. In 2018, a drama of the story was made, which both aired in the UK and was made available on Netflix.
Adams completed a sequel almost 25 years later, in 1996, Tales from Watership Down,[a] constructed as a collection of 19 short stories about El-ahrairah and the rabbits of the Watership Down warren.
Origin and publication history
"To Juliet and Rosamund, remembering the road to Stratford-on-Avon"
—Dedication, Watership Down
"Master Rabbit I saw" —Walter de la Mare
—Line quoted in Watership Down; the poem can be seen as a possible source of inspiration.
The story began as tales that Richard Adams told his young daughters Juliet and Rosamund during long car journeys. He recounted in 2007 that he "began telling the story of the rabbits ... improvised off the top of [his] head, as [they] were driving along". The daughters insisted he write it down—"they were very, very persistent". After some delay he began writing in the evenings and completed it 18 months later. The book is dedicated to the two girls.
Adams's descriptions of wild rabbit behaviour were based on The Private Life of the Rabbit (1964), by British naturalist Ronald Lockley. The two later became friends, embarking on an Antarctic tour that became the subject of a co-authored book, Voyage Through the Antarctic (A. Lane, 1982).
Watership Down was rejected seven times before it was accepted by Rex Collings. The one-man London publisher Collings wrote to an associate, "I've just taken on a novel about rabbits, one of them with extra-sensory perception. Do you think I'm mad?" The associate did call it "a mad risk," in her obituary of Collings, to accept "a book as bizarre by an unknown writer which had been turned down by the major London publishers; but," she continued, "it was also dazzlingly brave and intuitive." Collings had little capital and could not pay an advance but "he got a review copy onto every desk in London that mattered." Adams wrote that it was Collings who gave Watership Down its title. There was a second edition in 1973.
Macmillan USA, then a media giant, published the first U.S. edition in 1974 and a Dutch edition was also published that year by Het Spectrum. According to WorldCat, participating libraries hold copies in 18 languages of translation.
In the Sandleford warren,[b] Fiver, a runty buck rabbit who is a seer, receives a frightening vision of his warren's imminent destruction. He and his brother Hazel fail to convince the Threarah, their Chief Rabbit, of the need to evacuate; they then try to convince the other rabbits, but only succeed in gaining nine followers, all bucks. Captain Holly of the Sandleford Owsla (the warren's military caste) accuses the group of fomenting dissension against the Threarah and tries to stop them leaving, but is driven off.
Once out in the world, the travelling group of rabbits finds itself following the leadership of Hazel, who had been considered an unimportant member of the warren before. The group travels far through dangerous territory. Bigwig and Silver, both former Owsla and the strongest rabbits among them, keep the others protected, helped by the ingenuity of Blackberry (the cleverest rabbit) and Hazel's good judgment. Along the way, they cross the River Enborne, and evade a badger, a dog, a crow, and a car. Hazel and Bigwig also stop three rabbits from attempting to return to the Sandleford warren.
They meet a rabbit named Cowslip, who invites them to join his own warren. The majority of Hazel's group are relieved to finally be able to sleep and feed well, and therefore decide to overlook the strange and evasive behavior of the new rabbits. Fiver, however, senses nothing but death in the new warren. Later, Bigwig is caught in a snare, only surviving the ordeal thanks to Blackberry and Hazel's quick thinking. Fiver deduces the new warren is managed by a farmer, who protects and feeds the rabbits but also harvests a number of them for their meat and skins. He admonishes the others in a crazed lecture for not realizing the residents of Cowslip's warren were simply using Hazel and the others to increase their own odds of survival. The Sandleford rabbits, badly shaken, continue on their journey. They are soon joined by Strawberry, a buck who leaves Cowslip's warren after his doe is killed by one of the snares.
Fiver's visions instruct the rabbits to seek a home atop the hills. The group eventually finds and settles in a beech hangar on Watership Down. While digging the new warren, they are joined by Captain Holly and his friend Bluebell. Holly is severely wounded, and both rabbits are ill from exhaustion, having escaped both the violent human destruction of the Sandleford Warren and an attack by Cowslip's rabbits along the way. Holly's ordeal has left him a changed rabbit, and after telling the others that Fiver's terrible vision has come true, he offers to join Hazel's band in whatever way they will have him.
Although Watership Down is a peaceful habitat, Hazel realizes there are no does, making the future of the new warren certain to end with the inevitable deaths of the buck rabbits present. With the help of their useful new friend, a black-headed gull named Kehaar, they locate a nearby warren called Efrafa, which is overcrowded. Hazel sends a small embassy, led by Holly, to Efrafa to present their request for does.
Meanwhile, Hazel and Pipkin, the smallest member of the group, scout the nearby Nuthanger Farm, where they find a hutch with rabbits inside. Despite their uncertainty about living wild, the hutch rabbits are willing to come to Watership. Two nights later, Hazel leads a raid on the farm, which frees three of the hutch rabbits before the farmer returns. Hazel's leg is wounded by a shotgun blast, and he is rescued by Fiver and Blackberry. When the embassy returns soon after, Hazel and his rabbits learn that Efrafa is a police state led by the despotic General Woundwort, who refuses to allow anyone to leave his range of control. Holly and the other rabbits dispatched have managed to escape with little more than their lives intact.
However, Holly's group has managed to identify an Efrafan doe named Hyzenthlay, who wishes to leave the warren and can recruit other does to join in the escape. Hazel and Blackberry devise a plan to rescue Hyzenthlay's group and bring them to Watership Down. Bigwig is sent to do the mission, and infiltrates Efrafa in the guise of a member of the Owsla, while Hazel and the rest wait by a nearby river. With help from Kehaar, Bigwig manages to free Hyzenthlay and nine other does, as well as a condemned prisoner named Blackavar. Woundwort and his officers pursue, but the Watership rabbits and the escapees use a punt to escape down the River Test, though one doe is killed when the punt strikes a bridge. Once clear of Efrafa, they make the long journey home, losing one more rabbit to a fox along the way. They eventually reach Watership, unaware they are being shadowed by one of Woundwort's patrols, which reports back to Efrafa.
Later that summer, the Owsla of Efrafa, led by Woundwort himself, unexpectedly arrives to destroy the warren at Watership Down and take back the escapees. Through Bigwig's bravery and loyalty, Fiver's visions, and Hazel's ingenuity, the Watership Down rabbits ensure the defeat of the Efrafans by holding off the attack and unleashing the Nuthanger Farm watchdog on them. Despite being gravely wounded by Bigwig, Woundwort refuses to back down; his followers flee the dog in terror, leaving Woundwort to stand his ground against the dog unobserved. His body is never found, and Groundsel, one of his former followers, continues to fervently believe in his survival.
After loosing the dog, Hazel is nearly killed by one of the farmhouse cats. He is saved by young Lucy, the former owner of the escaped hutch rabbits. Upon returning to Watership, Hazel effects a lasting peace and friendship between the remaining Efrafans and his own rabbits. Some time later, Hazel and Campion, the intelligent new chief of Efrafa, send rabbits to start a new warren at Caesar's Belt, to relieve the effects of overcrowding at both their warrens.
As time goes on, the three warrens on the downs prosper under Hazel, Campion, and Groundsel (their respective chiefs). Woundwort never returns, and becomes a heroic legend to some rabbits, and a sort of bogeyman to frighten children, to others. Kehaar rejoins his flock, but continues to visit the rabbits every winter. However, he refuses to search for Woundwort, showing even he still fears him.
Many years later, on a cold March morning, an elderly Hazel is visited by El-ahrairah, the spiritual overseer of all rabbits and the hero of the traditional rabbit stories told over the course of the book. El-ahrairah invites Hazel to join his own Owsla, reassuring Hazel of Watership's future success and prosperity. Leaving his friends and no-longer-needed physical body behind, Hazel departs Watership Down with the spirit guide.
- Hazel: Fiver's elder brother, he is the novel's main protagonist. Though Hazel is not particularly large or powerful, he is loyal, brave, affectionate and a quick thinker. He sees the good in each individual, and what they bring to the table; in so doing, he makes sure no one gets left behind, thus earning the respect and loyalty of his warren. He becomes their Chief Rabbit in the process, with his name accordingly expanded to Hazel-rah ("Chief Hazel" or "Prince Hazel"). He often relies on Fiver's advice, and he trusts his brother's instincts most of the time.
- Fiver: Hazel's younger brother, a runt rabbit whose name literally means "Little Thousand" (Rabbits have a single word, "hrair", for all numbers greater than four; Fiver's name in Lapine, Hrairoo, indicates that he is the smallest of a litter of five or more rabbits.) As a seer, he has visions and strong instincts. He is shy, kind, and intelligent, and though he does not directly act as a leader, the others listen to and follow his advice. Vilthuril becomes his mate.
- Bigwig: An ex-Owsla officer, and the largest, strongest, and bravest rabbit of the group. His name in Lapine is Thlayli, which literally means "Fur-head" and refers to the shock of fur on the back of his head. Though he is initially harsh and cynical, he learns to show compassion and be less impulsive. He is also shown to be cunning in his own way when he rescues the does from Efrafa, and later devises a plan to defeat the larger and stronger General Woundwort. This final confrontation leaves him severely wounded, but he survives and becomes the leader of Hazel's Owsla.
- Blackberry: A clever buck rabbit with black-tipped ears. He is often capable of understanding concepts the other rabbits find incomprehensible. He realizes, for instance, that wood floats, and the rabbits use this tactic twice to travel on water. He also works out how to dismantle the snare that almost kills Bigwig, saving him. He is one of Hazel's most trusted advisors, and he and Kehaar devise the plan to rescue does from Efrafa.
- Dandelion: Described as a "dashing" and "gallant" buck rabbit, notable for his storytelling ability and speed. He is the first to recognize Watership Down as their best new home, and is instrumental in luring the Nuthanger Farm dog into the Efrafan army, during Woundwort's siege.
- Holly: Former captain of the Sandleford Warren Owsla, escapes with Bluebell when his warren is destroyed by men. He is near death when he finds the warren at Watership Down, but is nursed back to health and welcomed by the fugitives. He leads the first embassy to Efrafa, but this second trauma causes him to strongly oppose the plan to rescue the does. He and Blackavar later become scouts for the Watership warren.
- Bluebell: Buck rabbit who escapes with Holly during the destruction of Sandleford. He tells jokes (often in rhyme) to cope, and to help himself and Holly recover from the mental strain of seeing the Sandleford warren destroyed and Pimpernel killed by Cowslip's rabbits. He, like Dandelion, is also a storyteller.
- Pimpernel: A Sandleford rabbit, who helps Bluebell to escape the poisoning of the Sandleford warren but becomes very ill and weak in the process. He travels towards Watership with Holly and Bluebell, but is murdered by Cowslip's rabbits.
- Cowslip: While not chief rabbit of his warren, he is the first to meet Hazel and the others, and tricks them into staying in the Warren of the Snares, which is why they refer to it as "Cowslip's Warren" afterwards. He and the others refuse to answer any questions or discuss the snares. After Fiver exposes and ruins their blissful denial, and Strawberry defects to Fiver's side, Cowslip leads some other rabbits to attack Holly's group as it passes through their territory.
- Strawberry: A large, sleek buck from Cowslip's warren who leaves with the Watership Down rabbits after his doe, Nildro-hain ("Blackbird's Song", in Lapine), is killed by a snare. While not as hardy as the other rabbits, he learns quickly, knows a good deal about digging a warren, and is very diplomatic and good with words. It is for this last reason that he is selected to go with Holly on the first embassy to Efrafa. He later becomes an advisor to Groundsel when the new warren is started at Caesar's Belt.
- Haystack: One of the hutch does, who escapes in order to live with the wild rabbits.
- Clover: One of the hutch does, who escapes in order to live with the wild rabbits. Her mate, Laurel, does not escape with her and allows himself to be taken back to the hutch by the farmer. She is the most hardy of the hutch rabbits, and bears the first litter of kittens at the Watership warren. Holly becomes her new mate.
- Boxwood: A hutch buck who escapes in order to live with the wild rabbits. He is taken under Strawberry's wing, as he initially does not know how to survive in the wild. He is Haystack's mate.
- Buckthorn: A strong half-grown buck who was expected to be part of the Sandleford Owsla once he reached maturity. He joins Bigwig and Silver as a fighter and suffers several serious injuries during the story. He is also sent with Holly on the first embassy to Efrafa, and later becomes one of Groundsel's advisors at the warren on Caesar's Belt.
- Hawkbit: Described in the book as a "rather slow, stupid rabbit", but is accepted by Hazel regardless. He at one point defies Hazel and is bitten by Bigwig in retaliation, but later becomes a valued member of the warren.
- Speedwell and Acorn: Pair of rank-and-file rabbits who are friends of Hawkbit. They become frightened and want to turn back on the journey to Watership, but eventually become sentries and burrow diggers in the new warren.
- Silver: The sturdy and level-headed nephew of Sandleford's Chief Rabbit. At Sandleford, he is teased for his pale grey fur (his namesake) and accused of getting his position in the Owsla through nepotism, prompting him to join the fugitives. He, Bigwig and Buckthorn frequently defend the other rabbits along their journey, and he later accompanies Holly on the embassy to Efrafa. He also is instrumental in the Efrafan escape, planning a route for Bigwig and the does back to the river.
- Pipkin: A small and initially timid buck rabbit. Hazel refuses to leave him behind when he is wounded, and Pipkin grows fiercely loyal to Hazel. He serves as a comforter to Holly, and becomes very brave, offering to go into Efrafa himself when Bigwig is late in returning. He also is the first to jump into the River Test, when Hazel orders the rabbits to do so. His name is Hlao-roo ("Little Dimple in the Grass") in Lapine.
- Hyzenthlay: A doe who lives in Efrafa and assists Bigwig in arranging for the liberation of its inhabitants. General Woundwort, who suspects her of fomenting dissension, orders his guards to keep a close eye on her. She escapes Efrafa with Bigwig. Like Fiver, she has visions. Her name means literally "shine-dew-fur", or "fur shining like dew". She becomes Hazel's mate.
- Thethuthinnang - In Lapine, "Movement of Leaves". A very sturdy, sensible doe and Hyzenthlay's friend and lieutenant in organizing the rebellion among the Efrafan does.
- Vilthuril: An Efrafan doe - her name's translation is never given. She escapes Efrafa with Bigwig, Hyzenthlay and the other does. She becomes Fiver's mate, and is said to be the only one to understand him as well as Hazel. One of their kittens, Threar, becomes a seer like his father.
- Blackavar: A rabbit with dark fur who tries to escape from Efrafa but is apprehended, mutilated, and put on display to discourage further escape attempts. When he is liberated by Bigwig, he quickly proves himself an expert tracker and ranger, and also shows himself to be an effective fighter when the Efrafan rabbits attack the warren.
- Kehaar: A black-headed gull who is forced, by an injured wing, to take refuge on Watership Down, and befriends the rabbits when they help him. He is characterized by his frequent impatience, guttural accent and unusual phrasing. After discovering the Efrafan warren and helping the rabbits, he rejoins his colony, but visits frequently. According to Adams, Kehaar was based on a fighter from the Norwegian Resistance in World War II.
- The Mouse: Never named, the mouse is a resident of Watership Down before the arrival of the rabbits. While rabbits usually despise smaller mammals like rodents and shrews, and view them as untrustworthy, Hazel kindly saves the mouse from a kestrel. This action allies the mice and rabbits on Watership Down, and the same mouse later warns them of General Woundwort's intended surprise attack, thus saving many lives.
- General Woundwort: The main antagonist of the novel. A fearless, cunning and brutally efficient rabbit who was orphaned at a young age and raised by humans, Woundwort escaped, founded the Efrafa warren, and is its tyrannical chief. Though larger and stronger than Bigwig, he lacks mercy and kindness. He even leads an attack to destroy the Watership warren as an act of revenge against Bigwig's stealing does from Efrafa, an attack defeated by Hazel's ingenuity and Bigwig's bravery. After fighting the Nuthanger farm dog, he disappears completely, and many rabbits remain unsure if he still lives or not.
- Captain Campion: Woundwort's most trusted subordinate, Campion is a loyal, brave and clever officer. Despite being on opposite sides, Bigwig and Hazel like Campion and twice refuse to kill him when they have him at their mercy. After Woundwort disappears, Campion becomes the Chief Rabbit of Efrafa and reforms it, making peace with the Watership rabbits.
- Vervain: The sadistic and callous head of the Owslafa (Council Police) in Efrafa, said to be one of the most hated rabbits in the warren. He is ordered to kill Fiver during the Watership attack, but Fiver calmly prophesies his death, and he flees in terror, never to be seen again.
- Groundsel: A calm, sensible member of Woundwort's Owsla, he rescues an Efrafan patrol when their Captain is killed by a fox. He accompanies Woundwort to Watership with the rest of the Owsla, though he is wisely hesitant to attack Hazel's rabbits after their earlier displays of cleverness. He and four others surrender to Fiver after the dog incident, and he is accepted into Watership as a friend, eventually becoming the Chief Rabbit at the new warren in Caesar's Belt.
- Threarah - "Lord Rowan Tree" or "Prince Rowan Tree", in Lapine. Silver's Uncle, and the ruler of the Sandleford Warren, who is wiser and less impulsive than most rabbits. He understands Fiver's warning, but believes the warren, which has weathered other disasters, can survive whatever Fiver foresees. He is presumed killed in the destruction of the warren.
- Frith: A god-figure in rabbit folklore, said to have created the world. While forced to create elil (predators) because of the rabbits' pride when overpopulating the Earth, he promised that rabbits would never be allowed to go extinct. In Lapine, the word Frith means "the sun/sunrise".
- El-ahrairah: A rabbit trickster folk hero, who is the protagonist of nearly all of the rabbits' stories. He represents what every rabbit wants to be: smart, devious, tricky, and devoted to the well-being of his warren. In Lapine, his name is a contraction of the phrase Elil-hrair-rah, which means "prince with a thousand enemies". His stories of cleverness (and excessive hubris) are similar to Br'er Rabbit and Anansi.
- Prince Rainbow: A lesser deity in rabbit folklore, tasked by Frith to organize the world. He often abuses his power to try to harm or rein in El-ahrairah and the rabbits, but is always outsmarted.
- Rabscuttle: Another mythical folk hero, Rabscuttle is El-ahrairah's second-in-command and Owsla Captain. He participates in many of El-ahrairah's capers. He is considered to be almost as clever as his chief. His name may be a reference to a rabbit's "scut", or tail.
- Black Rabbit of Inlé: Known as Inlé-rah ("Prince/Chief of the Moon" or "Prince/Chief of the Dead") to his ghostly Owsla, he is a sombre phantom servant of the god Frith who appears in rabbit folklore as a kind of analogue to the grim reaper. His duty is to ensure all rabbits die at their predestined time, and he avenges any rabbit killed without his consent. Inlé is the Lapine term for the moon/moonrise, as well as the word for the Land of the Dead.
"Lapine" is a fictional language created by author Richard Adams for the novel, where it is spoken by the rabbit characters. The language was again used in Adams' 1996 sequel, Tales from Watership Down, and has appeared in both the film and television adaptations. The language fragments in the books consist of a few dozen distinct words, used mainly for the naming of rabbits, their mythological characters, and objects in their world. The name "Lapine" comes from the French word for rabbit.
Watership Down has been described as an allegory, with the labours of Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, and Silver "mirror[ing] the timeless struggles between tyranny and freedom, reason and blind emotion, and the individual and the corporate state." Adams draws on classical heroic and quest themes from Homer and Virgil, creating a story with epic motifs.
The Hero, the Odyssey, and the Aeneid
The book explores the themes of exile, survival, heroism, leadership, political responsibility, and the "making of a hero and a community". Joan Bridgman's analysis of Adams's works in The Contemporary Review identifies the community and hero motifs: "[T]he hero's journey into a realm of terrors to bring back some boon to save himself and his people" is a powerful element in Adams's tale. This theme derives from the author's exposure to the works of mythologist Joseph Campbell, especially his study of comparative mythology, The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), and in particular, Campbell's "monomyth" theory, also based on Carl Jung's view of the unconscious mind, that "all the stories in the world are really one story."
The concept of the hero has invited comparisons between Watership Down's characters and those in Homer's Odyssey and Virgil's Aeneid. Hazel's courage, Bigwig's strength, Blackberry's ingenuity and craftiness, and Dandelion's and Bluebell's poetry and storytelling all have parallels in the epic poem Odyssey. Kenneth Kitchell declared, "Hazel stands in the tradition of Odysseus, Aeneas, and others". Tolkien scholar John Rateliff calls Adams's novel an Aeneid "what-if" book: what if the seer Cassandra (Fiver) had been believed and she and a company had fled Troy (Sandleford Warren) before its destruction? What if Hazel and his companions, like Odysseus, encounter a seductive home at Cowslip's Warren (Land of the Lotus Eaters)? Rateliff goes on to compare the rabbits' battle with Woundwort's Efrafans to Aeneas's fight with Turnus's Latins. "By basing his story on one of the most popular books of the Middle Ages and Renaissance, Adams taps into a very old myth: the flight from disaster, the heroic refugee in search of a new home, a story that was already over a thousand years old when Virgil told it in 19 BC."
It has been suggested that Watership Down contains symbolism of several religions, or that the stories of El-ahrairah were meant to mimic some elements of real-world religion. When asked in a 2007 BBC Radio interview about the religious symbolism in the novel, Adams said the story was "nothing like that at all". He said the rabbits in Watership Down did not worship; however, "they believed passionately in El-ahrairah." Adams explained that he meant the book to be "only a made-up story ... in no sense an allegory or parable or any kind of political myth. I simply wrote down a story I told to my little girls." Instead, he explained, the "let-in" religious stories of El-ahrairah were meant more as legendary tales, similar to a rabbit Robin Hood, and these stories were interspersed throughout the book as humorous interjections to the often "grim" tales of the "real story".
The Economist heralded the book's publication, saying "If there is no place for Watership Down in children's bookshops, then children's literature is dead." Peter Prescott, senior book reviewer at Newsweek, gave the novel a glowing review: "Adams handles his suspenseful narrative more dextrously than most authors who claim to write adventure novels, but his true achievement lies in the consistent, comprehensible and altogether enchanting civilisation that he has created." Kathleen J. Rothen and Beverly Langston identified the work as one that "subtly speaks to a child", with "engaging characters and fast-paced action [that] make it readable." This echoed Nicholas Tucker's praise for the story's suspense in the New Statesman: "Adams ... has bravely and successfully resurrected the big picaresque adventure story, with moments of such tension that the helplessly involved reader finds himself checking whether things are going to work out all right on the next page before daring to finish the preceding one."
D. Keith Mano, a science fiction writer and conservative social commentator writing in the National Review, declared that the novel was "pleasant enough, but it has about the same intellectual firepower as Dumbo." He pilloried it further: "Watership Down is an adventure story, no more than that: rather a swashbuckling crude one to boot. There are virtuous rabbits and bad rabbits: if that's allegory, Bonanza is an allegory."
John Rowe Townsend notes that the book quickly achieved such a high popularity despite the fact that it "came out at a high price and in an unattractive jacket from a publisher who had hardly been heard of." Fred Inglis, in his book The Promise of Happiness: Value and meaning in children's fiction, praises the author's use of prose to express the strangeness of ordinary human inventions from the rabbits' perspective.
Watership Down's universal motifs of liberation and self-determination have been identified with by readers from a diversity of backgrounds; the author Rachel Kadish, reflecting on her own superimposition of the founding of Israel onto Watership Down, has remarked "Turns out plenty of other people have seen their histories in that book ... some people see it as an allegory for struggles against the Cold War, fascism, extremism ... a protest against materialism, against the corporate state. Watership Down can be Ireland after the famine, Rwanda after the massacres." Kadish has praised both the fantasy genre and Watership Down for its "motifs [that] hit home in every culture ... all passersby are welcome to bring their own subplots and plug into the archetype."
Adams won the 1972 Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book by a British subject. He also won the annual Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, a similar award that authors may not win twice.[c] In 1977 California schoolchildren selected it for the inaugural California Young Reader Medal in the Young Adult category, which annually honours one book from the last four years. In The Big Read, a 2003 survey of the British public, it was voted the forty-second greatest book of all time.
Criticism of gender roles
The 1993 Puffin Modern Classics edition of the novel contains an afterword by Nicholas Tucker, who wrote that stories such as Watership Down "now fit rather uneasily into the modern world of consideration of both sexes". He contrasted Hazel's sensitivity to Fiver with the "far more mechanical" attitude of the bucks towards the does portrayed as "little more than passive baby-factories".
In the New York Times Book Review essay "Male Chauvinist Rabbits", Selma G. Lanes alleges that the does are only "instruments of reproduction to save his male rabbits' triumph from becoming a hollow victory." Lanes argued that this view of female rabbits came from Adams rather than his source text, Ronald Lockley's The Private Life of the Rabbit in which the rabbit world is matriarchal, and new warrens are initiated by dissatisfied young females.
In similar vein, literary critic Jane Resh Thomas said Watership Down "draws upon ... an anti-feminist social tradition which, removed from the usual human context and imposed upon rabbits, is eerie in its clarity". Thomas also called it a "splendid story" in which "anti-feminist bias ... damages the novel in only a minor way".
On 27 May 2020, the high court in London ruled that Martin Rosen, the director of the 1978 film adaptation, had wrongly claimed that he owned all rights to the book, as well as terminating his contract for rights to the film. Rosen had entered into adaptation contracts worth more than $500,000 (£400,000), including licences for an audiobook adaptation and the 2018 television adaptation.
In his ruling, Judge Richard Hacon ordered Rosen to pay over $100,000 in damages for copyright infringement, unauthorised licence deals, and denying royalty payments to the Adams estate. Rosen was also directed to provide a record of all licence agreements involving Watership Down, and pay court costs and the Adams estate's legal fees totalling £28,000.
In the early 1970s Bo Hansson was introduced to the book by his then girlfriend. This gave him an idea to a new album in the same style as his Lord of the Rings album. In 1977 he released the all instrumental El-Ahrairah. The title was taken directly from the pages of Watership Down, with El-Ahrairah being the name of a trickster, folk-hero/deity rabbit, known as The Prince with a Thousand Enemies. In other countries the album was released as Music Inspired by Watership Down.
In 1978 Martin Rosen wrote and directed an animated film adaptation of Watership Down. The voice cast included John Hurt, Richard Briers, Harry Andrews, Simon Cadell, Nigel Hawthorne, and Roy Kinnear. The film featured the song "Bright Eyes", sung by Art Garfunkel. Released as a single, the song became a UK number one hit although Richard Adams said that he hated it.
Although the essentials of the plot remained relatively unchanged, the film omitted several side plots. Though the Watership Down warren eventually grew to seventeen rabbits with the additions of Strawberry, Holly, Bluebell, and three hutch rabbits liberated from the farm, the movie includes a band of only eight. Rosen's adaptation was praised for "cutting through Adams' book ... to get to the beating heart".
The film has also seen some positive critical attention. In 1979 the film received a nomination for the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. Additionally, British television station Channel 4's 2006 documentary 100 Greatest Cartoons named it the 86th greatest cartoon of all time.
From 1999 to 2001, the book was also adapted as an animated television series, broadcast on CITV in the UK and on YTV in Canada. But only the first two series were aired in the UK, while all three series were aired in Canada. It was produced by Martin Rosen and starred several well-known British actors, including Stephen Fry, Rik Mayall, Dawn French, John Hurt, and Richard Briers, running for a total of 39 episodes over three seasons. Although the story was broadly based on the novel and most characters and events retained, some of the story lines and characters (especially in later episodes) were entirely new. In 2003, the second season was nominated for a Gemini Award for Best Original Music Score for a Dramatic Series.
2018 animated series
In July 2014, it was announced that the BBC would be airing a new animated series based on the book and in April 2016 that the series would be a co-production between the BBC and Netflix, consisting of four one-hour episodes, with a budget of £20 million. The four episode serial premiered on the BBC and Netflix on 23 December 2018, with the voices of James McAvoy as Hazel, John Boyega as Bigwig, and Ben Kingsley as General Woundwort. It received generally positive reviews, with praise for the performances of its voice cast, but receiving criticism for its tone and the quality of the computer animation.
In 2006, Watership Down was again adapted for the stage, this time by Rona Munro. It ran at the Lyric Hammersmith in London. Directed by Melly Still, the cast included Matthew Burgess, Joseph Traynor, and Richard Simons. The tone of the production was inspired by the tension of war: in an interview with The Guardian, Still commented, "The closest humans come to feeling like rabbits is under war conditions ... We've tried to capture that anxiety." A reviewer at The Times called the play "an exciting, often brutal tale of survival" and said that "even when it's a muddle, it's a glorious one."
In 2011, Watership Down was adapted for the Lifeline Theatre in Chicago by John Hildreth. This production was directed by Katie McLean Hainsworth and the cast included Scott T. Barsotti, Chris Daley, Paul S. Holmquist, and Mandy Walsh.
Watership Down inspired the creation of Bunnies & Burrows, an early role-playing game in which the main characters are talking rabbits, published in 1976 by Fantasy Games Unlimited. It introduced several innovations to role-playing game design, being the first game to allow players to have non-humanoid roles, as well as the first with detailed martial arts and skill systems. Fantasy Games Unlimited published a second edition of the game in 1982, and the game was modified and republished by Steve Jackson Games as an official GURPS supplement in 1992.
In the 1970s, the book was released by Argo Records read by Roy Dotrice, with musical background—music by George Butterworth performed by Academy of St Martin in the Fields under the direction of Neville Marriner.
Alexander Scourby narrated an unabridged edition, originally published on LP in the 1970s by the Talking Books program of the American Foundation for the Blind (NLSB). The LPs have been destroyed by NLSB and are very rare.
In 1984, Watership Down was adapted into a four-cassette audiobook by John Maher in association with the Australian Broadcasting Company's Renaissance Players. Produced by John Hannaford and narrated by Kerry Francis, the audiobook was distributed by The Mind's Eye.
In 1990, a 16-hour, 11-cassette recording read by John MacDonald was published by Books on Tape, Inc. of Santa Ana, CA.
The November 1974 issue of National Lampoon magazine, released shortly after the resignation and pardon of President Richard Nixon, featured a satirical parody of the novel entitled "Watergate Down", written by Sean Kelly, in which rabbits are replaced by rats, described as animals with "the morals of a Democrat and the ethics of a Republican."
- (Random House; Hutchinson and Alfred A. Knopf imprints)
- The map in the front of the book indicates the story begins in the real-life Wash Common, just beyond the western tip of the park and parish of Sandleford, on the Berkshire-Hampshire border.
- Six books have won both awards in 45 years through 2011; alternatively, six authors have won the Carnegie Medal in Literature for their Guardian Prize-winning books. Professional librarians confer the Carnegie and select the winner from all British children's books. The Guardian newspaper's prize winner is selected by British children's writers, "peers" of the author who have not yet won it themselves, for one children's (age 7+) or young-adult fiction book. Details regarding the author and publisher nationality have varied.
- "Watership Down" (library catalog record for a copy of the first edition). WorldCat. Retrieved 26 July 2012.
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- "Ronald Lockley: Find More Like This". The Economist. Vol. 355, no. 8168. 29 April 2000. p. 84.
In 1964 he had published The Private Life of the Rabbit. This study of the habits of the wild rabbit gathered by Mr. Lockley persuaded Richard Adams to write Watership Down, a kind of Disney story for adults, which became an immediate bestseller.
- Douglas Martin (4 April 2000). "Ronald Lockley, of Rabbit Fame, Dies at 96". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 April 2008.
In his acknowledgments, Mr. Adams credited Mr. Lockley's book for his own description of bunny behavior in his tale of wandering rabbits.
- Vine, Phillip (July 1985), "Words Interview, Richard Adams", Words, 1: 21 (20–29)
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- Adams, Richard (2005). Watership Down (1st Scribner trade paperback ed.). New York: Scribner. p. 5. ISBN 0-7432-7770-8.
There were probably more than five rabbits in the litter when Fiver was born, but his name, Hrairoo, means "Little Thousand"—i.e. the little one of a lot or, as they say of pigs, the 'runt'.
- Adams, Richard (2005) . Watership Down. New York, London, Toronto, Sydney: Scribner. ISBN 978-0-7432-7770-9.
- Henning, Jeffrey. "Lapine: The Language Of Watership Down". Langmaker. Archived from the original on 24 April 2012. Retrieved 23 January 2015.
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- Rothen, Kathleen J.; Beverly Langston (March 1987). "Hazel, Fiver, Odysseus, and You: An Odyssey into Critical Thinking". The English Journal. National Council of Teachers of English. 76 (3): 56–59. ISSN 1544-6166.
- Kitchell, Jr., Kenneth F. (Fall 1986). "The Shrinking of the Epic Hero: From Homer to Richard Adams's Watership Down". Classical and Modern Literature: A Quarterly. 7 (1): 13–30. ISSN 0197-2227.
- Adams, Richard (2005). Watership Down. New York, NY: Scribner. pp. xvi. ISBN 978-0-7432-7770-9.
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- "Pick of the Warren". The Economist. 23 December 1972. p. 47.
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- Rachel Kadish (September–October 2011). "Whose Parable Is It Anyway?". Moment Magazine. Archived from the original on 4 October 2011. Retrieved 3 October 2011.
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- Tucker, Nicholas (1993). "Afterword". In Richard Adams, Watership Down. London: Puffin Modern Classics. ISBN 978-0-14-036453-8. In later printings of the same edition, however, this part of the afterword is excised.
- Lanes, Selma G. "Male Chauvinist Rabbits". The New York Times. Retrieved 10 July 2016.
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- Resh Thomas, Jane (4 August 1974). "Old Worlds and New: Anti-Feminism in Watership Down". The Horn Book. L (4): 405–08.
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- "Richard Adams Estate Wins Back Rights to 'Watership Down' in English High Court Case". 2 June 2020.
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- http://www.decode.tv/index.php?sid=50. "Watership Down". Decode Entertainment. Retrieved 17 March 2008.[page needed]
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- "Watership Down revival slammed as "tame" and "confusing" by critics – but the all-star voice cast gets glowing reviews". Radio Times. Retrieved 26 December 2018.
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- Gardner, Lyn (22 November 2006). "Down the rabbit hole". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 21 March 2008.
The closest humans come to feeling like rabbits is under war conditions. Imagine what it would be like if every time we stepped out on the street, we know we could be picked off by a sniper. We've tried to capture that anxiety in the way the rabbits speak—lots of short, jerky sentences.
- Sam Marlowe (29 November 2006). "Watership Down". The Times. London. Retrieved 21 March 2008.
- "Lifeline Theatre :: Watership Down: Cast & Crew". lifelinetheatre.com. Retrieved 26 May 2017.
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