Watership Down | Tales From Watership Down
|Series:||Watership Down #1 (of 2)|
|Published:||November 1, 1972|
|Date Added:||May 14, 2023|
|Date Finished:||September 14, 2011 (paperback)|
About the Book
Watership Down is an adventure novel by English author Richard Adams, published by Rex Collings Ltd of London in 1972. Set in Hampshire in southern England, 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, constructed as a collection of 19 short stories about El-ahrairah and the rabbits of the Watership Down warren.
Origin and Publication History
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 behavior 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.
Part 1: The Journey
In the Sandleford warren, 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.
A rabbit named Cowslip invites Hazel’s group to join his warren, where a farmer leaves food for the rabbits and shoots all the predators. Fiver senses death and deception in the new warren, but the rest of Hazel’s group, enjoying the peace and good food, decide to ignore both Fiver’s warnings and the strange and evasive behavior of the new rabbits. Later, Bigwig is caught in a snare, only surviving the ordeal thanks to Blackberry and Hazel’s quick thinking. Fiver deduces the truth, and admonishes the rest in a wild lecture; the farmer feeds and protects the rabbits so he can harvest them for meat and skins, so Cowslip’s rabbits invited the guests into their warren 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 deserts Cowslip’s warren after his doe is killed by one of the snares.
Part 2: On Watership Down
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 that since there are no does, the future of the new warren is 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.
Part 3: Efrafa
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 float away down the River Test.
Part 4: Hazel-rah
Farther downriver, the punt strikes a bridge, killing a doe. Once the rabbits are back on shore, 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, led by Captain Campion, who 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 repulse the attack and unleash Nuthanger Farm’s Labrador on the Efrafans. 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 releasing 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 prince 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 Rabbit Prince.
“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.
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, recognizing 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. In 1977 California schoolchildren selected it for the inaugural California Young Reader Medal in the Young Adult category, which annually honors 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.
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. But, “lovable bunnies notwithstanding, younger children might be troubled by the more graphic scenes. Numerous rabbits die in bloody fights, while one gets choked by a snare and another is snatched by a bird of prey.”
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.
|Title:||Tales From Watership Down|
|Series:||Watership Down #2 (of 2)|
|Published:||August 5, 1996|
|Date Added:||May 14, 2023|
About the Book
Tales from Watership Down is a collection of 19 short stories by Richard Adams, published in 1996 as a follow-up to Adams’s highly successful 1972 novel about rabbits, Watership Down. It consists of a number of short stories of rabbit mythology, followed by several chapters featuring many of the characters introduced in the earlier book. Like its predecessor, Tales from Watership Down features epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter and a Lapine glossary.
Tales from Watership Down is in three parts: the first consists of five traditional tales of El-ahrairah and two more modern rabbit stories, the second contains four episodes recounting events that befell El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle on their return from visiting the Black Rabbit of Inlé, and the third contains eight chapters dealing with the Watership warren in the months following the events of the original book.
Five new characters are introduced: Flyairth, a doe who threatens to undermine the stability of Watership Down; Sandwort, a disrespectful young buck who eventually changes his ways; Coltsfoot, a depressed buck whom Fiver befriends; Stonecrop, an escaped hutch rabbit; and Nyreem, an Efrafan doe with an injured leg. Although most of the characters from Watership Down retain their roles, Hyzenthlay, a doe, rises to the position of Co-Chief Rabbit with her mate, Hazel.
Literary Significance and Reception
A reviewer for The New York Times wrote that while it was a “lighthearted companion piece” to Watership Down, it was “a little disjointed as a stand-alone volume”. The book was praised by another reviewer at Salon, who wrote: “The pure, unfamiliar feelings evoked in ‘The Story of the Three Cows’ and in the gory ‘The Hole in the Sky’ — just two of the stories here — persist for quite a while after you’ve finished reading them”.