Fantasy & Beyond

A Book Forum for Speculative Fiction

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Even if people haven't read this, nearly everyone has heard about it, and has a basic knowledge of the story. Watership Down was one of the few books that I was introduced to via listening to it, rather than reading it. No fancy audio books back then, I listened to it on cassettes that I borrowed from the school library. Not sure why I 'read' it that way, I suspect all of the physical copies were out on loan, it was a popular book.

It caused a very big noise in 1979 when the animated filmed version came out, although that was as much for Art Garfunkel's hit song Bright Eyes as much for the film itself. There were more than a few eyebrows raised in the savagery of the film, because it was about 'bunnies' and therefore considered suitable for young children, which it actually wasn't.

Up until Watership Down books about animals generally featured the anthropomorphic kinds that wore clothes and acted like people, think Wind in the Willows. Watership Down was different, the rabbits in that were wild ones and they lived that way.

Following its success; a number of similar books came out. Adams himself wrote two more Shardik about a grizzly bear and The Plague Dogs about two escaped dogs from a testing facility, and that one may also find its way in here. I personally thought it was a better book.

Other authors also entered the field. William Harwood who wrote mostly about the moles of Duncton Wood, although he also covered other animals and birds in a similar vein. There was A. R. Lloyd's criminally underrated Kine about a weasel, fighting against a band of escaped mink. Garry Kilworth's House of Tribes, also gets less press than it deserves, and that was about a group of house mice, leaving their house for the fields. In that it features a group of animals having to leave their former place of residence and set up somewhere else, it shares a theme with Watership Down. Kilworth also wrote a number of other books featuring animals, probably best known for the Welkin Weasels series, but they were the anthropomorphic clothes wearing kind, and they were probably more inspired by Redwall than Watership Down.

The book did alert people to the fact that wild rabbits are somewhat different to the fluffy, pampered pet kind. The savagery of the rabbits certainly shocked a lot of people. Some of the sequences and things experienced by the rabbits were based on Adams own wartime experiences during Operation Market Garden, the Battle of Arnhem, and two major characters were based on soldiers that Adams personally knew.

It's not even so much that it's about rabbits, but it's that those rabbits have very relatable characters with depth. As I've said before I can forgive flaws if I like the characters, and Watership Down has decent characters, and it's not even all that flawed a story, being a decent adventure story.

It was extremely popular in the late 70's, as I said largely due to the film, and it's subject matter and the treatment of that did start a trend, that continues to today.