The sad thing is, this epic tale of a group of rabbits driven into epic flight towards the high, dry hill (“Watership Down”) could probably not make it in today’s market. It’s too naturalistic, too paced in its telling, for modern audiences (trust me, how many times have I seen people pick up Early ReTyrement, flick-thumb its 357 pages and frown (“I gotta read all this?)). So a journey that lasts a lot longer, filled with descriptions of lazy English nature, would have a far harder sell these days.
Animal Farm was once rejected because “Americans don’t like animal stories”.
And here I am, sitting on Indigo.
But back to Watership’s review, yes, rabbits forewarned by one of their psychic members, driven from their doomed warren into headlong flight. We slowly take the rabbit’s perspective and gain its darting, fearful eye. Every field is a hunting blind. Ever shifting shadow an enemy (“All the world will be your enemy, prince with a thousand enemies…”). And we learn words of their language, sprinkled through the story here and there and suddenly used, with great boldness, in a complete sentence (Bigwig’s defiance against General Woundwort). I’ve tried this trick too in my books and not been so successful.
So the rabbits finally make their journey, they ascend Watership, they are happy and warm and safe. And with poor rabbit administrative talents, eventually come to realize that the one thing they lost along the way was all their does. For the warren to survive a generation, they will have for find breeding partners (ah, that’s what the second half of the book is about). There are some in a farmhouse hutches nearby. And Efrafa, the totalitarian warren a short distance off, is overloaded with spare does. But the trouble, of course, is to get them past the patrols…
It’s a great, sprawling epic that will reward those who can stick with it a full share of battles, final stands, harrowing escapes and clever stratagems. I read it at 16 and loved it, and reread it a two years ago and loved it all over again.
So if you are into something new and wonderful and lush, shove all those chick-lits and wiz-books out of the way and dive into this new world.