Watership Down by Richard Adams

 

My partner, Mike, has been trying to get me to read this novel for years. He knows my love of animals. I have already written one novel where animals talk. I'm currently working on another. It seemed a natural fit for me to read this highly-praised novel set in the rabbit world.

That all seemed true to me, but I still didn't do it. I was afraid the book would be too dry. Conversely, I was also concerned that there would be too many battle scenes—I had heard that the book was bloody, and I thought I would be put off by that as well. But Mike kept insisting, and I finally checked it out of the library. It was a great tome of a book with beautiful illustrations that looked to be of considerable importance.

I read the foreword and related to Adams immediately. He had started the book as a story he made up in the car on long drives with his children. One evening, he was reading a story to the children and he threw the book across the room because it was so dull. They suggested that he write down the story that he read to them in the car. It was much better than that book, they said.

So Adams did after work. He wrote in the evenings and then he would read what he wrote to his children, and they would give him feedback. Then he submitted it to numerous publishers who all rejected it with the same criticism—it was too sophisticated for children, and adults would not want to read about rabbits. But Adams was not willing to make any changes. He eventually did find a publisher, and the book became a success.

I was never able to read that beautiful book. After I finished the foreword, I found the text daunting. But this is not a new phenomenon. I have a strange wiring in my head regarding reading. I can read light contemporary novels and children's books just fine. But if it is nonfiction or something out of my comfort zone, I need to listen to it in order to enjoy it.

So I bought the Audible unabridged version of Watership Down with Ralph Cosham as the narrator. (I bought it in December, and it currently seems unavailable. I don't know why. But if you also enjoy audio books, and you can get a hold of this version, I thought Cosham did a fine job as the storyteller.) It is a very quirky book. There are epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter that range from Shakespeare to Napoleon. In this book, rabbits love hearing mythological stories of their culture. I think if I was reading it, those would have been a big yawn for me. Truthfully, they were my least favorite part of the story, although I admire Adams for adding them in, as I think they do deepen the world.

If you haven't read Watership Down, I don't want to give anything away. I would tell you that I listened to the story when I drove in my car and when I took walks, and there were times that I would cry or wish that I had time to walk further or do one more errand so I could find what happened next. I think it has one of the most perfect endings in the world. I have told Mike that we will probably have cats named after Watership Down characters in our future. It is one of my favorite books.