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Book Review: Watership Down

watershipNovember means two things to me…no, three.

1. Thanksgiving with family

2. Birthday present are right around the corner (more kettlebells)

3. Time to read Watership Down again, hence this Watership Down review

Watership Down is about rabbits, but it is also one of the most moving books I’ve ever read.  For sheer haunting, emotional power, it has affected me as much as The Last Lecture and Man’s Search For Meaning.

And again, it’s about rabbits.  A group of rabbits living in a happy little warren.  Happy, that is, until their weird prophet, a skinny tweaker rabbit named Fiver, starts having visions in which the warren is bulldozed.  He sees blood and screaming and all sorts of horrible stuff.

The rabbits–the lucky ones–leave the warren and set out to look for a new home.  That search, and the effort to set up camp once they find the right place, comprises the majority of the book.

Trees in November

Early in the book, one of the rabbits, while getting extremely creeped out, says, “I feel like trees in November.” I’ve never forgotten that line.  That’s why I read the book every November.  That line sums up everything I love about literature.  Because I know what that rabbit means, without needing to explain it further.

Trees in November.  A gorgeous, melancholy metaphor that can mean so many different things, depending on where you’re standing and who you are with.

I love it.  I love it!

The book is worth reading because…

General Woundwort

General Woundwort

Watership Down is an adventure story that holds up against titans of the genre like the Indiana Jones movies.  It is scary.  It has one of the most memorable villains of all time, general Woundwort.  It has deaths that still raise the hairs on my neck.  It is a page-turner that is superior to anything Dan Brown will ever put out.  It has characters that live and breathe and break the heart when things go wrong.

And not much goes right in this story.

Jeez.  Now that I’m this fired up, I realize that I love this book even more than I thought.  I think most books worth reading are worth reading every five to ten years.  Watership Down is worth reading every November, for me.

If you’re feeling sassy, you should also check out the animated film.  It’s a real freakout.  I’m serious.  It has scary, dark music by Simon and Garfunkel, and the animation is as eerie as it gets.  It doesn’t hold back on the blood and guts, and the fear and panic of the rabbits when the mad dog is loose in the woods is hard to watch.

Please, please, please read this book.  It makes me glad to be alive.  It’s everything that is right about writing, reading, and literature.  It is a book that makes me want to be a better person.

And it’s about rabbits.

Rating: One bajillion wire snares. That’s only slightly higher than The Knot.

Josh

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  • Mystic November 18, 2009, 3:25 am

    You really make me feel like reading the book Josh! Thanks. I’ll let you know how I liked it (and I have a good feeling about this one).. 😉

    Mystic.

    P.S- I love your posts!

    • Josh Hanagarne November 18, 2009, 9:57 am

      Please do! And thanks. Let me know if the quality ever starts sliding and you’re tempted to jump ship:)

  • Sue November 18, 2009, 6:25 am

    This was my favorite book when I was in college. I read it 6 times while on the 5 year college graduation plan.

    Watership Down is the only book that I’ve finished reading and then turned back to page one and began reading a 2nd time.

    It’s a great story. It’s a classic, a wicked good story, just as Josh said and it’s about rabbits.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 18, 2009, 9:57 am

      I think “story” sums it all up. WD is a master class on how to tell a story. Nothing fancy, but the trip from A-B is amazing.

  • Lisis November 18, 2009, 6:45 am

    You know, I don’t think I’ve ever heard of this one. But I did read (and love) The Secret of NIMH. Pretty similar story but with mice scurrying to move their home before the farmer plows the field.

    Now I’m going to have to read this one and see how they compare!

  • Ben (from TIC) November 18, 2009, 7:10 am

    I can’t believe I haven’t read this one yet. My wife et al. have recommended this book to me more than once. I have it sitting on my shelf.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 18, 2009, 9:59 am

      Come on Ben. Come on. There’s a hole in your heart the shape of a talking rabbit named Hazel. You just don’t know it yet!

  • Jen November 18, 2009, 8:37 am

    I own this book and have tried to read it twice, without success. Either time. After reading your review, I feel inspired enough to dig it out of storage and try again. Thanks.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 18, 2009, 9:58 am

      Do it do it do it do it!

    • Beverly December 9, 2009, 2:19 pm

      I have tried to, as well, and ran into the same snags! But, because of all these posts, I’m going to pick it up again and get myself through it. (This project will be similar to my trying black olives every time I’m around them: I am determined to discover what it is about them that everyone likes!)

      • Josh Hanagarne December 9, 2009, 3:55 pm

        Beverly, it still may not grab you. Don’t feel bad. There are way too many books out there to read to keep banging away at ones that don’t do it for you. It’s the books job to entertain you, not the other way around.

  • Michelle McGee November 18, 2009, 8:49 am

    Hi Josh,
    Thanks for posting this review. I have distinct memories of seeing this book in my brother’s room and wondering why the heck he was reading a book about rabbits at age 18. After reading your rave review I think I’ll pick this one up after I read The Stand.
    Thanks,
    Michelle

    • Josh Hanagarne November 18, 2009, 9:58 am

      For what it’s worth, I love The Stand as well. You may postpone Watership Down for The Stand, but nothing else!

  • Ren November 18, 2009, 8:53 am

    Nice one, Josh. One of my all-time faves. Definitely Adams’ best…and I’ve read almost all of his work (with the exception of Shardik). Sadly, nothing else comes close, as much as I’ve wanted it to.

    And yes…the movie is a real mindf*ck at times.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 18, 2009, 9:56 am

      Ren, I’ve never read Shardik. Would you recommend it?

  • Mark Wolfinger November 18, 2009, 9:19 am

    I loved this book
    But that was a long time ago.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 18, 2009, 9:58 am

      Mark, all the more reason to pick it up again.

  • Heather November 18, 2009, 10:19 am

    I have read bits and pieces of this since childhood, and I do remember the scary, dark, extremely bloody cartoon. General Woundwort ::shudder::. Fiver doesn’t seem like any walk in the park in the warm-n-fuzzy department, either! I’ll have to give this ‘un a p’ruse-th’ough! Thanks!

    • Josh Hanagarne November 18, 2009, 11:29 am

      Ugh. Those apostrophes and colons are like a thumb in the eye.

  • Rafi Bar-Lev at Passionate Fitness November 18, 2009, 10:37 am

    Josh,

    Watership Down is my favorite book of all time…by a LOT. Great to hear I’m not the only one who feels that way. 😛

    • Josh Hanagarne November 18, 2009, 11:30 am

      Rafi, we’re geniuses. Pat yourself on the back. Hard!

  • Steve November 18, 2009, 10:49 am

    Hey Josh, I never read Watership Down, but I did read almost all of the Redwall Series (Brian Jacques) which were heavily influenced by this book. Never thought I could feel so much happiness/sadness about a bunch of talking animals.

    I’ll add it to the queue.

    -Steve

    • Josh Hanagarne November 18, 2009, 11:30 am

      Steve, I still haven’t tried Redwall. I think I’ll grab one today. We’ll compare notes.

  • Rachel November 18, 2009, 11:54 am

    I’ve not read the book but I saw the film at friend’s birthday party when I was around 9 or 10. I had had nightmares for weeks and many of the kids went home crying. Has been my biggest reason for not reading it.

    I guess the parents thought it was a nice fluffy bunny story.

    Redwall books are great, I didn’t know they were based on Watership Down.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 18, 2009, 12:01 pm

      Rachel, someone may correct me, but I don’t believe the Redwall books have anything to do with WD, other than all the talking animals.

  • Fred November 18, 2009, 12:23 pm

    HAZEL LIVES!!!

    Watership Down is by far my all-time favorite book…Daniel Ng aka daniel_hautjobb and I both agree it’s awesome and amazing! (I used to read it out loud to my boys when they were young, as well!)

    BYW, Redwall books have NOTHING to do with Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, Silver, Kehaar (loved him!…the Jackie Mason of the group) or the nasty General Woundwort…

    Think I’ll have to re-read it again…thanks Josh!

    • Josh Hanagarne November 18, 2009, 12:41 pm

      Fred, glad you read it aloud. This is one that really, really sings on audio.

  • Ryan Carty November 18, 2009, 12:26 pm

    First “real” book I ever read! Thanks for the review. Of course I am now about to go to my shelf and read it again.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 18, 2009, 12:41 pm

      Ryan, we should get together at work and read it wearing rabbit ears.

  • Kevin November 18, 2009, 12:35 pm

    Josh,

    I haven’t read WD but like some of the others here, I remember the movie well enough. I remember it being one of the scarriest animated movies I had ever watched to that point. But if you still encourage it I’ll add it to the list and see if I’ve healed any after 20 odd years.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 18, 2009, 12:42 pm

      Kevin, I would love to know what they were smoking when they did the film. Good grief, it’s crazy.

  • Jon Owens November 18, 2009, 2:17 pm

    It’s now on my list Josh. Without a doubt, your blog has made my trips to the library easy (but I’ve yet to see anyone peeing).

  • Chris November 18, 2009, 6:34 pm

    I can remember as a kid my mom coming home with the beta tape (even before VHS) of the cartoon movie Watership Down. I remember watching it on Saturday morning along with all of the wrestling shows they had on and other cartoons that used to be on on Saturday morning.

    Remember Teen Wolf? Mr. Magoo? The Smurfs? Those were the good old days, my man. They don’t even have cartoons on Saturday mornings anymore. The kids today are too busy killing each other on the computer or Playstation to worry about good old cartoons.

    If only I could go back in time… I think I’d build a fort and play monopoly with my next door neighbor. Maybe even play some Atari or mess around on my Commodore 64… Thanks for the memories Josh. 🙂

    • Josh Hanagarne November 18, 2009, 6:38 pm

      Oh man, Gargamel, Style and Boof, and Yar’s Revenge and River Raid on the Atari 2600. What could be better?

  • Patty - Why Not Start Now? November 18, 2009, 6:42 pm

    Love it, love it, love it. My favorite talking animal book. Plus quite a message. After I read it about 15 years ago, all I wanted to do was read talking animal books. But I couldn’t find one that satisfied the way WD did. Although the Narnia books and Charlotte’s Web were contenders. As you can see, WD started me on a path of reading or rereading lots of children’s literature in adulthood. And realizing that it’s not just for kids, and in fact takes on a whole new meaning later in life. I’m not sure WD is classified as a children’s book, but whatever it is, it got me rolling on a grand time of expanding my reading choices and turned into a year long experience of great self realization for me.

  • David November 18, 2009, 7:27 pm

    Josh! Long time no comment. Sorry, I’ve been on the road.

    Sounds right up my alley. All I know about Watership down is that my ex-girlfriend’s mother rented the film for them when they were kids (it was just a cartoon) and it left them disturbed. Made me think of Animal farm.

    I will have to check it out.

    Speaking of eerie, I just finished Heart of Darkness, I’d love to read your review of that one.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 18, 2009, 7:48 pm

      DAVID. I’ve been following your every step. Sounds great. Saw that you’ll be held over for an extra week. good to know air travel can break down anywhere in the world, not just when I fly.

      • David November 19, 2009, 7:11 pm

        Actually it was by design. I am loving Thailand so I pushed my own flight back a week, the longest I could without getting a Visa.

        Train travel, though…

  • Megan Horton November 18, 2009, 8:49 pm

    Josh do you know I’ve never read this book?

    • Josh Hanagarne November 18, 2009, 8:53 pm

      Megan, I did not know. Read it before I get to Denver or you’re no sister of mine.

      • Megan Horton November 18, 2009, 8:56 pm

        Ok. I’ll try….

  • Daisy November 18, 2009, 9:09 pm

    I love this book!! Is you’re not creeped out enough already, here’s a story. We were watching the animated movie with our daughter, the one we now call The Rabbit Whisperer. The scene was the male rabbits freeing two females from a nearby farm.
    I took a break to go to the kitchen, looked out the window, and realized our own two pet rabbits had escaped from their outdoor rabbit run.
    Yes, we got them back.

  • Mary W. November 19, 2009, 1:07 am

    I agree–I love Watership Down. I watched the movie as a little kid (maaaaybe not the best idea; I had nightmares after), but I never forgot it. I always tried to name our pets Fiver and Pipkin, but the family never went for it. 🙂 I read it the first time when I was a teenager and saw one aspect of the story. Then when I read it 15 years later, I saw a whole new side of the allegory. Thanks for reminding me again!

  • Jenny November 19, 2009, 7:57 am

    Here is why I will buy this book.. 1. You put it in the same vein as two of the most moving books I’ve read (Last Lecture and Man’s Search for Meaning) AND you said it’s BETTER than Dan Brown. Sold.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 19, 2009, 11:19 am

      Jenny, it IS better than Brown, but some people definitely won’t be moved by it like those other two books.

  • Stark November 19, 2009, 11:07 am

    First-timer here, linked to you thru Free Pursuits.

    I love that book, too, and had forgotten that line about trees in November. I haven’t read it in years. Thank you for reminding me to take the time to visit with an old friend. I love books.

    Cheers, keep up the good work.

    • Josh Hanagarne November 19, 2009, 11:18 am

      Hi Stark. Go check the book out again. I think you’ll be amazed at how much you’ve forgotten. I always am.

  • Gayze November 19, 2009, 12:42 pm

    “Bright eyes, burning like fire
    Bright eyes, how can you close and fail
    How can the eyes that burned so brightly
    Suddenly burn so pale…
    Bright eyes….”

    (Crap, I can’t even type the chorus without crying!)

    One of my all time favorite books, Josh. And one of my all time favorite (though I can’t hear it without weeping like a baby) songs.

  • Shaun D. November 19, 2009, 11:07 pm

    Josh,

    Loved the book and the review. The first time I read WD was based on your recommendation, and I was blown away. It’s hard to explain how creepy a prophesying rabbit can be, but I still get chills thinking about it. And the last battle has one of the best climaxes of anything I have read. And yet…when I try to explain the book, I just pause and say, “It’s about rabbits.” It is hard to explain how epic the story is if you haven’t read it!

    Shaun

    • Josh Hanagarne November 19, 2009, 11:23 pm

      Hey Shaun. I remember that. You owe me even more than I thought you did. Get over here and scratch my scalp with a brush!

  • Sylana December 18, 2009, 9:01 pm

    Always loved this book. I’ve read it multiple times over the years.
    And you’re right, sometimes going back to old classics give you a whole new perspective on them. I remember getting Willy Wonka and Mary Poppins to read to my kids a while back, and realized just how strange those books really are. I still love Narnia, though, and most of the other books I read as a child.
    Guardians of Gahoolie is a really good talking animals series, too- about owls, and the Warriors (cats) are good too. My oldest daughter is a bookworm like me, and she devoured both series.

  • bored December 22, 2009, 11:22 pm

    Watership Down is by far one of my favorite books ever. I usually read it in the spring though. 🙂 LOTR is my winter selection.

  • Carlie October 26, 2010, 9:26 am

    I have always favored Watership Down, and finally admitted that my favorite book above all others is about rabbits. One simply does not understand until they have read it. It pulls me in every time and like you, I have read it several times. Since you stated a passage that sticks with you, I will do the same. It was after the rabbits leave Cowslip’s warren, their first true test a a group and it talks of them working together and trusting one another for they could offer…

    “They had come closer together, relying on and valuing each other’s capacities. They knew now that it was on these and on nothing else that their lives depended, and they were not going to waste anything they possessed between them…There was no more questioning of Bigwig’s strength, Fiver’s insight, Blackberry’s wits or Hazel’s authority.”

    I loved this shift in the group and the idea of cooperation behind it. I appreciate your review on this book and you couldn’t be more right. This is a fabulous adventure story with more horror, daring, and excitement than I have seen in most other novels. Everyone, do yourself a favor, read this book.

    • Josh Hanagarne October 26, 2010, 11:06 am

      Thanks Carlie. If you’d ever like to come write a review about the book, I’d be happy to have another one.