I first read this book in 1982. It was published in the 70’s. I loved it.
It was our book club selection for February this year. To make the reading more fun, I ordered the new edition illustrated by Aldo Galli and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
There was an edition published in 1976 illustrated by John Lawrence and I suspect that’s the one I read in 1982. Alas! It’s not on my bookshelf . . .I’d like to compare illustrations.
In the introduction, the author proclaims that the book is not meant to be read as allegorical, that it was a tale made up as it went along to amuse his two little girls
at bed times and on long car trips.
The author says that the rabbits are not meant to be cute, and they never do anything rabbits would not be able to do. Well, they do talk and have a rabbit language which I’ll go along with, but the raft scene? Anyway.
So! it’s not a cute story. It’s a tale of a group of rabbits who are encouraged to move away from their known warren because a rabbit, Fiver, has a gut feeling that something bad is about to happen—-and that they must move away!
The opening line is “The primroses were over.”
And the closing line is: ” . . .running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.”
And in between those two lines are 474 pages of rabbit angst and tribulations and a fight
And there’s a map! Don’t you love a book with a map?
You’ll find some characters like Hazel and Bigwig who carry you and the story along. And you might find it helpful to make a little list of the rabbit characters. Because, being rabbits, you know, there are a BUNCH of them!
The story does go along pretty well, but don’t expect that you’ll be swept away. Read these quiet pages on long winter nights when you have your OWN dear warren, safe and warm and where you needn’t fear the “elil” or enemies like coyote, fox, etc to swoop unexpectedly down on you.
You will either love or hate Kehaar, the sea gull who can’t speak rabbit, but instead carries on incessantly in a sort of Groucho Marx kind of lingo.
For instance on page 266: “Na, na, rabbit no sveem dis river. Ees peeg, ees deep, go queek. But ees pridge, den udder side plenty place for hide. Ees close to varren, like you say.”
Take that with a grain of salt. In fact, don’t expect miracles anymore with this book. It was a sensation in the 1970’s as a godsend to children’s literature. And there really is a Watership Down in England, and a Nuthanger Farm . . .
But Watership Down didn’t ring as many bells with me the second time around. I still stand up for it, though, as a salute to good reading for kids. As for adults? they might throw it against the wall after the first ten pages.