Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Book Review: Watership Down by Richard Adams

I vaguely remember reading Watership Down as a child, I think it was in the third grade as I remember Mrs. Gallenger's offering a pop-quiz on the novel. Now some 25+ years later I didn't remember the story, but had this sense that I loved the novel, loved the story and remember thinking Fiver was my favorite. Fast forward to present day and I decided to purchase the audio book offered as part of Audible's summer paperback sale.

Publisher's Summary:
Fiver could sense danger. Something terrible was going to happen to the warren; he felt sure of it. They had to leave immediately. So begins a long and perilous journey of survival for a small band of rabbits. As the rabbits skirt danger at every turn, we become acquainted with the band, its humorous characters, and its compelling culture, complete with its own folk history and mythos. Fiver's vision finally leads them to Watership Down, an upland meadow. But here they face their most difficult challenges of all.

A stirring epic of courage and survival against the odds, Watership Down has become a beloved classic for all ages. Both an exciting adventure story and an involving allegory about freedom, ethics, and human nature, it has delighted generations with its unique and charming world, winning many awards and being adapted to film, television, and theater.

On the list of things I didn't know: Richard Adams conceived of Watership Down as an oral story for his children on a long car ride, the story evolved and eventually he was encouraged to write the novel. Finding a publisher willing to take on the story proved initially difficult, a small print run in the UK lead to Penguin Books picking up the novel and the popularity went from there.

I kept waiting for the story to become familiar, to remember pieces and to find the same joy (from childhood) as the rabbits trod upon the downs and made their home and family. I'm afraid I'd forgotten most of the plot details, which was fine of course as I got to approach the novel with fresh eyes and ears. There is good reason that Watership Down has remained in print since 1979 - it's that good. Written for adults and children alike, I was glad to have rediscovered it.

The rabbits are likable and rich - I could actually picture moments of the perfect fictional father putting his children to bed and picking up the story of the rabbits (and their mythology) where he'd left off the night before. Brilliant! I presume most of my generation has read Watership Down - it's truly worth a re-read for those that haven't picked it up in a while, and a first read for those who haven't read it before.

Narrator Ralph Cosham was a master storyteller, the 16 hours of audio flew by and I loved picking up the ear buds for another few minutes here and there. I've noticed that this narrator had some other "classics" in his repretiore including Orwell's Animal Farm, Leroux's Phantom of the Opera, Grahame's The Wind in the Willows, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Kipling's Jungle Book and Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. I'll have to look into some more classic novels!

Watership Down by Richard Adams was originally published in 1979 by Penguin Books. The Audible audiobook version of Watership down was published by Blackstone Audio and was released on May 21st, 2010. Watership Down was narrated by Ralph Cosham and has a runtime of 15 hours 51 minutes.

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