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The Courtauld Institute of Art

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Watership Down by Richard Adams

March 11, 2017

Illustration by Anna Seibæk Torp-Pedersen

 

With the recent passing of Richard Adams, an author, father and service man, I wanted to bring to your attention a much loved classic that is often forgotten, Watership Down. Generally considered  a dark  children’s novel, it tells the tale of a young rabbit, Fiver, and his adventures all through the warren. Fiver has the ability to sense when something terrible is going to happen, so when he worries for the warren’s safety he sets off on his own journey with a group of fellow rabbits. The group’s adventure tests their loyalty and strength. Although Adams tells  a story about rabbits, the characters and their difficulties are relatable and real; I believe that everybody can sympathise with Fiver’s struggles. Sometimes considered to “anthropomorphise” the rabbits, Adams’ has created a diverse group of personalities, each portraying the vital attributes required for their survival.  

 

Through my discovery of Adams’ long service during the Second World War, I can see a link between the threats of the warren and Adams’ personal exposure to the brutality of war and the terrible acts humans are capable of committing. The struggles Fiver’s new warren reminds me of the plight of the millions of refugees today that have had to uproot their homes and travel across dangerous lands because home is no longer safe. Watership Down exposes the heartache and inevitable vulnerability of losing the security of your home and community.  

 

Adams developed the story of Watership Down from a tale he used to tell his two daughters when they were travelling on long car journeys, and his children helped him to edit and create the novel.  Adams dedicated Watership Down “To Juliet and Rosamond, remembering the road to Stratford-on-Avon.” Growing up in the English countryside, Adams’ family experienced firsthand the threats to wildlife, naming the novel after a hill in the surrounding area.  

 

The sense of pilgrimage and battle in Watership Down creates an engaging and ultimately charismatic story of survival and friendship; a novel that will always be relevant, relatable and responsive. My copy of Watership Down has been read and reread, and despite its battered appearance will remain the most cherished book on my book shelf. I believe that Adams’ epigraphs throughout the novel summarise the overall nature of Watership Down: “‘Courts and camps are the only places to learn the world in … Take the tone of the company that you are in.’ The Earl of Chesterfield, Letters to his son.”  

 

 

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