Watership Down

Watership-Down-novel-cover-150x241I don’t remember how old I was when I read Richard Adam’s 1972 blockbuster, Watership Down, but  I remember loving it. Perhaps it gave me a chance to read about the lives of rabbits that wasn’t a children’s book. Far from it.

But now as I re-read the book, I’m wondering how much I read and how much I skipped. Dense description and words not in my vocabulary has slowed my reading down to a crawl, but there’s a deliciousness in word choice; I get a sense of craftsmanship.

We’re introduced to a pair of rabbits. The first described as having a “shrewd, buoyant air about him as he sat up.” If it hadn’t been for the the previous sentence telling me that “he looked as though he knew how to take care of himself,” I wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint how shrewd and buoyancy go together.

Getting a sense of the first nameless rabbit was helped out by having the second rabbit be the exact opposite in character, afraid of his own shadow. Still no names. The first rabbit was a yearling. The second one, aside from being skittish, was small in stature.

It was a conversation between a black-tipped rabbit and a rabbit named Buckthorn where the jumpy rabbit is referred to as Fiver. Is there a reason why Adams keeps his cards of names so close and secretive?

And then there are the asterisks. I suspect in my younger day I skipped them completely, especially when an entirely new language is introduced as well as odd rabbit facts. Is it true that rabbits can only count to four?

Like a good student, I jumped on the internet. No wonder it takes me so long to read when I really get analytical. My questions as to whether can rabbits count to five pulled up a page that accuses authors of slipping up. If rabbits can only count to four, how could his name be Fiver?

The responses brought on all sorts of questions.

This is not an error. Richard Adams goes on to say that there may have been many more than five rabbits in that litter (I think he mentions the possibility of up to 13 rabbits), and that the rabbit word which he translates as “Fiver” literally translates as “one of many”. There is thus no inconsistency between this use of “Fiver” and the idea that rabbits can only count up to four, unless one insists on interpreting “Fiver” too literally. (http://www.slipups.com/items/3742.html)

I notice that when I know that the author is English, I expect nuances to divide England’s English and American English. I still to this day can’t remember which grey or gray is “correct.” A student asked me the other day how to spell the color grey, and I had to say that it depends. Did I get it right? So, I’m already doing a little bit of translating as I read, but then there are translations into an entirely different language that I doubt highly that it’s made up. Resorting to the slip-ups again, a responder to the question about Adams mistakingly naming Fourer Fiver.

Fiver’s name is actually Hrairoo (“little thousand”) because he was after four, and anything bigger is “a lot/a thousand”. One of the rabbits knew that 5 was not neccessarially after 4, but it was just plain bigger than 4, hence Fiver, even though there were probably more than 5 rabbits in the litter when he was born.

It helps that the book, the text side of the book, starts on page 17, and even then the test is three-quarters down the page. Impressive to already be on 17 when you have only just turned it right side up thirty-seconds ago. I vaguely recall a table of index. I suppose a good student would take a gander at these pages to create those scaffolding structures in your brain in order to make new facts stick to someone. Without some similar information, my brain is like teflon. A fried egg stands no chance of sticking; it’s just going to slide to the floor.

Watership Down had some impressive maps before the story begins, though a bit blurry. Maybe the rabbits who created the maps had been eating more  carrots than I, but the first time I think I read Watership Down, maps of all nature bored me. I still struggle in identifying North, South, East, and West.  Not really. I have made the West-East flight more times than I can shake a stick, and I’ve been to Washington and California to take care of the other pair. This time around, I probably would pause at the maps, but my old eyes can’t make head nor tail of the print and life would be so much easier if I had a magnify glass. I’d rather live in denial. I also don’t know where it is or even if I have one.

If I had read Watership Down before, I would have thought I would remember that every chapter starts off with some quote that only leaves me scratching my head. The first passage is from Aeschylus in Agamembob. I mean Agamemnon. I go from feeling what in the blazes does this passage have anything to do with rabbits to, I better read this to see what the connection is. I do have a degree in English; I ought to know these things. The sad part is that I’m almost pretty sure that I have read Agamemnon. I’m starting to question my entire reading history, at least the ones I read prior to my subscription to Good Reads. I may not remember what a book is about, but I have definitive proof that I read the book. Maybe speed-reading a book in a couple of days or even a couple of weeks isn’t the best strategy, but it’s not like I am given the opportunity to jump onto a discourse of literature very often. It’s not like a discussion of the sociology and political thoughts within a warren. No, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you that rabbits live in warrens.

FiverWell, I’m just about to the end of my attention span. I have, afterall, read 19 pages in Watership Down.




  1. I never read Watership Down, but the other day I put it in my “cart” at amaz0n, and then I don’t know what intervened, but something did, and I wound up cancelling my order for it (probably guilt about buying yet ANOTHER book, but I would like to read it – and all because of your mentioning it so often lately in our conversations.

    1. Now that I’ve gone back to re-read at a slower pace, I’m enjoying Watership Down even more. I enjoy his word choice. I don’t recall ever seeing the word lolloping, though according to the computer lolloping isn’t a word. It’s a perfect word for the motion of a bunny. Even as I learn the names of the rabbits, I have to do some thinking. Richard Adams wrote another book that I really liked; I think it is called Traveler, or something like that. It’s about the Civil War from a horse’s perspective. There’s probably a zillion used copies of Watership Down.

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