Watership Down (1972 by Richard Adams) was my favorite FAVorite FAVORITE childhood book!! I read it when I was in 5th grade. The cover and title confused me: I thought it was going to be a Navy-type book, about a ship sinking or something, and didn’t get why there was a rabbit on the cover. (I didn’t know that a “down” is a hill.)
Nevertheless, I gave it a try and was blown away. That paperback copy literally fell apart from use. I have since owned a few different editions, my current one being a very nice hardcover.
The book is a straight up children’s adventure story — with talking rabbits, yes, but they are real rabbits, not cartoon rabbits. They do rabbity things and think rabbity thoughts. As a child I appreciated it on this level. As an adult, I realized with delight that Adams had also woven fascinating political and social commentary into the story. Not only that, but as a feat of fantasy world-building and culture-creation, this book excels. Absolutely a wonderful book!
All the world will be your enemy, Prince of a Thousand enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you; digger, listener, runner, Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.
The setting of Watership Down is a real place:
- Sandleford, near Newbury, is in the county of Berkshire
- Watership Down is in Hampshire (just south of Berkshire)
- Laverstoke and Whitchurch are also in Hampshire. The River Test runs through these towns.
- The four-county area of Berkshire, Hampshire, Oxfordshire, and Wiltshire is home to the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It includes numerous downs, including our Watership, and many of the famous chalk horses carved into the hills of the English countryside.
This map of the England pinpoints the location of West Berkshire. Just south of it is Hampshire, which is home to the coastal cities of Portsmouth and Southampton. It makes sense that a lost seagull might find his way into the story!
Here’s a short video showing scenes from the real-life locations that inspired the book, including the beech hanger, Nuthanger Farm, and that famous hill, Watership Down.
Ironically, as of the date of this news clip (Mar. 2012), a site near Sandleford, the opening location of the book, was slated for development.
Richard Adams and illustrator Aldo Galli were featured at the Whitchurch Arts Show in November, 2012. Adams died in 2016, on Christmas Eve, at the age of 96.