We have now reached it: My favorite book of the reading challenge thus far. I’ve enjoyed the others before and the one after, but none can hang with this one. Lo and behold, the seventh book! I read this one a whole lot quicker than I had intended. It was just that engrossing. Let’s hop right into (HA!) Richard Adams’s Watership Down.
Now, whenever I tell people about this book, I like to say, “It’s about some villagers who gone on this epic journey to find a new home when one of them has a vision that their current one will be destroyed. Along the way they run into a great many enemies and wonders, and at one point they’re even forced to go to war with another village after they finally find their new home. Oh, and those villagers I mentioned? They’re rabbits. And this book is brutal.” And, ladies and gents, it certainly is. These little bunnies fight other woodland critters and deal with traps in great detail.
There are quite a few main characters in the book, but the main ones are the leader Hazel his little brother and the one with the visions Fiver, and the muscle of the crew Bigwig. Hazel is a natural leader among the rabbits because his sense of adventure and penchant for trickery are great. The rabbits of this world value those qualities since they are the ones of their mythic hero, El-ahrairah. See, that’s one of the awesome things about this book. Adams gave the little bunnies fairy and folktales to tell to one another, and El-ahrairah is their greatest character. Tricksters are usually portrayed as neutral yet necessary, but he is an absolute hero. Outwitting kings, duping a legendary dog, bargaining with the Black Rabbit of Inle–he’s pretty amazing. And this is why the rabbits follow Hazel. He eventually builds up a list of his own feats that even the mighty El-ahrairah would find impressive.
I kinda hesitated listing Fiver as a main character as it feels like he only shows up to shout, “Doom! Doom is upon us!” He goes through a significant amount of development, though. Granted, all the rabbits do, but Fiver starts as this meek little weakling, and he eventually ends up staring one of their greatest enemies in his eyes and apologizing for the fact he has to die. Fiver’s great. He’s not my favorite character, however. No, that honor is reserved for Bigwig.
Bigwig is a beast. No doubt about it. He’s the second-in-command and can throw down with the best of ’em. At one point in the book, he gets caught in a trap that no other rabbit would’ve lived through, let alone fully recover from, but Bigwig does. That greatest enemy I mentioned before? Sure, Fiver talks to him (General Woundwort), but Bigwig holds him off. Stands paw-to-paw with him to defend the warren. There’s even a chapter dedicated to it! If they renamed this book Bigwig’s a Boss, I’d be a-okay with that.
I know I’ve spent a lot of space talking about the characters, but that’s how much I loved them. I love all the others too, like Blackberry, Dandelion, Silver, etc., but I just love the other three that much more. The story is also wonderful. It’s a high epic, low fantasy novel about a bunch of rabbits. I mean, that sounds stupid, but it really isn’t. The temptations and perils these little guys face along the way rival any fantasy or mythological hero. The writing style felt a little bogged down at times, but I always knew what the environment looked like. The inclusions of a couple maps didn’t hurt either.
This is a fantastic books filled with great characters, an amazing story, gripping encounters, and a surprisingly developed culture. Watership Down is most definitely the best book I’ve read for this challenge so far. It will be legitimately difficult for anything to top it. Next up, though, is a funny book and the last one I read on my cruise. What will it be? Stay tuned to find out.