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Watership Down, Revisited

Update on a Classic:

I finally watched the Watership Down 4-part series by Netflix. Before doing so I had watched a youtube review of the series by “Steve Reviews”, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7NmGIntJNIg It’s full of clips from the movie and also compares the series to the 1978 animated feature. I also appreciated the comments that follow the video. (There are a number of reviews of the Netflix series on youtube of the Netflix series, by the way.) 

Here’s a link to the review which I commend: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/authors/richard-adams-watership-perhaps-made-dark/

The review by Steve was a bit discouraging. And in watching the series, like Steve, I too found it gloomy and frightening and thought this is pretty dark for children. The animations are often foreboding, and sometimes downright scary. Much of the music is the same.

What’s OK for Kids/ What Isn’t

But, then, I never thought of Watership Down as primarily a children’s book. Although a story about rabbits, W.D. isn’t like Peter Rabbit or so many simpler stories about animals written for children, highlighting fun and laughter with little pain and death, which is a real part of wild animals’ lives. At the same time, we know Adams originally made up the stories for his own children. 

In an interview of Adams by Jasper Rees published in The Telegraph in 2016, he notes that he read anything he wanted as a child, including, as he call it, “…frightening literature. Poe. The Hound of the Baskervilles. Algernon Blackwood’s Ancient Sorceries.” Rees asks if he was aware of his daughters’ terror as warrens were gassed and rabbits snagged in barbed wire. To which Adams responds, “I think I was, really. Perhaps I didn’t water it down enough.”

What Was Good About the Netflix Series Though?

At the same time, I enjoyed watching the Watership Down series. I’ve been such a fan of the book, it was wonderful to be immersed in the story again, remembering the characters I’d read about so long ago.

Did the series track with the book? Certainly, to a great extent. Did it change it greatly? I’m not sure, as I don’t recall exactly what the book said, again, due to having read it decades ago. But no movie follows a book step-for-step. 

I enjoyed the uniqueness of the individual characters portrayed in the series which made them more real. They weren’t all the same. I enjoyed the goofiness of the rabbits’ friend, the seagull. And I liked seeing them, watching the animated drawings brought to life, seeing eyes move, the individual hairs on their bodies. Possibly that’s because I’m a visual person and I want to enjoy stories with my eyes and not just hear them in my head.

Could the animation have been better? Probably, though to me it was fine. I thought the synchronized hopping of a number of rabbits—many feet moving, each differently, not as a group moving as one—was done well. I loved the segments showing Clover moving in the fog. And I enjoyed the illustration of the band’s new warren under the huge old roots of the tree. Of course, that’s assuredly because I’m attracted to drawings of gnarly old trees. 

A Rabbit’s Perspective

At first, I was put off by the series’ clear theme condemning man as a destroyer of life beyond reason, but later changed my view. That would be the view of rabits: disgust and fear at the human intent not to merely kill a rabbit for food but destroy their home, their countryside, with development. And there’s truth in that belief.

Man often is a destroyer of nature and wild animals. At the end of the series, the kindness of the small girl who rescued Fiver was a nice touch and softened that condemnation. Thankfully, not all humans do act with disregard of nature and animals, wild and domesticated. But, of course, many do.

*I’ve read several other books by Adams. His subsequently published The Plague Dogs focuses on man’s unnecessary depravity regarding animals. It’s about two dogs who escape an animal testing facility. Both were damaged, one by torture (drowning) and the second one by experimental surgery to his head. Watership Down seems to be a preface to The Plague Dogs regarding this issue, but it is so much more.

Watership Down and Leafensong – Similar But Different

I couldn’t’ help but see the similarities between W.D. and my own book, Leafensong. There are a number of them. Yet the stories also diverge in many ways. I’m happy with both. 

All in all, I greatly enjoyed the series. But I will have to read the book again. It’s been too long.

To read about how Watership Down inspired my own book, click here.

To see artwork from my forthcoming novel (about squirrels rather than rabbits) click here.

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