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What's the story?
A band of young males, relegated to the fringes of society, set out to find a place where they can live free and proud. Never mind that the characters in this long and complex but thrilling epic are rabbits--Beatrix Potter, this isn't. Charismatic characters, nail-biting action, and an engrossing plot combine to produce a classic.
When Hazel's clairvoyant brother, Fiver, predicts a catastrophe, Hazel gathers other young rabbits willing to flee to establish a new warren of their own. But few of them have been far from home, and their journey is perilous: They're attacked by rats in a barn, must cross a creek, and are lulled into a false sense of security in a warren whose rabbits turn out to be fed--and harvested--by a farmer.
With every incident, however, the value of each individual becomes clear to the others, and they coalesce into a unified band. When they at last reach their objective, a desolate hill called Watership Down, they feel they have found, and earned, a home.
But then their search for mates to help populate their warren leads to an encounter with a repressive rabbit society, and a gripping undercover plot that culminates in a harrowing stand against the ferocious dictator, General Woundwort.
Is it any good?
WATERSHIP DOWN was written for adults, but adolescents often find it more irresistible than their elders do. Although the rabbit characters have a language and a culture, and they converse and interact just as humans do, these are not cap-and-waistcoat picture-book bunnies, but fully realized characters whose conflicts and triumphs keep readers engrossed.
This is primarily an adventure novel, but one for thinking people. Readers are expected to engage their brains, even for the suspenseful action sequences. Social allegory pops up regularly, from the restlessness of the warren's disenfranchised younger bucks to the fatalism and repression in two other rabbit communities, whose members have given up freedom for an illusion of security. Author Richard Adams also conveys a palpable love of nature. He knows the story's countryside setting intimately, and much of his narrative contains descriptions of the landscape and references to specific plant species.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why this novel, which was intended for adults, was peopled with the unlikiest of main characters -- rabbits.
When humans do pop up in the story, what is their role?
In what ways
can this seemingly straightforward "bunny story" be seen as an allegory
for the perils of human civilization?
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