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Describe This Book! Watership Down by Richard Adams

January 5, 2019

I was kind of excited when I saw that a new mini-series version of Watership Down is on Netflix.  I read the book by Richard Adams decades ago when I was in 6th or 7th grade because of a cheap (I think) animated movie I saw.  The original animated movie from the 1970s might not hold up, but I think the book still does.

Watership Down is not the easiest book to describe when you’re enthusiastic about it, though.

“What’s it about?” my teenage daughter asked when I told her about the new mini-series (which I haven’t watched yet).

“A bunch of rabbits that leave their warren in search of a new home,” I said.

“That’s it?”

“One of the rabbits is psychic,” I said.

“So?”

“And the rabbits have adventures.”

“Oooooh.  Adventures.”

“Shut up,” I said.  “I hate everything I read, so if I like this book, you know it’s good.”

Telling somebody I hate everything might not be an effective persuasive technique, but it makes sense if people know that I’m a critical reader.  I don’t really hate everything.  It’s just that I notice flaws in writing that take away some of the enjoyment (unless I really like the book).

These conversations can work both ways.  Last year Netflix put out 13 Reasons Why, which was based on a YA novel by Jay Asher, and it doesn’t sound appealing to a middle-aged guy like me.

“What’s 13 Reasons Why about?” I asked my daughter.

“A girl commits suicide and sends tapes about why to 13 people she knew in school.”

“That’s it?”

“Each person feels responsible in some way for the girl’s suicide.”

So?”

“It’s deep, Dad.”

“Ooooooh, suicide is so deep.”

“Shut up,” she said.  “It’s better than I’m making it sound.”

It’s probably easier to pitch a Netflix series about teen suicide than it is an animated series about migrating rabbits.  I’m not sure how to explain Watership Down.  Even the cover blurb doesn’t do a good job.

As proof, here’s part of a blurb from Amazon

“Set in England’s Downs, a once idyllic rural landscape, this stirring tale of adventure, courage and survival follows a band of very special creatures on their flight from the intrusion of man and the certain destruction of their home. Led by a stouthearted pair of brothers, they journey forth from their native Sandleford Warren through the harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries, to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society.”

Ugh.   I probably wouldn’t want to read Watership Down if that’s all I had to go on.  But Watership Down is a good book, maybe even great.  I mean it.

*****

What do you think?  Watership Down can’t be the only book that’s tough to explain.  What other great books do you know that don’t really sound very appealing?

20 Comments
  1. Madam Mim permalink

    What point me off about Watership Down wasn’t even so much the description, it was the sheer number of times people have told me it’s a sob fest… I just don’t think I can knowingly walk into rabbit slaughter, or whatever it is that makes everyone blub through it!

    • I must be hard-hearted because I don’t remember crying at all. I just thought it was a good story.

      • Madam Mim permalink

        Really?! Maybe it’s a conspiracy to stop me reading it then… hmmm haha

        • I of course knew about WSD decades ago, but it was overhyped like The Da Vinci Code or 50 Shades of Grey, so I never bothered to read or watch it.

          • Watership Down was overhyped? Wow, I don’t remember that at all.

            Of course, I was probably 7 and unaware of everything when it came out. I read it 5-10 years after the book came out.

  2. I’ll be sure not to let you read my novel and point out the flaws. I’ll just live in ignorance bliss…..

    • Haha! Yeah, I probably didn’t phrase that very well. I usually reserve my harsh criticism for “mainstream” bestselling novels that publishing companies push onto the public.

  3. I enjoyed reading the book some years ago. The BBC had a long film version on over Christmas. I couldn’t stand it. It was all rabbits galloping about in not very interesting countryside. I found it hard to differentiate one rabbit from another. I gave up at episode 2.

    • I think the BBC version is the one on Netflix right now. I haven’t watched it, but I can see how some of the issues you mentioned could ruin a movie or TV series.

  4. I shared your enthusiasm about the Netflix series. When I told my husband about it, he was like, “Well, what is it about?” I tried in vain but ultimately his response was that he was not interested. I even brought him the book AND the VHS tape of the movie. Yes, Watership Down was and is a great book. However, I think the original movie was pretty good too. Now that I think about it, if that blurb was the only thing to go on, it would be difficult to convince someone what a worthwhile read it is. I totally agree. As I sit here, I am still at a loss for how to describe it convincingly. I wonder if the author intended that? Great “book club” discussion bit, though.

    • It’s been decades since I’ve seen the original movie. I’m glad to hear that it’s actually good. There are too many movies/books/TV shows that I liked as a kid but realized later how bad (or mediocre) they were.

  5. I think I know what you men DL about being critical and “hating”: For me it’s about Hollywood movies. So few are any good.

    • I agree with you about Hollywood movies.

      I just don’t have the energy to be overly critical of books AND movies, so I choose to be overly critical of books.

  6. “Shardik” by the same author is even worse. My personal blurb goes like: Lots of stupid characters taking their stupid ideas about a stupid beast way too seriously. As dry as dust and as humourless as A Taliban’s Guide to Terry Pratchett.

  7. i loved this book and only read it in my 50s.

  8. I read Watership Down for my summer reading assignment going into sixth grade. I only picked it because I wanted to read the same books as my friends, haha. My memory is kinda fuzzy but I remember it was kind of confusing to keep track of all the rabbits. I liked it though.

    • “My memory is kinda fuzzy but I remember it was kind of confusing to keep track of all the rabbits.”-

      A lot of people have the same problem with the movie. Haha!

  9. It is probably the best of Richard Adam’s books. I read in college and enjoyed it, movie not so much.

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