Watership Down: A Novel

Watership Down: A Novel

by Richard Adams

Paperback(Media Tie-In)

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781982117597
Publisher: Scribner
Publication date: 12/18/2018
Edition description: Media Tie-In
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 245,999
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Richard Adams, the son of a country doctor, was born in Newbury in England in 1920. He was educated at Bradfield College and Worcester College, Oxford. He served in the Second World War and in 1948 joined the civil service. In the mid-1960s he completed his first novel, Watership Down, for which he struggled for several years to find a publisher. It was eventually awarded both the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Award for children's fiction for 1972. In 1974 he retired from the civil service and published a series of further books, including Shardik, Tales from Watership Down, Maia, The Plague Dogs, and The Girl in a Swing. Adams died on Christmas Eve, 2016.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Notice Board

Chorus: Why do you cry out thus, unless at some vision of horror?
Cassandra: The house reeks of death and dripping blood.
Chorus: How so? 'Tis but the odor of the altar sacrifice.
Cassandra: The stench is like a breath from the tomb.

-- Aeschylus, Agamemnon

The primroses were over. Toward the edge of the wood, where the ground became open and sloped down to an old fence and a brambly ditch beyond, only a few fading patches of pale yellow still showed among the dog's mercury and the oak-tree roots. On the other side of the fence, the upper part of the field was full of rabbit holes. In places the grass was gone altogether and everywhere there were clusters of dry droppings, through which nothing but the ragwort would grow. A hundred yards away, at the bottom of the slope, ran the brook, no more than three feet wide, half choked with kingcups, watercress and blue brooklime. The cart track crossed by a brick culvert and climbed the opposite slope to a five-barred gate in the thorn hedge. The gate led into the lane.

The May sunset was red in clouds, and there was still half an hour to twilight. The dry slope was dotted with rabbits -- some nibbling at the thin grass near their holes, others pushing further down to look for dandelions or perhaps a cowslip that the rest had missed. Here and there one sat upright on an ant heap and looked about, with ears erect and nose in the wind. But a blackbird, singing undisturbed on the outskirts of the wood, showed that there was nothing alarming there, and in theother direction, along the brook, all was plain to be seen, empty and quiet. The warren was at peace.

At the top of the bank, close to the wild cherry where the blackbird sang, was a little group of holes almost hidden by brambles. In the green half-light, at the mouth of one of these holes, two rabbits were sitting together side by side. At length, the larger of the two came out, slipped along the bank under cover of the brambles and so down into the ditch and up into the field. A few moments later the other followed.

The first rabbit stopped in a sunny patch and scratched his ear with rapid movements of his hind leg. Although he was a yearling and still below fall weight, he had not the harassed look of most "outskirters"' -- that is, the rank and file of ordinary rabbits in their first year who, lacking either aristocratic parentage or unusual size and strength, get sat on by their elders and live as best they can -- often in the open -- on the edge of their warren. He looked as though he knew how to take care of himself. There was a shrewd, buoyant air about him as he sat up, looked around and rubbed both front paws over his nose. As soon as he was satisfied that all was well, he laid back his ears and set to work on the grass.

His companion seemed less at ease. He was small, with wide, staring eyes and a way of raising and turning his head which suggested not so much caution as a kind of ceaseless, nervous tension. His nose moved continually, and when a bumblebee flew humming to a thistle bloom behind him, he jumped and spun round with a start that sent two nearby rabbits scurrying for holes before the nearest, a buck with black-tipped ears, recognized him and returned to feeding.

"Oh, it's only Fiver," said the black-tipped rabbit, "jumping at bluebottles again. Come on, Buckthorn, what were you telling me?"

"Fiver?" said the other rabbit. "Why's he called that?"

"Five in the litter, you know: he was the last -- and the smallest. You'd wonder nothing had got him by now. I always say a man couldn't see him and a fox wouldn't want him. Still, I admit he seems to be able to keep out of harm's way."

The small rabbit came closer to his companion, lolloping on long hind legs.

"Let's go a bit further, Hazel," he said. "You know, there's something queer about the warren this evening, although I can't tell exactly what it is. Shall we go down to the brook?"

"All right," answered Hazel, "and you can find me a cowslip. If you can't find one, no one can."

He led the way down the slope, his shadow stretching behind him on the grass. They reached the brook and began nibbling and searching close beside the wheel ruts of the track.

It was not long before Fiver found what they were looking for. Cowslips are a delicacy among rabbits, and as a rule there are very few left by late May in the neighborhood of even a small warren. This one had not bloomed and its flat spread of leaves was almost hidden under the long grass. They were just sitting on it when two larger rabbits came running across from the other side of the nearby cattle wade.

"Cowslip?" said one. "All right -- just leave it to us. Come on, hurry up," he added, as Fiver hesitated. "You heard me, didn't you?"

"Fiver found it, Toadflax," said Hazel.

"And we'll eat it," replied Toadflax. "Cowslips are for Owsla -- don't you know that? If you don't, we can easily teach you."

Fiver had already turned away. Hazel caught him up by the culvert.

"I'm sick and tired of it," he said. "It's the same all the time. 'These are my claws, so this is my cowslip.' 'These are my teeth, so this is my burrow.' I'll tell you, if ever I get into the Owsla, I'll treat outskirters with a bit of decency."

"Well, you can at least expect to be in the Owsla one day," answered Fiver. "You've got some weight coming and that's more than I shall ever have."

Watership Down. Copyright © by R Adams. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are Saying About This

Bruno Bettelheim

Delightful...have not read in many years a more enjoyable book for all children from eight to eighty.

Fuller R. Buckminster

One of those great ones that every once in a long while lets us know that the universe has something really great 'going' for humanity.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Watership Down includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


A phenomenal worldwide bestseller, Richard Adams’s Watership Down is a timeless classic and one of the most beloved novels of all time.

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, the adventurers journey forth from their native Sandleford warren—through harrowing trials posed by predators and adversaries—to a mysterious promised land and a more perfect society.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. On page xii, Adams says Hazel and Bigwig were inspired by men Adams knew from his days as a soldier. Did you find this surprising? Where else do you see the influence of Adams’s war experience?

2. What is it that causes Hazel to instinctually, and often with certainty, trust Fiver, even when Fiver’s claims and predictions are extraordinary?

3. How does the Chief Rabbit at Sandleford compare to Cowslip at the warren of the snares and General Woundwort at Efrafa? Discuss their motivations and leadership styles.

4. On page 80, why is Cowslip’s laughter so unnerving to Hazel and the other rabbits, even before they know anything about the strange warren?

5. As Holly tells the story of what happened to the Sandleford warren after Hazel and the others left, the rabbits “suffered extremes of grief and horror . . . Yet, as with primitive humans, the very strength and vividness of their sympathy brought with it a true release” (page 161). Why are stories and retellings so important to the rabbits? Discuss the roles stories and storytellers play throughout the novel.

6. Why does Bigwig admire Kehaar so much? What is the source of the affinity between them?

7. What motivates Hazel to go to the farm for the hutch rabbits before Holly and Silver return from Efrafa and despite the risk? How does becoming a chief change Hazel?

8. Bigwig says, “If you’re going to tell a story, there’s only one I want . . . ‘El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inlé’” (page 267), just before he goes to infiltrate Efrafa. Why does he insist on that story? What is its significance?

9. When the rabbits reach the river in their escape from Efrafa, Fiver proves himself to be quite strong, clever, and brave (page 295). Where is the turning point at which Fiver begins to gain confidence?

10. “To feel that rabbits were competing to risk their lives at his orders” gratifies Woundwort (page 307), despite the early loss of his family and his rough upbringing during which he had to risk his life many times. Why do you think Woundwort favors violence and competition over sympathy and harmony? In the end, is he a hero or a villain?

11. Holly says of Woundwort, “He was brave, all right. But it wasn’t natural; and that’s why it was bound to finish him in the end. He was trying to do something that Frith never meant any rabbit to do” (page 467). Why is being “natural” so important to the Watership Down rabbits? What other qualities do they value the most?

12. In the Introduction, Adams mentions that his manuscript was rejected many times because publishers worried about the style and maturity level of the book. What do you think is the ideal age to read and appreciate Watership Down?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. On page x and xi there’s a map of Sandleford, Watership Down, and the surrounding areas. Draw your own maps of the territory covered by Hazel and his compatriots based on what you imagined as you read.

2. Consider reading The Private Life of the Rabbit by R. M. Lockley and compare how the author describes nonfictional rabbits with how Adams describes his rabbits. How are they alike? How are they different?

3. Seek out some of the Uncle Remus Brer Rabbit tales and discuss the similarities and differences between Brer Rabbit and El-ahrairah.

Customer Reviews

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Watership Down 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 660 reviews.
CrossWind More than 1 year ago
I love this story, it is wonderful, a whole world and it's history. It is a story of overcoming obstacles, and makes some powerful statements about community and being part of a team, yet shows the dangers of collectivism & socialism. I wish this hardback version had the illustrations and quotes that were in the original paperback... (or is the preview just not showing them?)
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Watership Down is one of the best in classic literature. It is a novel about the lives of a small group of rabbits in search of a home after their warren is destroyed by humans. In the book, the leader of the rabbits, called Hazel, and his friend Fiver the mystic both lead their gang across rivers, escaping predators, and humans with their snares and traps. The rabbits finally find a good place to make their new warren, and after doing so are faced with the problem of there not being enough rabbits to keep the warren going. They attempt to solve the problem by trying to steal some pet rabbits from a farm nearby. When that doesn’t work to plan, they decide to find another warren and to convince some of their rabbits to come to the new warren. When they find a new warren, they find it under the tyrannical reign of a huge rabbit named General Woundwort. After they escape from his guards they plan on raiding his warren and taking some of his rabbits that are not as loyal. They succeed by a small margin, and the General pursues them. Soon they find themselves in a war, each side fighting for their lives. During the book they tell each other side stories of a mythical rabbit named El-ahrairah, yet do not realize their adventure is a legend in itself. I think part of the reason Richard Adams wrote this book was because he wanted to show how rabbits live, and how their lives are affected by humans. I liked the originality of this book, and the way it intertwines a view of the world through a rabbits eyes, within a human world. I also liked how the story tells of their journey, and when they finish the journey half way through the book it continues with a new problem. I did not like the way he used weird made up words to describe human things, because it made the story hard to read and awkward. Despite this, this book has earned itself a five star rating, above average. This is a book everyone should read, because it is such a great classic, and shows a new view on life. I would also like to recommend ‘The Dragons Nine Sons’, because after reading that, I vowed to recommend it to everyone I could. It is the best book I have ever read and will probably never be beaten. No one can go without reading it; it is a science fiction masterpiece.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I had to read Watership Down for my 7th grade English class, and started out disliking it immensely. I mean, I don't know a single seventh grader who would actually enjoy reading a 400+ page book about talking rabbits. As I read more and more in the book, though, my opinion of Watership Down changed drastically. I realized that the themes and characters in the book are powerful and more than they appear to be. The characters are vivid and strong, and I especially liked Hazel, the beloved and courageous chief rabbit who proves his worth again and again to his people. The ending in Watership Down was perfect, and it will have a lasting impression on me. My advice to possible readers is this: Watership Down is a great book. Yes, it was sometimes slow and tiresome, but it was also more than a book about talking rabbits. Don't let those rabbits stop you from such a wonderful story. I was pleasantly surprised by this book, and would recommend it to anyone who appreciates quality literature.
KirstyHaining More than 1 year ago
This was the first novel that I stayed up late reading (with a flashlight under the covers so my folks wouldn't know I was up past my bedtime)! Worth reading again and again - an enchanting story. P.S. This is also a particularly good story for reading out loud to older children and adults (a chapter or two a night).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read this book at least every ten years; each time I read it, I visit old friends, and discover the new. I am now age 77, keeping the book in my Nook Library.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The perfect book for any age group!you will fall in love with this book.it is adventurous,action,heart warming and many more.must read!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Woth every penny a good read
Dester More than 1 year ago
I read this book years ago when I found this and plegue dogs at my school's old and very limited library. I cannot see how individuals can rate this story under 3 stars; this is a classic like Wind in the Willows. Highly recommend this book.
btsyshsbnd More than 1 year ago
it was every bit as good as I remember it being. In a few years I'm going to share it to my grand daughter.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am in sixth grade right now and I am reading this book. I first got Watership Down in third grade, when I finished an American Girl 450 page book in a matter of days. It was my mom's, and she says this is her favorite book. I didn't want to read this book. It looked boring; my copy is from 1775. Instead I read Tales From Watership Down, and it did not all make sense, but I remember one part was about some one wanting someone else to tell them a story that did not usually tell stories. I think this was Fiver, and he told a really unlikely story and every step of the way Bigwig (I think) was doubting Fiver. I look back now and laugh because it all makes sense. Now I am reading the actual story and I love it. Its amazing, but really hard to read. I am a really quick reader; I usually finish books really quickly. This book I have been reading for a week already. I think it is taking me so long because it is really hard to read. Not that I don't love it, of course. This is one of the best books ever. Its such a shame that its not very popular anymore... but I have a feeling that some day I'll have to read this for school. Its just that kind of book. All my friends, at first glance, think its really boring. But then again, that's just judging a book by it cover. It is the kind of book that will bore some people, though. The begining is very slow. Not everyone will like this book. I can see both points of views. Most people, I think, will like it, though. I love it. Why not try it? You'll never know until you read it.......
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Adams is a literary genius! This one isn't as good as The Plague Dogs, but still a fantastic read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
you may get turned off in the beginning but just keep reading it is truly an amazing book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Read this when i was nine and i still love it . awsome book
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is great. It is about rabbits that have to move away. It is really long, but it is worth it. The main characters are hazel and fiver, two rabbits. Read it, its worth the money!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Richard Adams weaves beautiful diction with a story about a deep society from creatues you would't expect
MandyW11 More than 1 year ago
When people hear "epic", most people recall ancient Greek heroes such as Odysseus and Achilles. Some people might think of more modern epics like The Lord of the Rings or Star Wars (I consider them epics, anyway). But why do all epics need to star humans (or hobbits)? Well they don't, as Richard Adams has shown with Watership Down, an epic novel set in the world of rabbits. Watership Down is a classic and a staple of high school English classes for a reason. Adams' first novel has wonderful characters and an exciting, fast-paced plot. The story begins in Sandleford Warren in England (all places in this story are real). Fiver, a small, prophetic rabbit tells his brother Hazel that he has been having strange feelings and that there is something terrible coming to the warren. Fiver and Hazel gather nine other rabbits, including the clever Blackberry, and the huge and strong Bigwig, and leave the warren. They run into many dangers along the way, but they eventually make it to the 300-foot tall Watership Down, the perfect home for rabbits. The story doesn't end there however. The Watership rabbits quickly realize that they forgot to recruit any does, but with the help of a boisterous gull named Kehaar, they make a raid on Efrafa, a militaristic warren led by cruel General Woundwort. One major mistake authors and moviemakers make when telling a story with animals is not letting animals be animals. A lot of times in these stories, animals act more like humans in fur. This isn't true with Watership Down. Hazel and his band of bunnies act like rabbits really act, know only what rabbits know. The best example of this is the way does are treated in the story. Many people would argue that does in Watership Down are treated as baby-making machines and nothing else. There aren't very many does that are developed as characters. If this story were about humans, this treatment would be terrible, but it isn't. Rabbits, and most animals in general, don't really have love and other emotions like humans. To a rabbit, a doe really is just a baby-making machine. These rabbits really act towards another the way real rabbits act towards each other, and I really appreciate that as a reader. We have too many Disney animals out there and realistic animal characters are refreshing. One might not think that a story about bunny rabbits could be exciting and action-packed, but Watership Down is exactly that. The story starts off with a creepy prediction of doom and ends with a final bloody battle. There are no slow parts and everything moves at an even pace. At the parts that seem the slowest, Adams adds stories of El-Ahrairah, a sort of Robin Hood character of rabbits. Perhaps my favorite thing about Watership Down is that it isn't an allegory of any kind. There are so many novels that have hidden meanings and symbolism, and those books are fine, but sometimes it's nice to read a book like this that is just a story. Many people claim that Watership Down is an allegory, saying that the Watership rabbits represent democracy and Efrafa represents fascism, but according to the author, it really is just an adventure novel. It makes the book more enjoyable to know that there are no hidden meanings to search for. Watership Down has been read for years, and I wish my high school required it. It may not be an allegory or a satire, but it is an exciting, epic adventure. I give it five stars out of five, and it is now one of my favorite books. I recomme
literature_king More than 1 year ago
It does not take long to get atatched to this book. Adams brings the reader on an adventure starting early on in the book. Once Hazel and Fiver, start their journey, the book becomes extremely addictive. I am a consatnt reader, and this book is easily one of my top three novels I have ever read. As the characters were being introduced I found a strong connection to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy. This is a true adventure book, but I would also recommend this book to any peron that loves to read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent novel. I am a seventh grader so it may be surprising that I enjoyed and even understood this book,but I truly did. I found it to be a beautifully illustrated tale of adventure, courage,and teamwork. The descriptions were vivid and the characters well developed. It may be difficult to get into, but if you stick with it, it will become spellbinding. It is a taut tale of suspense, hot pursuit,and derring-do. I highly encourage reading this book.
Maynard_N More than 1 year ago
I have loved this book ever since I read it in the 6th grade. I decided my old and worn copy was due to be replaced. I really like this edition.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was great. It was charming and whimsical, and a good escape from reality!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I really liked it when i was younger, but I started to read it again and found it less exciting. But it is still an awesome book!
AthaliaStoneback More than 1 year ago
Richard Adams is a true genius. "Watership Down" is a captivating story, that kept me spellbound from start to finish. The lapine language was especially clever. I'm only sorry I don't know of more books by Adams. I would definitely recommend this book to friends and family.
CherieReads More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended to me by a friend and I went into it with some reservations. I'm very glad I stuck with it. On the surface it's an adventure story featuring some rabbits. Really, though this book is a social commentary. This book can be enjoyed by a wide range of ages.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I love this book. Some parts do get a little boring, but you have to stay with it.
Annika Lundberg More than 1 year ago
I am reading this book for world history class and it truly is a wonderful story so far. We are reading it for government, religion, and societies. Love it.