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Watership Down

April 26, 2018

The book or the movie? An eternal question always likely to instigate some lively debate, although most folks will probably side more often with the book. And every now and then they’re definitely both worth heralding, which is the case here.

I grew up both loving and fearing Martin Rosen’s animated take on Watership Down, a decidedly not-for-the-youngest-set film that would possibly garner something stronger than a PG rating, were it released today. It’s a beautiful piece of cinema with tremendous voice acting, watercolor animation, and a severely underrated score by Angela Morley. But it’s also kind of trippy in spots, has an unshakeable melancholy about it, and totally features rabbits fighting to the bloody death. As Rosen himself has stated, the poster for the film was supposed to be a strong hint for parents to take a second look before bringing along all the kids to the theater.

All that said, I was afraid that my enduring childhood connection to the film might possibly get in the way of the full literary experience I hoped for upon loading the audiobook of Richard Adam’s classic novel on to my phone. Inexplicably, the opposite was true. Not only was the epic tale every bit as fantastic as I had heard, but having a vague recollection of major events in the story made anticipation even sweeter.

Yes, it’s about rabbits. But the depth of character and real-life stakes make it an unforgettable adventure, and many critics have reinforced the notion that it’s also an allegory, although Adams himself discredits this idea. The world these characters live in is our own, yet it’s also a different, magical, dangerous place, as seen through their eyes, and with the rich background of myth and legend the author has created; in other words, there are stories within this story, adding their own delightful component to the satisfying whole.

The audiobook is an especially enjoyable way to experience Watership Down, Ralph Cosham’s narration a perfect match for the material. But consider this a recommendation to both read the book and watch the film. Both are beautiful works of art, and the film, released in 1978 and coming just six years after the first publication of Richard Adams’ book, is a largely faithful adaptation of the source material. Spring is the perfect time to join Fiver, Hazel, and the others on their bold adventures, so get your hands on a copy today.