Watership Down by Richard Adams – review

July 3, 2008

Watership Down by Richard Adams (Penguin, ISBN 0-14-003958-9)

Who is it for? Lovers of fantasy, animal tales and Donnie Darko; anyone with an interest in intertexuality

What is it about? Sitting in a field that, unknown to them, is about to be developed as a housing estate, Fiver says to his companion: ‘Oh, Hazel! This is where it comes from! I know now – something very bad! Some terrible thing – coming closer and closer…There isn’t any danger here, at this moment. But it’s coming – it’s coming. Oh, Hazel, look! The field! It’s covered with blood!’. Perturbed by his friend’s vision, Hazel takes Fiver to the Chief Rabbit of their warren to warn him. Of course, as is common in these sorts of tales, authority does not take the warning seriously and Hazel, Fiver and a few other rabbits set out on a perilous journey to establish a new warren far from danger.

How can it be used? First published in 1972, this book is worth reviving for classroom use, especially as many of its concerns (e.g. environmental destruction, survival in a hostile world) are extremely current. However, even more interestingly perhaps, Richard E. Kelly cites the book (and Fiver’s vision in particular) as one of the major influences on his cult classic, Donnie Darko. Beyond the superficial level that both feature rabbits prominently, the book provided the sensibility for the film. In fact, attentive viewers will notice that scenes from the animated version of Watership Down appear in background in the movie. If that’s not intertextuality enough, an English class in Donnie Darko is studying the Graham Greene short story, ‘The Destructors’ (1954), another source that Kelly acknowledges as an influence on his movie. So, if you want to do something a bit different in Senior English, here are three texts worth considering – including a story by a bonafide master. [‘The Destructors’ can be found in Graham Greene (1954) Twenty-One Stories, Vintage, ISBN 0 09 928616 5.]

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