"Watership Down" was Richard Adams' debut novel and was first published in 1972. He originally told it to his children to help pass the time on long car journeys. It won the Guardian Award and the Carnegie Medal in 1973 and is set in Berkshire, where Adams was born in 1920. It is, of course, about rabbits, and was made into an animated film in 1978 - the soundtrack of which featured "Bright Eyes", by Art Garfunkel.
The book opens at Sandleford Warren in May, with Hazel, a yearling, and his brother, Fiver, feeding at sunset. Although brothers, the pair are very different. Fiver was the runt of the litter and, as a result, is a lot smaller and much more nervous than his brother. He is, however, also something of a seer and - not long after the book opens - foresees the destruction of their home warren. The pair bring the prophecy to the Threarah, their chief rabbit - who, despite Fiver's success rate, refuses to accept it. The brothers decide to leave anyhow, and mean to bring whoever wishes to come along with them. A number of others join them, including two Owsla members : Silver, a nephew of the Threarah, and Bigwig. Although they have little idea of where they're going, Fiver knows what they should be looking for and have an excellent leader in Hazel.
This book has so much going for it, it's hard to write a review that will do it justice. Bigwig was a great character - an all-action rabbit (yes, really !!) whose name comes from the strange tuft of hair between his ears. However, he's not the only star. Other notable characters include General Woundwort, the leader of another warren and the baddest rabbit in England. (A vicious character, he'd leave your average bunny-boiler with badly burnt fingers and causes our heroes a great deal of trouble). Kehaar, a somewhat foul-mouthed (or is that foul-beaked ?) seagull, provides a certain amount of humour. He also helps the rabbits establish themselves after they arrive at their new home. The story is very engaging and is very well told. Adams explains the way rabbit society is structured, for example, including the role of a Chief Rabbit and his Owsla. As the story progresses, he includes a few words of the rabbits' own language and a few of their myths : these are very much centred on the great rabbit hero, El-ahrairah. An excellent book, and highly recommended.