The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Richard Adams’ Watership Down is an anthropomorphic story showing the effect of humans on nature. As rabbits, heroes Hazel and Fiver are dependent on the countryside for shelter and food, and they live in concert with all other life. Hazel and his companions initially flee their burrows because a developer has decided to build homes on the site of their warren, but they see the effects of human involvement through other encounters, including those with a domesticated warren, a rabbit hutch at a local farm, and a warren that lives in fear of discovery by humans. Only the Watership Down seems protected from human encroachment.

Fiver, a young rabbit in the Sandleford warren, sees a vision of his home, the Sandleford fields, awash with blood. After a futile attempt to convince the chief rabbit of the impending destruction, he and his brother Hazel gather as many rabbits as possible to seek a safer home in the hills. The rabbits who join their ragtag band are primarily of lower status, among them Dandelion, Buckthorn, Pipkin, Blackberry, Hawkbit, Speedwell, and Acorn. The group manages to acquire the help of two members of the warren’s police force (the Owsla), Bigwig and Silver.

Their immediate danger is “the thousand,” the enemies that prey on rabbits, but there are other, subtler, threats. In their flight from the Sandleford warren, they are forced to rely not on their instincts but on their adaptability. At one point, they use...

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Historical Context

(Novels for Students)

A Created World
Watership Down is set in the larger human world of Berkshire in England, but the historical time in which it...

(The entire section is 524 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Adams pays particular attention to the landscape in Watership Down. By providing a detailed map of the land around Nuthanger Farm and...

(The entire section is 104 words.)

Literary Style

(Novels for Students)

Myths and Tales
A most unusual feature of the book is its depiction of rabbits' mythological and spiritual life. Throughout...

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Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The success of Watership Down results from several stylistic features. The first technique is the use of epigraphs at the beginning of...

(The entire section is 287 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Watership Down tells how a handful of male rabbits escape from a warren (doomed by developer's plans), travel across a hostile countryside,...

(The entire section is 258 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Why do the rabbits believe that it is necessary to leave Sandleford Warren?

2. Which is your favorite rabbit? Which is your...

(The entire section is 107 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Watch the movie Watership Down and compare it to the novel.

2. Pick several of the epigraphs and explain how they...

(The entire section is 110 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Novels for Students)

How is General Woundwort like other dictators in human history? What methods does he use to control his community, and how are these similar...

(The entire section is 332 words.)

Techniques / Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

The success of Watership Down results from several stylistic features. The first is Adams's attention to the landscape of the novel. By...

(The entire section is 400 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Though many readers of Watership Down hoped for a sequel, Adams has so far not obliged them. Perhaps he believes that part of the...

(The entire section is 273 words.)

Media Adaptations

(Novels for Students)

Watership Down was adapted as an animated motion picture, produced by Martin Rosen of Nepenthe Productions and directed by John Hubley...

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What Do I Read Next?

(Novels for Students)

Tales from Watership Down, by Richard Adams (1998), continues the story of Watership Down and includes new tales from the...

(The entire section is 170 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Anderson, Celia Catlett. "Troy, Carthage, and Watership Down." Children's Literature Association Quarterly 8 (Spring 1983): 12-13....

(The entire section is 177 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Novels for Students)

Campbell, Joseph, Hero with a Thousand Faces, Bollingen, 1949.

Clift, Jean Dalby, and Wallace B....

(The entire section is 178 words.)


(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Anderson, Celia Catlett. “Troy, Carthage, and Watership Down,” in Children’s Literature Association Quarterly. VIII (Spring, 1983), pp. 12-13.

Jordan, Tom. “Breaking Away from the Warren,” in Children’s Novels and the Movies, 1983.

Pawling, Christopher. “Watership Down: Rolling Back the 1960s,” in Popular Fiction and Social Change, 1984.

(The entire section is 46 words.)