Mentor Yourself, Book Review/Summary, Watership Down: A Novel – Richard Adams
10 Leadership Lessons from Watership Down
- Have a vision.
- Practice active listening.
- Be willing to do what you ask others to do.
- Ask for help when necessary.
- Learn to delegate.
- Have a team of trusted advisors.
- Know how to negotiate.
- Treat others with respect.
- Persistence pays.
- Learn from failure.
Why Watership Down by Richard Adams Still Matters Today
First published in 1972, Watership Down by Richard Adams is a fantasy novel. The novel matters today because it is a demonstration of true leadership and team work. A group of 11 rabbits leave their warren to seek a new home. The book is about the rabbits’ odyssey. The Hero’s Journey is evident in the book: The rabbits get the call to go on a journey and have to leave the only home they ever know. They accept the call and embark on the journey and are exiled from their land. While on the journey they experience many trials and tribulations and face many dangers, but they survive these hardships along the way and are changed by the experience. They pass on the experience and the lessons learned to their offspring in the form of storytelling.
Why Richard Adams is Qualified to Write Watership Down
While on road trips with his daughters, Juliet and Rosamond, Richard Adams kept them entertained by telling stories about rabbits, and based the struggles the rabbits experienced on the struggles he and other soldiers experienced, during the Battle of Oosterbeek, Arnhem, the Netherlands in 1944. These stories form the basis for Watership Down.
According to Wikipedia, “Adams descriptions of wild rabbit behaviour were based on The Private Life of the Rabbit (1964), by British naturalist Ronald Lockley…. Although it was initially rejected by 13 publishers before eventually being accepted by Rex Collings Ltd, Watership Down has never been out of print, and was the recipient of several prestigious awards. It is Penguin Books’ best-selling novel of all time, and has been adapted into an acclaimed classic film and a television series.In 1996, Adams published Tales from Watership Down, a follow-up collection of 19 short stories about El-ahrairah and the rabbits of the Watership Down warren.”
To get the most from this Watership Down SummaReview, after you have read it, answer the following questions:
- Is this a book you’d like to read for yourself? Why? Why not?
- What has made an impression on you while reading?
- Which character is most like you?
- Were there any kernels of wisdom in this reading?
- What are five takeaways from the SummaReview?
- What is one action that you can take as a result of reading this SummaReview?
The Novel, Watership Down
Fiver, a rabbit, diminutive in stature, has the second sight. He has a vision foreseeing impending doom for their warren. Fiver and his brother Hazel go to see the Chief Rabbit, Threarah – meaning ‘Lord Rowan Tree – begging him to evacuate the warren. They fail to convince Threarah, but they persuade their friends Blackberry and Dandelion of the danger and ask them to try to persuade other rabbits to join them as they take up the quest.
Fiver, Hazel, Pipkin, a friend of Fiver, Hawkbit, Dandelion, Blackberry, Bigwig, Buckthorn, Speedwell, Acorn and Silver embark on the journey they are called to take to get away from the destruction of their warren. Bigwig and Silver are members of Owsla the warren’s militia. Hazel who is leading the journey is glad to have Bigwig because of his size, but he is concerned that the large rabbit will question his leadership. Despite that, Hazel welcomes the presence of Bigwig.
The eleven rabbits embark on their quest to discover another habitat, and they are stopped by Captain Holly and two other rabbits from the Owsla. They have come to arrest Bigwig and Silver. Bigwig is charged with “Spreading dissension and inciting to mutiny.” ”Silver, you’re under arrest too, for failing to report to Toadflax this evening and causing your duty to devolve on a comrade. You’re both to come with me.”
Bigwig fights back and the other rabbits come to his assistance. Hazel tells Captain Holly and the two rabbit to leave or else they will die. As the story unfolds and the 11 rabbits continue on their journey, the reader gets to see that storytelling is a big part of their culture. They face many dangers along the way. However, they overcome them because survival is big for them. When they come across a river, they wonder how they are going to cross it because rabbits do not swim, but like any other creature, if placed in a tight corner, they do what it takes to survive. They find a piece of wood and that helps them to cross the river.
It’s not smooth sailing for the rabbits and at times they want to return home, yet the soldier on. When a crow attacks Pipkin, the larger rabbits come to his rescue and fight it off.
On their journey, they come across Cowslip, a very healthy looking rabbit who welcomes them to his warren. Fiver doesn’t think they should have anything to do with Cowslip and his warren. Though the rabbits in this warren are healthy, there is something very unnatural about them because they do not behave in a very rabbit-like manner. They carry food to the warren to store. They steal lettuce and carrots from an unguarded garden and they never stop to think why a farmer would do that. The other peculiar thing about these rabbits is that they never answer questions that begin with where.
These rabbits have their heads in the sand, and when rabbits from the warren disappear, they pretend that it never happened. The farmer sets traps, which kill them, yet they look the other way. Fiver has another sense of doom and talks to Hazel. However Hazel is losing his patience with Fiver because he thinks they can make their home with the other rabbits in their warren. Fiver refuses to sleep inside the warren and he decides to go it alone because he senses the threat. They try to reason with him because it is impossible for a rabbit to survive by himself on such a journey.
When Bigwig is caught in a snare moments later they realize that what Fiver says is true. Cowslip and the other rabbits from his warren refuse to help in Bigwig’s rescue and won’t even discuss the issue. They manage to save Bigwig by digging out the peg. They are very upset with Cowslip and want to kill them and take over the warren, but Fiver tells them they are foolish because the warren is a death-hole.
They leave the warren and continue on their journey to the hills where Fiver says it will be safe. Strawberry follows them because he doesn’t want to stay in the warren with Cowslip and the other rabbits. Now there are a dozen rabbits on this odyssey. You see a team forming with each member looking out for the others and working together in a cohesive unit. And most importantly, they trust what Fiver has to say.
The 12 rabbits establish a colony at Watership Down, however Hazel realizes that they cannot survive for very long because there are no female rabbits (does) in the group. The rabbits form an unlikely friendship with Kehaar, an injured seagull who they nurse back to health by bringing him food. When Kehaar gets better he soars into the sky to scope out other warrens to help solve the problem of lack of does. He reports back that there is a close by farm with some domesticated rabbits and an overcrowded warren some distance away.
Hazel saves a mouse from a hawk. You see the rabbits realizing that they can coexist with other animals. The mouse promises to return the favor one day. One night they hear an intruder and it’s none other than Captain Holly who is in the last stages of exhaustion, and shortly after Bluebell arrives. Holly tells the tale of what happened to their old warren, and it turns out that Fiver was correct with his predictions. “Men will never rest till they’ve spoiled the earth and destroyed the animals…”
The rabbits of Watership Down come up with a plan to ask the leader of the overcrowded warren for some female rabbits to mate with. Before they leave for the warren they decide that since Hazel is the leader he should remain behind. Only a few of them travel there and soon discover that the warren is a dystopian society and they barely manage to escape and return to Watership Down. In the mean time, Hazel has another plan to free the rabbits from the nearby farm. With some difficulty Hazel manages to free some of the tamed rabbits from the nearby farm. But the rabbits who went to negotiate with members of the faraway warren fail to get any does.
Watership Down is a compelling story, and although the rabbits complete their odyssey and things work out the end, it wasn’t easy for them. Life is like that, and we all face battles that we have to fight. There are things we fear in life, but we have to work through our fear, and not allow it to cripple us. When the rabbits escape from Efrafa, the dystopian warren, they do not want to go back because of the atrocities they had seen and experienced from the hands of the ferocious rabbit, General Woundwort. However, to establish a healthy colony they need to have more does, and as the leader, Hazel knows that they have to return to Efrafa despite their fear. On their return to Efrafa, they have a better plan this time, and despite the many dangers they face they return to Watership Down with more does.
General Woundwort is not accustomed to being outwitted or to losing, so he takes some members of his militia to Watership Down for revenge and to get back the does. The rabbit at Watership Down survive by thinking things through. They know that they are not as strong as the rabbits from Efrafa, so they focus on their strengths, and rely on the advice from Blackberry. The rabbits that embarked on the odyssey had many different skills that complemented each other: Hazel was courageous, Bigwig strong, Blackberry smart and crafty, and Dandelion and Bluebell were artists who excelled in poetry and storytelling. The mixture of skills allowed them to survive on the journey to their “promised land.”
Watership Down: A Novel by Richard Adams is one of the best books I have read, and even though the main characters are rabbits, it’s worth the read because there are so many lessons in it. The version I read is published by Penguin and is 478 pages in length. I recommend Watership Down by Richard Adams.
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Watership Down (Full Lenth Film)
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