Watership Down by. Richard Adams

Look. Look. That’s the place for us. High, lonely hills, where the wind and the sound carry, and the ground’s as dry as straw in a barn. That’s where we ought to be. That’s where we have to get to.” Fiver, the rabbit

Being dyslexic, I never understood the draw to reading as a child though I was from a family of readers. For me, it was a skill that isolated and kept me shut off from everyone else whether at home or in school. I resented books as symbol of my inadequacy and my lack of intelligence. I avoided them at all cost.

But, when I was in college, I took a Children’s Literature Class for my major with a professor that lived and breathed great literature. Her passion was enough to ignite my interest as she would spend class time reading to us aloud from great picture books or novels. As I sat there,  she was able to draw me in with her voice, her love, her laughter, and her tears. It was ironic that i was experiencing at 20 years old what  other third graders felt when we were 8 years old and being read to by the teacher. Talk about a late bloomer.

So, when my first child was born, i began reading to her as a baby. I read to her when my greatest challenge was not getting her to pronounce the words correctly, but just trying to keep the words and pages out of her mouth. Our Pat the Bunny, Goodnight Moon, and Brown Bear…Brown Bear are worn, tattered, and chewed up. I’d sit with her on my lap, point to things, make animal noises, and ask her questions. We’d read the same books over and over and over again. I never got tired of  watching things come alive for her.

As my girls have gotten bigger, we have experienced some really great books together. Stories and characters that we missed when they were gone. Last night, as I sat on my front porch at dusk watching these little guys…..

I was reminded of one of my favorite adventures that I have gone on with my kids to date. Watership Down is a book that is set in England’s Downs. It is a great tale of adventure, courage, hope, survival, community, friendship and family. It is a story of a special band of rabbits who leave their home when one senses that the Sandleford Warren is no longer safe. Led by two brothers, Hazel and Fiver, a small group  set out on a journey to a mysterious promise land and a hope for a more perfect community.(summary lifted off the back of the book…it has been three years since i read it.:)

Though the story itself is timeless, as a writer/reader, I’m always interested in the story behind the story. I’m curious to learn how such an amazing idea is created, never believing that I myself could be so clever. I was encouraged a few years ago when I read the biography of Harper Lee called Mockingbird. I realized that To Kill a Mockingbird, though a transcendant read, did not just fall from the sky. It was not given to us by the “Writing Gods.” In reading about her life, I learned that Harper Lee merely wrote about what she knew and what she had lived.

The same is true for Richard Adams. Watership Down has been a worldwide best seller for over 30 years, but began as a story for his children when they had to make a 100 mile journey by car. He said, “My kids asked me for a long story that they had never heard before.”  So, Adams began with the first thing that came into his head. “Once upon a time there were two rabbits, called Hazel and Fiver…..”

He writes, “For some animals in the story, I took characteristics and features from real people I had met over the years, so that each rabbit had a destinct, individual personality. Fiver(my favorite) was derived from Cassandra, the Trojan prophetess who was cursed by the god Apollo always to tell the truth and never to be believed. To Hazel I gave the qualities of an officer under whom I had served. He had the natural power of leadership. He was not only brave but modest and retiring, yet with excellent judgement. Bigwig(my girls favorite) was based upon another officer I knew, a tremendous fighter, who was at his best when he had been told exactly what he had to do.”

So, I highly recommend this book for anyone with or without older children. But know that you will never look at a rabbit  the same way again. It may even change the way you see yourself, your friends, and your own ‘rabbits’ who may have been given gifts that you do not understand or value. This story will help you appreciate that we all have a unique gift and purpose for glorifying God and serving one another in life and in community. (1cor 12)


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