So I did a flying reread of Watership Down
this weekend while at my Mom's. That book is just fantastic. You marvel at how intricately Adams depicts a fantasy world, at how believable his rabbit culture is, how it dovetails with what we already know of rabbits, and the language. It's been awhile since I've read it and I couldn't remember a lot--some major plot points were still surprises. I remembered that there was a really scary place (Efrafa) and that it was really hard to escape, but not much more than that. The sequence of the final showdown between Woundwort and Bigwig is just so damn well-written--I love it when Bigwig says "My Chief Rabbit has ordered me to defend this passage 'til my death, and so I shall" and Woundwort stares at him in horror--it had never occured to him that Bigwig could be anything other than Chief Rabbit. You mean, there was another
rabbit even bigger than him? I love it that each rabbit contributes something to the warren--it's not as stratified as the warren they left, with just two classes. And the episode in the warren where the rabbits are all well-fed but curiously there aren't that many of them, and they have poems and songs about "the wire" and the dignity of accepting your fate. Oh my God, SO eerie and creepy.
As I reread it, it occurred to me that perhaps the novel was intended to be an allegory about World War II or totalitarianism. Clearly Efrafa is a military dictatorship. I looked it up on Wikipedia
--apparently this thought has occurred to others as well,
although Adams doesn't really confirm it. If it's not an intentional allegory, it's possible his experiences (he served in the British Army during WWII) influenced him.
Interesting that it was written to be a children's book--it seems pretty violent for children.