Rabbits are generally considered to be very cute animals but they are often treated in a rather sober context within popular culture. All depictions of rabbits tend to deal with some form of grim reality, and it seems that this theme is continuing with the new novel by Richard Adams, Watership Down. This book is meant for children and it is about rabbits, but when you read the book you will realize that it is not exactly the kind of whimsical tale that you might come to expect from a premise such as this one. Indeed, there are a lot of different ways in which this book might be suitable for adults more than it is for kids, and in the vein of a lot of modern children’s literature it sort of treats kids like the adults they are going to be in the future and helps pull them towards the sort of mentality that adults might be expected to have.
One the reasons why this book seems to be a little more adult than a lot of other children’s books out there is because of the fact that the theme is so mature. A lot of the conflict in the book is about the struggle against one’s natural way of being. Kids are naturally impulsive, aggressive and self centered simply because of the fact that they have not learned empathy yet. This book teaches you how to put yourself aside and think about others which is a skill that many adults could do with learning even if they have grown well past the age at which they might have been considered a child.
One thing that this book does really well, and is indeed a pretty significant contributor to its overall success in the world of children’s literature, is talk to its audience in a manner that does not seem condescending in any way. Children’s books have a terrible tendency to talk down to the people that are reading it. Lots of kids notice this language and they do not appreciate it. Kids are kids, they are not quite mature enough to be spoken to like adults and indeed if you try to talk to a kid like he or she is an adult then this is definitely not going to help get the message across in a manner that would end up being truly meaningful in some way.
What Adams does really well is straddle the line between condescension and excessive complexity. He also creates a realistic world where rabbits have their own language and in which he brings a lot of the experiences he had during his time as a soldier. This book is very well written, and it’s pretty clear that actual work has gone into creating a world that would seem realistic and enchanting to children rather than the throwaway efforts that children’s literature often ends up being. All in all, Watership Down has managed to capture an eager audience.