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Watership Down

Watership Down


by Richard Adams

Analysis: Tough-o-Meter

We've got your back. With the Tough-O-Meter, you'll know whether to bring extra layers or Swiss army knives as you summit the literary mountain. (10 = Toughest)

(4) Base Camp

If we were only talking about the epigraphs to each chapter (see Shout-Outs), we'd probably give this a 6 or an 8 for difficulty. But we're rating the book a 4. Why?

The book is a wee bit hard because

  • The narrator occasionally uses pretty difficult vocabulary, like mercurial and malodorous. Or any tough words that start with an M, at least.
  • The narrator is super precise about the natural world, and likes naming each and every flower: pink lousewort, bog asphodel, hibbledy peonies. (Fine, we made up that last one, but we probably could've gotten away with it.) You may not need to know what a bog asphodel looks like in order to understand the story; but the narrator isn't shy about using words (and flower names) that most readers might not know. So you might have to make the long trek to a dictionary to look up hard words and to a plant guide to look up unfamiliar plants.

But the book is easier because

  • The narrator tells us things we need to know. For instance, when we meet Hazel, we get told that "He looked as though he knew how to take care of himself" (1.4). Which is totally true, especially when we compare him to Fiver, who acts very nervous—he's always jumping and turning to look around him, suggesting "ceaseless, nervous tension" (1.5). So in two sentences at the very beginning of the book, the narrator just told us most of what we need to know about these two rabbits.
  • Also, the narrator helps us by stopping the action and explaining things to us, especially things about the rabbit world and language. For instance, there are those footnotes that explain things to us: what Fiver's name means (he's the runt, the little one) (1.8); how to pronounce "El-ahrairah" (5.10); what this or that Lapine word means, like "embleer" (8.16); etc.

So Richard Adams isn't afraid of using big words and sending us to a dictionary—but he'll also help us out once in a while by telling us what's going on rather than making us guess. He's not a jerk like that.

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