“Tales From Watership Down” by Richard Adams (Knopf, $23)
In 1974, Richard Adams told a magical fable of the animal kingdom called “Watership Down.” Now, Adams continues the adventures of the rabbits from the earlier book in a collection of 19 interrelated stories, “Tales From Watership Down.”
In a series of tales told by various rabbits, Adams describes the rabbits’ society and the world around them. Some of the tales are amusing, others are suspenseful.
The book begins with a brief summation of what happened in the earlier book. “It was a fine May evening of the spring following the defeat of General Woundwort and the Efrafans (the name of the warren founded by General Woundwart) on Watership Down. Hazel and several of his veterans - those who had been with him ever since leaving Sandleford - were lying on the warm turf, full of grass and comfortably relaxed.”
The rabbits are chatting together, recalling some of their great adventures of the previous year: how they had left the Sandleford warren and had first come to Watership Down and dug their new warren, only to realize that there was not a single doe among them.
Traditional stories about the mythical rabbit hero El-ahrairah and some of his deeds and adventures come first - “The Sense of Smell,” “The Story of the Three Cows,” “The Story of King Fur-Rocious,” “The Fox in the Winter” and “The Hole in the Sky.” These are traditional stories “which all rabbits know,” according to Adams.
One of the best tales: El-ahrairah’s heroic efforts to obtain a sense of smell for all rabbits. Half the pleasure of a summer morning was lost to them, and they couldn’t pick out their food in the grass until they actually bit into it. Worst of all, they couldn’t smell their enemies coming, and this meant that many rabbits died.
Also in this section are “The Rabbit’s Ghost Story” and “Speedwell’s Story,” which Adams says “seemed worth including as representative of the kind of nonsense tales which rabbits enjoy.”
Part II features four stories about the adventures of El-ahrairah and his stalwart companion, Rabscuttle, including a frightening encounter with a rat: “They had not gone far toward the forest before they came upon a huge rat, almost as big as El-ahrairah himself. It was sitting in the sun and no doubt, thought the rabbits, meditating the details of some vile and murderous scheme.”
The collection ends with further tales of Hazel and his rabbits, which took place during the winter, spring and early summer following the defeat of General Woundwort.
“Tales From Watership Down,” though not as compelling as the original, comes to a satisfying conclusion with the final tales of the book. Adams thoughtfully provides a “lapine glossary,” which contains definitions for such words as “elil” (enemies of the rabbits), “flay” (food, usually grass or other green fodder) and “thlay” (fur).
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