Animal stories are usually written for children, or at most young adults. But Watership Down brilliantly proves that such stories can also be written for adults. The plot is fairly simple: a small group of rabbits, spurred by a vision of doom, leave their warren to seek a new home. The book follows their adventures for about a year as they struggle to survive and found a lasting colony.
There is nothing simple, however, about the world Adams portrays. He gives the rabbits a complex and fascinating culture, complete with folk tales about El-ahrairah, “the prince with a thousand enemies.” The characters are all vivid and sympathetic, yet recognizably not human. For instance, the rabbits can only count up to four; anything more than that is “hrair.” Even the names are brilliant: “Nildro-hain” and “Hyzenthlay” are not only beautiful; they sound rabbitish.
Morally, there isn’t really anything problematic. The religious setting is fuzzy; there’s a god named Frith, and a Death-figure called the Black Rabbit of Inlé. And they don’t have marriage. But, well, they’re rabbits. I don’t think it’s a problem.