Twenty years after the publication of Watership Down, Adams blessed the world with nineteen more tales about his beloved rabbits. In a pocket-sized volume called Tales from Watership Down, Adams once again proves himself a master storyteller.
Tales from Watership Down is divided into three parts. In the first section, readers are treated to five traditional stories about the rabbit hero El’ahrairah (“The Prince with a Thousand Enemies”). The second section contains four stories specifically about El’ahrairah and his stalwart companion Rabscuttle; these being about their long journey home from their terrible encounter with the Black Rabbit of Inle. In the final section, readers hear about further adventures of Hazel and his rabbits, which take place the year immediately following the defeat of General Woundwort.
As I wanted most to read about Hazel and his rabbits, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the traditional tales and how felt sad that were only five of them. My favorite is The Sense of Smell, wherein El’ahrairah bravely seeks out the dangerous Ilips, who live in a cave and who hold the power to bestow rabbits with the ability to smell. Upon discovering that they have given it away, El’ahrairah ventures into the unknown Land of Yesterday and Land of Tomorrow, hoping to find someone who can grant his wish. The other four tales are much shorter, but just as entertaining and wise
In this section are also two tales told by a couple of Hazel’s rabbits about their own adventures. I’m not sure why they weren’t placed in part three. At any rate, I liked the story told by newcomer Coltsfoot about a rabbit ghost, of all things. It felt creepy and sad, but had a happy ending in that Coltsfoot adjusted to the warren after being courageous enough to share his story. I didn’t care for the nonsensical story narrated by Speedwell.
Again, to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed the extra stories in about El’ahrairah and Rabscuttle and their encounter with the Black Rabbit of Inle. Adams could probably sell an entire volume about these trickster rabbits! The first and fourth stories are not connected. One is about a maze that the two enter upon encouragement by Greenweed, who refers to it as a game. Readers who have read Watership Down will know all too readily that things are rarely as they seem. The other standalone story is about how El’ahrairah and Rabscuttle strike a bargain with a badger to forage for him as long as he sees fit. in exchange, he promises to escort them through a forest which stands in their way of going home. El’ahrairah and Rabscuttle soon learn one should never agree to do something indefinitely. As for the two interconnected stories, in them El’ahrairah and Rabscuttle help a warren of rabbits escape from rats. Be forewarned: These are pretty gruesome tales.
The last section is why I originally bought Tales from Watership Down. Except for the first tale, it didn’t disappoint me. The first is a narration by Hyzenthlay. It’s about a mysterious river that a few of the does discovered while at Efrafan. Given the tight security of the place, the idea seems implausible. Also, by this point in the book, I felt anxious to read real in-the-moment tales about Hazel and his rabbits, not just a recounting by a storyteller of past escapades. Apparently, Adams received criticism for his lack of female characters in Watership Down. In his extra volume, he makes up for this by having a chief female rabbit and other strong female leads who have awe-inspiring adventures. While all eight stories in the third part include beloved characters from Watership Down, the hero (or heroine) is often a new rabbit whom I came to appreciate as much as the regulars. One of my favorite chapters, however, is about Campion—who took over Efrafan after the demise of General Woundwort.
As you can see, Tales from Watership Down contains quite the assortment. I loved dipping my feet once again into Adams’ perfect world.
My rating? Read it: Borrow from your library or a friend. It’s worth your time.
How would you rate these books?