Watership Down

Origin, Plot & Themes


The adventures of the rabbits of Sandleford Warren started as stories Richard Adams made up for his daughters on long car journeys. After much persuasion from the two girls he wrote Watership Down, which was eventually published in 1972.

The book was rejected seven times before it was finally accepted by small independent publisher, Rex Collings but went on to win the 1972 Carnegie Medal in Literature and the 1972 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize.

In 1978 an animated feature film adaptation was made and received the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation in 1979. In 2006 it was also name as the 86th Greatest Cartoon of all Time in Channel 4's '100 Greatest Cartoons'.

Plot and Setting

The story follows a group of rabbits that escape the destruction of their warren and endeavour to find a new home – the hill of Watership Down.

Fiver, one of the rabbits, has the ability to sense when things are going to happen – both good and bad and because of this he leads the rest of the warren on their journey.

Their adventure to safety is filled with perils and challenges and is ultimately a story of friendship.

The hill of Watership Down is part of the Hampshire Downs and at 778ft above sea level its one of the highest points of Hampshire. As well as being a popular place for cyclists and walkers it also has part of an Iron Age hill fort.

Theme One: Violence

Along each part of the journey to find a new place to call home the rabbits are faced with the threat of violence and even death. The struggle for power within authority and when they come up against themselves as well as another warren is weaved through the entire story.

At one point, feeling like they’d found a safe place to start a new warren they realise the kind and hospitable rabbits that have taken them in are actually being fattened up for a farm and they make a swift exit and so the peril continues to find a new place of safety.

Theme Two: Home

The story of Watership Down is about a group of rabbits and their journey to find a new home after theirs is destroyed. Their adventure to find somewhere safe where they can live in harmony with each other as well as other warrens and the wider natural environment. They fulfil their physical need for food, water, shelter and safety from danger and eventually also realise the importance of emotional support and the feeling of community. They secure mates and the ability to keep their warrens growing through partnership and friendship and ultimately have a safe and happy life at the end of the story.