When I was a kid, I wanted to be a vet. I gave up on that idea once I realised the realities of it, but it was a long-held ambition. I loved animals. I rarely played with dolls, but had dozens of toy animals. And I loved books about them (I read a lot of Animal Ark books) So when I was given Watership Down, a battered and loved copy, I read it. I read it a lot. Then, even though I loved it enough for it to survive the great culls of my teen years, I didn’t read it again for a long time. Until, a couple of weeks ago, when the BBC announced that it would be making a new adaptation of the novel, and there were a lot of discussions on twitter. It didn’t take me long to decide that I needed to re-read it.
It’s brutal, really brutal. The deaths and injuries take no prisoners, they’re honest and real. That was important to me as a child, because learning about life – about the tougher bits of it especially – through fiction is crucial. I feel the same about the film: it’s upsetting, but beautiful. I don’t remember being traumatised by it. I remember understanding. The thing about difficult subjects in books is that they’re safe. They’re not real. A child who is upset by a book can put it down if necessary, and they will. Sanitising things for children is not, I think, helpful.
It also made me really miss my bunny. He was a mean old bastard – we got him when he was about two years old, when the family he lived with didn’t look after him properly, and he lived with us for about twelve years. He had such an attitude problem, was bitey and scratchy, but it’s understandable considering the start he had in life. We let him run loose in the garden (to the flowers’ dismay!) on nice days, and he would take the opportunity to chase the local cats, and I saw him chase more than one fox out of the garden, too. So Woundwort’s claims that foxes aren’t dangerous resonates, because that’s exactly what he would’ve thought. But he was much friendlier than Woundwort, coming over to sit with me if I was in the garden, and happy to sit on my lap for a while. He liked to sniff my face. He died while we were on holiday in 2014, and I was incredibly sad about it, but also not surprised. He was so old and although he seemed happy enough, he wasn’t as fast or as alert as he had been. It’s been almost two years, and I still see rabbit treats sometimes and think, for a split second, that I should get some for him.
So re-reading Watership Down was a lovely little bit of nostalgia, remembering reading it as a child and remembering hanging out with my bunny. S’nice.