Watership Down by Richard Adams
This book has the biggest, most sexist plot hole I’ve ever seen. The rabbits leave their warren to start a new warren, AND THEY FORGET TO BRING ANY FEMALES. Rabbits are known for procreating quickly, so you’d think these otherwise smart little animals would have figured out the problem here a lot more quickly than they do. I don’t understand how the male rabbits could have so much time to spend together in exclusively male company when they should be having sex all the time SINCE THEY’RE RABBITS.
Of course, closing this plot hole by including females in the original group would have blown the entire second half of the book. But here’s the thing: if the plot of half your book depends on your main characters idiotically ignoring the existence of half their species, that’s a sign the plot is pretty weak to begin with.
And that’s all before I go into the way the male rabbits talked about female rabbits like objects, Macguffins, prizes to win, or, at best, princesses to rescue. I don’t even have to discuss the way this erasure of female characters perpetuates a world in which men and their stories matter more than women. Without even getting into explicitly feminist criticism, it’s clear that the plot of this book doesn’t function on a purely logical level. The book was written in 1972 so it can’t even be excused on the grounds that people were just that sexist back then.
Another aspect I didn’t like was Fiver’s prophecy stuff. It seems like it makes things too easy to have decisions made for you on high like that. Life isn’t like that for humans. Maybe it is for rabbits. Or maybe Adams needed a way to jump start the plot and get the group of rabbits to leave, and there is no other way they could have known about the human plans to destroy their warren. Again, it seemed like a weak way to structure or fuel a plot.
Maybe I’m being too harsh. The political ideas behind the two dystopian rabbit societies that Hazel and his friends encounter were interesting. There are some really nice descriptions of the natural world. I liked some of the stories-within-the-story about El-ahrairah, a trickster akin to Brer Rabbit. Some of the rabbits’ schemes were creative and interesting, especially when they convinced or used other animals to help them. The chapter from the human point of view at the end was a great touch, a disorienting reorientation. But on the whole, this book reminded me of my son’s current favorite story, The Three Little Pigs. Its plot is a house of straw: one puff and it all falls down.