This post was originally published at Novelicious.com and is now at WritingTipsOasis.com. WritingTipsOasis.com acquired Novelicious.com in June 2022.
Terri Nixon's debut novel Maid of Oalkands Manor will be published on July 4th 2013. Here, she tells us how Watership Down by Richard Adams affected her at the age of ten, and why she thinks it should be required reading in schools.
I had to ponder this question carefully, because it’s not remotely the same as “What is your favourite book?” Easy, Stephen King’s The Stand. Or “What book has touched you recently and won’t let go?” Easy again, Lady Under Fire on the Western Front, the wartime letters of Lady Dorothie Feilding. This had to be the “biggie”.
I have always enjoyed reading, but the book I have selected was the first one to take me on an adventure, and consequently turned that pleasant, but fairly pedestrian, enjoyment into something approaching an obsession. This was the story that turned me away from what I thought I knew and showed me the layers of the world beyond, like one of those magic eye pictures, where a mass of jumbled colours and shapes suddenly solidifies and becomes an image deeper and clearer than you could have imagined. All it takes is one book, and if you read it at a young enough age you realise very early on that the picture will constantly change, but it will never again be that tangled, meaningless mess.
I was about ten years old when I was urged by my parents to read Watership Down. I balked; it was huge, and about rabbits, for crying out loud! But I agreed to read one chapter a night provided I was then allowed to return to whatever I’d been reading before (probably something by one of the Pullein-Thompsons). That one, reluctant chapter turned into a series of nights where I’d read into the small hours, devouring the story, forgetting Hazel and Fiver et al were rabbits and seeing, instead, only the characters; their strengths, their downfalls and their heroism, and the struggles and rewards of loyalty and courage.
The importance of their quest, their search for a new home following the destruction of their warren, wormed its way into my thoughts for weeks as I accompanied them and met still more complex and fascinating characters along the way. I found myself cheering them on over seemingly insurmountable obstacles, hissing at the “villains,” willing the shy and scared ones to take strength from their bolder brothers, and ultimately rejoicing with them at the simple peace they’d earned. While a lot of people consider the ending to be sad, even at the age of ten I couldn’t see it that way and, as an adult, I now understand why: to be taken on an unexpected and frightening journey, to dig deep and find a strength you didn’t know you had in order lead your loved ones through it, and then to deliver them to a place of tranquility before slipping quietly away in your old age … well, if that doesn’t give us hope that we can overcome adversity, and learn from it, nothing will.
In my opinion Watership Down should be required reading in schools, where I am absolutely positive it would claim as deep a hold in the minds and hearts of today’s students as it did in mine.