The new Watership Down book is an exquisite achievement in graphic storytelling

Like co-author James Sturm, I once tried reading Richard Adams's celebrated novel Watership Down and got stalled. I got bogged down in the language, and put off by what struck me as the stuffy tone of the dialog. It's about a group of anthropomorphic rabbits who discover their burrow is in danger, and leave their community to start a new burrow on safer grounds.

But Sturm tried again, fell in love with the novel, and has joined with Joe Sutphin to create a graphic novel version of Watership Down that is absolutely gorgeous. I now want to go back to the novel, and I'm positive I'll love it.

This graphic novel version features outstanding art, with the rabbits drawn in such an appealing and distinctive way. It's truly one of the most beautifully illustrated graphic novels I've ever seen, but it's also a gripping page-turner of an adventure. At a certain point while reading it in bed, I knew I was going to finish it no matter how late I stayed up.

Despite the fustiness I detected when I first tried to read it, it turns out the story is very humanistic and even progressive. The group of rabbits are trying to escape bureaucracy and authoritarianism to create a egalitarian society of kindness, and of valuing every member no matter their eccentricities. Their kindness radically extends even to other species, and that ends up working to their advantage. Their benevolence is not a weakness, it is a strength.

The one note that may seem off to modern sensibilities is that the group of adventurers is all male, and female rabbits are seen as a necessary and practical resource. But females are treated by the group kindly and with respect, even if they are relegated to being minor characters in the story.

It seems to me an adult book, but I think older kids would adore it; it can get pretty violent and upsetting, so despite the cute bunnies, parents should be careful.

Watership Down: The Graphic Novel will be released on October 17.

Excerpted from Watership Down: The Graphic Novel, by Richard Adams; adapted by James Sturm and illustrated by Joe Sutphin (Ten Speed Graphic, 2023)

Images posted with permission of Penguin Random House