“All the world will be your enemy, Prince with A Thousand Enemies. And when they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you; digger, listener, runner, Prince with the swift warning. Be cunning, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed.”
In fact, part of why this works so well for me is the characters truly are rabbits. They aren’t anthropomorphized animals. No disrespect to Brian Jacques’s Redwall series, but his mice and other animals live in a castle, harvest and cook food, use swords and other weapons. Richard Adams’s rabbits may be exceptionally clever, even psychic in the case of Fiver, but they live and act as rabbits.
This book also gives a fantastic ensemble cast: Hazel, the brave leader with enough wisdom to know how to listen to his people; Bigwig, the warrior whose loyalty never wavers, who strives to become more than just muscle; Fiver, cursed with second sight; Blackberry, the clever one; Dandelion, the fastest and the storyteller; Bluebell, the jester, and more. Even beyond the Watership Down rabbits, there’s Keehar, the gull they make into an ally, and General Woundwort, who is a fantastic antagonist. Even as he’s defeated, he gets to be as much a myth as anyone else in the story.*
*- The 1977 animated movie is interesting but flawed, but it get’s General Woundwort’s end perfectly. The Nutinger Farm dog is tearing through Efrafan rabbits like paper, and Woundwort emerges from a hole, bloody and torn from his fight with Bigwig, and screams, “Come back, dogs aren’t dangerous!” As he leaps in to take on the beast, the scene fades away. The fact that the dog tore him to shreds is irrelevant, and not something we need to see. The General fights to the end.