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February 14, 2011 3:33 AM   Subscribe

Books like Watership Down?

GF and I have started reading aloud to each other and picked Watership Down as our first read. I've read it a couple of times before and its a favorite, so its going well. We're speeding through it however, and I need to line up some good titles to follow it.

Ideally we'd like another "heroic fantasy/political novel" (Wikipedia's description), although not necessarily with the anthropomorphizing take. What books have you loved that you think of when putting down Watership Down?
posted by allkindsoftime to Writing & Language (27 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Stephen King's The Stand.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:00 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

What BP said. Or, if you want something that will last a long, long time, Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time series (11K+ pages).
posted by spasm at 4:33 AM on February 14, 2011

The Lord of the Rings. Both are epic tales, both have considerable invented backstory, both have in-situ poetry and tales recited by the characters, and both have a swashbuckling, good-vs-evil cast of characters. Both authors even expressly disclaim any allegory or political connections.
posted by Maximian at 4:56 AM on February 14, 2011

I loved Watership Down at pretty much the same time as I loved Bel Ria. The main character is a dog, but if memory serves, it's not anthropomorised. Not sure you could call it a Political Novel, but I'd never have said that about W.D. either.
posted by seanyboy at 5:01 AM on February 14, 2011

Are you cool with comics? The Mouse Guard series is heroic in that same uncomplicated way, and the illustrations are stunningly beautiful to boot.
posted by wayland at 6:06 AM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

There's Fire Bringer by David Clement-Davies, about anthromorphised deer. I really enjoyed it, although it's also almost TOO much like Watership Down, at least in the beginning (some very similar conflicts). But it comes into its own more in the second half. It's significantly longer than Watership Down, as I recall, but nothing like LOTR length.
posted by sparrow89 at 6:11 AM on February 14, 2011

Best answer: You might like Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale, which I think does a good job of creating an atmosphere of the fantastical without being a fantasy novel per se. It's also hella long, so it would keep you busy for a while. And as long as you can suspend your expectation that it is portraying "real NYC" and accept it as a sort of "parallel universe NYC," as a New Yorker abroad you might dig that aspect of it as well.
posted by drlith at 6:12 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

LibraryThing has a great list of recommendations.

The Chronicles of Narnia seems particularly apt, and I'll throw in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, starting with The Golden Compass.
posted by libraryhead at 6:37 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

Wizard of Earthsea? Possibly you don't want something too gigantic to read aloud, but with beautiful prose, and that came to mind. The Once and Future King would be a good one too. Slightly pulpier but great fun is Naomi Novik's Temerarie series, --heroic fantasy, politics, animals, readable.
posted by Erasmouse at 6:38 AM on February 14, 2011 [3 favorites]

How about The Book of the Dun Cow?
posted by The Light Fantastic at 6:52 AM on February 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I second "Winter's Tale," though it's one of the few books like this that palled the second time around for me.

You might also look at John Crowley's Little, Big, which isn't political but is full of wonder and great language and may be great for reading aloud.

Also give Richard Adams' Maia a try, if you can find it (it's out of print, I believe, which is a tragedy; there are lots of used copies on Amazon). There are lots of politics involved; the world-building is very thorough, even to the point where the author (the same author as Watership Down, though it's actually set in the same universe as his "Shardik", which I've never read) has invented a rich vocabulary of sexual euphemisms that seem as natural as those in our own world. It's hefty as far as page-count goes.

I consider both of these books "literary fantasy," not much like anything you'll find in genre fantasy.
posted by lhauser at 7:07 AM on February 14, 2011

You would probably like the Mossflower series by Brian Jacques (recent subject of a post on the blue, even.)
posted by zizzle at 7:27 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh boy have I got a treat for you. Others are covering the standards, your Lord of the Rings, your Narnias & Earthseas. But if you want high fantasy that does include anthropomorphic animals, I'm gonna turn you on to the main source, the wellspring, the under-appreciated diamond mine. I'm talking about the novels of William Horwood.

Your starting point is Duncton Wood, a book about religious moles who worship a Standing Stone in the English countryside but have lost their connection to a greater system of warrens each worshiping their own Stone at the heart of their complexes since their takeover by the evil & powerful mole Mandrake. Once you've tackled that you can move on to the other 2 books in the trilogy, Duncton Quest & Duncton Found. After you've consumed those you'll need to pick up the second trilogy; Duncton Tales, Duncton Rising & Dunction Found. Take Watership Down, cross it with Lord of the Rings & the Bible & humanize the inhabitants to a degree you didn't think possible in a work of fiction & you start to get the idea.

After you've fully satisfied yourself with those you can move on to his other works; The Stonor Eagles, The Wolves of Time & his series of books re-imagining The Wind in the Willows. Finally you'll arrive at his newest & (as yet) uncompleted series, Hyddenworld, set in the world of Faerie. All in all it's a feast of many courses that will delight you, surprise you & touch your heart. And if you don't actually choke back the tears at a few spots along the way then you my friend are made of stone.
posted by scalefree at 7:35 AM on February 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

Bridge of Birds, a fairy tale set in a China that never was. It has a love story element in it as well, for, you know, post-recitation snuggling.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 7:38 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Same author (Richard Adams) also wrote The Plague Dogs, dealing with laboratory testing on animals. It's a bit darker than Watership Down, but a good read, nonetheless.
posted by kuanes at 7:41 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Seconding The Book of The Dun Cow & The Earthsea books. Also, if you can find it, Richard Adam's OTHER heroic fantasy/political novel, Shardik.
posted by KingEdRa at 7:43 AM on February 14, 2011

I've always found Tad Williams Tailchaser's Song to be very similar thematically to Watership Down, and personally I prefer it. There was also a sequel to Watership, though not nearly as good as the original.
posted by kittenmarlowe at 7:54 AM on February 14, 2011

You might also really like Call of the Wild & White Fang by Jack London, they're both about survival in the arctic (Yukon?), with heavy emphasis on the interdependencies between man & dog under survival conditions.

For lighter reading, some fun, non-political, reads focused on fairly true-to-life animal perspectives would be The Incredible Journey (pre-Disney, please!) by Sheila Burnford, plus Farley Mowat has a number of very fun books, starting with Never Cry Wolf, about his stint observing & interacting with wolves as part of a government project, which had some interesting political ramifications, and The Dog Who Wouldn't Be, which is a fun, autobiographical story from his childhood.
posted by Ys at 7:56 AM on February 14, 2011

I still love Book of the Dun Cow. Satyrday is also great and has a similar "animals on important adventures" feel. It's pretty dark, and it looks like it hasn't been re-published since the 80s, but it's worth finding.
posted by chowflap at 9:56 AM on February 14, 2011

I re-read Watership Down often and like to follow it with Tom Holt's historical novels, (not the comic ones, which are kinda silly), but Goatsong, and The Walled Orchard, are ancient Greece. Meadowland is about the early Viking discovery of America, and A Song For Nero is about the dictator on the run from his past and finding adventures. There's others, too. They all have a lot of historical accuracy and facts, but interesting characters and action, comedy, and also sadness and tragedy, interesting philosophy and commentary on human nature and politics, combined with lots of adventure.
posted by The otter lady at 10:49 AM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

- The Queen's Thief (book 1: The Thief) by Megan Whalen Turner, particularly if you like unreliable narrators and series that grow in scope as you go along.

- There's also The Lies of Locke Lamora and sequel Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch, which are basically heist novels set in a fantasy universe.

- I'm currently rereading Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising sequence, which kicks off with Over Sea, Under Stone but really gets going with The Dark Is Rising.
posted by bettafish at 11:06 AM on February 14, 2011

The Firebringer Trilogy by Meredith Ann Pierce is quite good. Although it is about unicorns, it's not super girly or's about the son of a unicorn chief who is trying to find his way in life. Pierce is really an underrated writer - she has such a marvelous gift for language - and there is a surprising amount of philosophical problems in it.
posted by Calzephyr at 11:17 AM on February 14, 2011

Stand-alone heroic/political fantasy books which are good for reading aloud:

Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is also anthropomorphic and also deals with different cultures of colonial animals (pastoral field mice and superintelligent escaped lab rats.) It's completely different from the Disney film.

The Wonderful O by James Thurber has no talking animals but would be insanely fun to read aloud. Two shady types arrive in the town of Ooroo and end up taking over and outlawing the letter O. Semi-poetic Thurberian hijinks ensue; it's not a long book. If you like it, maybe also try Thurber's The White Deer.

Those are all kids' books. George Orwell's 1984 is more of an antiheroic political fantasy, but would be fun to read aloud because of his invented language, Newspeak.

For political fantasy that's not horribly depressing, my go-to author is Ursula Le Guin: Four Ways To Forgiveness is about freeing one's mind from the legacy of slavery; The Telling is about the underground survival of an outlawed culture, and The Dispossessed is about navigating the various failings of a materialist and an anarchist society. Her first and best-known is The Left Hand Of Darkness, which is sort of about preventing war in a strange society and sort of an alien road-trip-buddy-movie. All these books work fine as standalones, but take place within the same fictional universe.

Whew. Happy reading!
posted by Pallas Athena at 12:33 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Redwall series by Brian Jacques should be right up your alley. Nostalgia factor, the author just died.
posted by alygator at 12:38 PM on February 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Plague Dogs should most certainly be on your list. At the very least, you'll have a ball reading the Tod's Upper-Tyneside accented dialogue aloud, and you can hug your GF when she cries (and, quite possibly, she can hug you when you cry). Richard Adams also wrote Traveller, a novel about Robert E. Lee's horse (though the accents here may be more awkward.) I'm not a big fan of the rest of his work, despite the fact that WD is my all-time favorite book -- Adams is very hit-and-miss. Note that Tales From Watership Down is, alas, a miss...

As far as books with animals in them go, the first three Duncton Wood books are also decent, but your mileage may vary if you dislike very, very obvious Christian allegory; these books are the sort where every plot point has a Biblical counterpart, to the point where it seems perfectly reasonable to the author to have moles literally crucify each other. The same goes for the Book of the Dun Cow, but the allegory is both more interesting and better-done there. It has an even-better sequel, The Book of Sorrows -- the author not kidding with the title, this is one of the most emotionally brutal books I've ever read. That one scene (you'll know it when you get to it!) is just harrowing. You might also try Clare Bell's Ratha books; they're written for kids, but they're enjoyable for adults, and would be perfect for reading aloud. If you like Egypt, get Tomorrow's Sphinx, a sort of time-travel-plus-intelligent-cats re-imagining of King Tut's short reign.

For non-anthropomorphic books, Steven King and Peter Straub's The Talisman should suit you, especially if you end up liking The Stand. Kipling's Kim is one of the all-time great adventures, and Kipling's total mastery of English prose should make it fun to read aloud (and if you haven't read The Jungle Books, or even if you have, those are even more obvious choices). I'd be amiss if I didn't mention The Aeneid; this may be too heavy for reading aloud, but it is the original prototype for many "heroic fantasy/political novels", including Watership Down -- it might be fun to read through it and note all the similarities.

Lastly, Asimov's The Caves of Steel (and the other Robot books) would be worth checking out, if you're willing to do sci-fi. It's not much like Watership Down, objectively, yet it's the first book I thought of when you asked this question, so there must be something to it.
posted by vorfeed at 12:59 PM on February 14, 2011

Check out Robin Hobb's Assassin series. High fantasy setting, deep political intrigue plot. Also extremely gripping.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:06 PM on February 14, 2011

Just wanted to say that this thread made me reread Le Guin's The Left hand Of Darkness for about the third time, and I think I actually got it this time.

I disliked it a bit the first time because the narrator, Genly Ai, is such a doof (at least to start with-- he learns, slowly.) I don't know what it was about this reread-- maybe my acknowledgement that I didn't like Ai very much, or maybe the dawning realisation that I wasn't supposed to.

Anyway, this time through I was totally there with it, out on the glaciers with Ai and Estraven, and a major plot-twist I'd forgotten about hit me like a ton of bricks, and... anyway, I love this book a lot more now, and feel like I understand it better, so heartfelt thanks for starting the thread that made me read it again. Yay for political fantasy!
posted by Pallas Athena at 9:46 AM on February 17, 2011

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