Upon first glance, Richard Adams’ “Watership Down” appears to be a classic children’s tale about rabbits. Hazel and his prophet brother Fiver try to caution their burrow of rabbits about some imminent threat. Only a few believe them and the group barely escapes with their lives when the head rabbit’s guard comes after them. From there, we follow the rabbit’s journey across barren and dangerous lands to find a new place to live and settle into a new burrow.
Adams came up with the idea while driving through the English countryside and telling his daughters stories to keep them entertained on the long road trips. They passed chalk downs, fields, meadows, and farms, and Hazel’s world developed itself into a full-fledged novel once Adams wrote it down.
What if I told you that Adams created an entire mythos for the world as rabbits see it, so that the adventure arc can be compared to Greek epics? Or that the latter part of the novel gives an allegorical look at Nazi Germany and what happens to those upon whom too much order is imposed?
In one chapter, we see Hazel and his group come upon a warren of fat, sleek-looking rabbits who see life as pointless. Hazel thinks the place is great at first, but Fiver thinks differently. When I read that the farmer nearby feeds that local warren in order to catch them with snares to skin and eat them, the warren’s apathy became far more chilling.
A first glance does this novel no justice whatsoever. You must dig into the text to grapple with it and even then you may not understand why it makes you chilled or uncomfortable. I only recently began to decipher the feelings, months and months after turning the last page.
Cowslip and every other rabbit in that warren noticed only what they wanted to, pushing everything bothersome or life-threatening to the edges of their attention. American’s today perfectly embody this warren. Entertainment clogs our brains’ synaptic highways, and we couldn’t be bothered enough to care what’s going on outside our little dwelling places. This warren, bogged down by apathy and stories all day long, knew that death claimed each of them violently, forcefully, and still only two or three left with Hazel.
As for the Nazi allegory, that warren is found in the last part of the novel, and I don’t think I could do the haunting parallels justice in this article. (In other words, go get the book and read it; you won’t be sorry.)
I question how many times I’ve given in to apathy myself because I looked no further than my desire for entertainment in the face of reality, or how many times I refused adventure for the comfort of home.
Maybe if we as a society took a moment to survey how many traps are set around us, we could connect more with God and with each other. We could escape like Hazel did; maybe that will be in the nick of time, and maybe we’ll have casualties, but only from people laying down their lives for others. Even if we as a student body took a wider view of the world, we could begin the revolution. Forget criticism, no matter how biting. Alone, we’re caught in the snare; together, we can dig out the stakes of those held by the neck and free them. Together, we’re unstoppable.
Is it still just a children’s story now?