- Virginia Johnson
Hazel was young and strong and a bit clever. His best friend, however, was a runt no one thought much of. But Hazel knew something about Fiver that made him respect the little fellow. Fiver was gifted with the Sight. He somehow could tell in advance what might be coming, and just then Fiver was terrified to the very marrow of his bones.
Rabbits such as Hazel and Fiver who live in the English countryside usually lead a pretty nice life. There are predators, sure. Foxes, hawks, and even stray dogs might grab an unwary rabbit. But rabbits are sociable creatures, living in cozy warrens underground, usually staying in the same place for years at a time. They eat together, play together, and follow a leader. And so it was at Sandleford warren.
Rabbits are usually rather biddable beings of habit so when Fiver, with Hazel backing him up, tries to convince their chief rabbit Threarah that death and disaster are coming—and soon—it’s a losing situation. After all, "The Threarah doesn't like anything he hasn't thought of for himself." His Owsla guards don’t believe them, either, and it is against the rules of the warren to leave it without permission. But they’re going to do it anyway.
Hazel and Fiver are joined by other bucks—male rabbits—who want to escape, too, but so many rabbits making a run for it catch the attention of the Owsla guards who are determined to hunt them down and make them return.
Watership Down, by Richard Adams, is the story of their survival and passage across wide stretches of woods and fields, facing off with others of their kind who have bargained their freedoms for a terrible kind of safety. It is a rich story where the true, natural habits of the animals are combined with imaginative storytelling. They have their own folk hero, El-ahrairah, who bargained great gifts for his people from the Lord Frith--speed and cunning, but at a steep price: ". . . . All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies and whenever 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 shall never be destroyed."
Hazel, Fiver, and the other rabbits who ran away from the doomed Sandleford warren must use these gifts to find a new home for themselves on Watership Down. As with the best heroic stories, the evil that is fought hardest sometimes lies within the characters themselves, for as one lay terribly wounded, “He felt that the darkness itself was alive and hated him, and it never changed, never slept, never spoke. All it had to do was to wait for him to go mad, to break down, to give up and surrender. Then he would have lost and the implacable darkness would have won.”
Watership Down is a tale of triumph for adventurous spirits.