Watership Down

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to: navigation, search
Thlayli (Bigwig) had made his way up the run and was crouching immediately below. Blood had matted the great thatch of fur on his head, and one ear, half severed, hung down beside his face. His breathing was slow and heavy.
—Chapter 47 ("The Sky Suspended")
"It's about bunnies."
—Sawyer, Lost

An epic Low Fantasy adventure by Richard Adams.

Hazel, our protagonist, has a little brother named Fiver. Fiver has horrific—and as later events prove, accurate—visions of the destruction of their home warren at Sandleford, but Hazel can't convince their Chief to pay attention to some loony runt, so he convinces a few of his friends to join him in leaving their homes to escape. Of note are Bigwig, one of the community's Owsla (guards), and Blackberry, who is by the standards of their tribe a mechanical genius. Which is to say, he is the only cast member to even come close to understanding basic physics... like, for instance, "floating on water." Because, see, these are rabbits...

Yes, rabbits. Bear with us for a moment. They're not humans in rabbit form. Caution is a way of life because death is a moment-to-moment possibility. They can't count past four because they only have four paws (Fiver, the runt of a five-kit litter, gets his name from the Lapine word hrair, meaning "a thousand", but generally just meaning "lots", which is usually translated as just "five"). They think hrududil (cars and other large machinery) are some type of animal.

Only Blackberry, Fiver, and Hazel can really "think outside the hutch," so to speak. Hazel in particular quickly realises that survival as a tribe of hlessil (nomads) will require atypical problem-solving and teamwork, and thus becomes the de facto leader of the group, with a particular talent for bringing out the best in his followers and earning their loyalty in return.

Their journey is long - for a rabbit (about five miles). And it is punctuated by times of rest, during which they regale each other with tales of their Folk Hero, the first rabbit: El-ahrairah, the Prince With a Thousand Enemies. El-ahrairah is a Trickster hero (meet us halfway between Beowulf and Bugs Bunny and you've got the idea), and the legends we hear deal with everything from the rabbit's creation myth to El-ahrairah's descent into Inle to meet the Black Rabbit. And don't think that the stories are separate from the action, because they build up an intricate belief system that rewards us with major character moments, up to and including the very end of the story.

Plot Synopsis (spoilers)

The novel proved so popular that, decades later, Adams wrote a set of sequel stories. Called Tales From Watership Down, the stories actually take place during the original novel, though after the resolution of the plot—that is, they expand on the warren's post-battle history that had previously just been given a brief mention in the original Epilogue. They include what became of Hyzenthlay; and additional tales such as "The Terrible Hay-making" and "The Hole In The Sky". Naturally, some fans like the book, others call Fanon Discontinuity.

Also notable is the animated feature film based upon the book. It's a very well-done Adaptation Distillation, and while it is no excuse at all for not reading the novel, it's well worth watching. As a matter of fact, reading the novel first enhances the film. The Studio Ghibli-style insanely detailed animation fits the story perfectly, and real effort is made to respect the seriousness with which the rabbits take their quest. (As an aside, it's really hard to imagine a film version working any other way; if you'd like an idea of how Narm-ful a live-action version might have been, look for The Film of the Book Jonathan Livingston Seagull.) The film is also notable for its voice cast, consisting of some of the best British actors of the day, including John Hurt as Hazel, Ralph Richardson as the Threarah, Nigel Hawthorne as Campion, Richard Briers as Fiver and Zero Mostel as Kehaar.

The thing is, the film is notorious in Internet culture for one simple reason: the Animation Age Ghetto affects it like almost no other movie. Certainly, DVD cover art like this doesn't help, but what gets us here at TV Tropes is that you'd think more people would have heard of the book. Parents of bunny-obsessed children, please do not subject your four-year-olds to such Nightmare Fuel as Bigwig's brush with death and his battle with General Woundwort, General Woundwort himself, the awfully long scene (scored to Bright Eyes) where Hazel is almost certainly dead and Fiver is lost without him, Blackavar's story, or Holly recounting how he barely escaped the destruction of Sandleford Warren. On the off chance you need further convincing, please note that the latter sequence, faithful to the novel, is a semi-hallucinatory depiction of cute bunnies clawing out the throats of other cute bunnies as they all slowly suffocate. Not For Little Kids.

There is also a far more obscure television series. In the first two seasons, it primarily changes aspects of the characters and story to make it appeal better to families e.g. making Blackberry female to add more diversity to the predominantly male cast.[2] Despite this, has some redeeming qualities, but that changes at the start of season three, perhaps in an attempt to make it Darker and Edgier. Some people enjoy even that, though.

Tropes used in Watership Down include:

All versions[edit | hide | hide all]

  • Action Survivor and Almost-Dead Guy: Holly.
  • Aerith and Bob
    • The name discrepancies make more sense when you realize that all the names are actually supposed to be Lapine, but that many of them have been "translated" into English equivalents for the reader. Pipkin's actual name is Hlao-roo.
      • It also helps differentiate the hutch rabbits (raised in captivity as pets) from the wild ones: Haystack and Clover versus Hyzenthlay and Thethuthinnang.
  • "Alone with Prisoner" Ploy
  • Androcles' Lion: Kehaar in all versions.
    • In the novel, Hazel encourages the other rabbits to help out non-aggressive animals, in case they ever need help, which starts with a mouse. It pays off with the mouse telling the rabbits about a good feeding place, Kehaar acting as their scout and air support, and the mouse giving them advance warning of the Efrafan attack, which likely saved the warren.
    • "The Fox in the Water" has El-ahrairah wandering and offering advice, which pays off when a snake he helped, who had heard of his good deeds, grants him temporary hypnotic power to defeat the foxes plaguing the warren.
  • Animal Talk: the rabbits talk in their own Lapine language, of course, but they can also communicate with other animals using "Hedgerow dialect", which gives other animals Funetik Aksents. Naturally, they can't understand human, at least not without extensive contact.
  • Angry Guard Dog: And imagine that when you're a fraction of its size.
  • Anyone Can Die
  • Arcadia: Watership Down.
  • Ascended to Carnivorism: In the creation story, all animal species start out as grass-eating herbivores, some of which get transformed into carnivores by Frith to keep rabbits' numbers in check.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: As Hazel dies, El-ahrairah comes to make him one of his Owsla.
  • Asskicking Equals Authority: The reason why Woundwort is the Chief Rabbit of Efrafa. (He killed the previous chief and a rival, taking the warren by force.)
    • Lampshaded effectively in the novel itself: Woundwort presumes this trope is in effect at Watership Down as well, and is shocked into something close to fear when at a climactic moment he learns Bigwig isn't their Chief.
    • Watership Down might actually be the exception to this rule. In the Sandleford Warren, the Threarah is noted for being a very dangerous fighter, and when Captain Holly arrives at Watership Down, he too assumed that Bigwig must be Chief Rabbit.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: General Woundwort.
  • Badass: Bigwig, especially apparent during his last stand battle with the General.
    • Hell, the General himself, who doesn't even flinch when he charges a giant (by his standards) bloodthirsty dog trying to kill him.
      • Dogs aren't dangerous!
  • Badass Army: The Efrafan Owsla.
  • Beast Fable: Popularly thought to be much like Animal Farm with a theme about the dangers of appeasement and fascism. The Story Within a Story is a series of Beast Fables that teach the rabbits about death and survival.
    • Although if it is a fable or an allegorical tale, it is not at all Anvilicious. It stands on its own as adventure Xenofiction.
  • Because Destiny Says So

"There is not a day or night that a doe does not offer her life for her kittens, or some honest captain of Owsla his life for his chief. But there is no bargain. What is, is what must be."

  • Big Brother Instinct: Bigwig may start out the story on the verge of Jerkassity, but he's very protective of Pipkin right from the beginning, seemingly for no other reason than because Pipkin is the smallest of the group.
  • Big Brother Mentor: Hazel to Fiver, usually when he's picked on by the likes of Bigwig. Also a literal big brother, in this case.
  • Bring News Back: The destruction of the warren, and also the warning about Efrafa. Holly is the messenger in both cases.
  • Call a Rabbit a Smeerp: Oddly averted, insofar as most rabbit terms for human inventions are translated, except for cigarettes and cars. We actually never learn what the rabbit word for rabbit is, but then again, perhaps there isn't one.
  • Captain Smooth and Sergeant Rough: While Hazel leads by inspiring rabbits and convincing them of his competence, Bigwig acts as a Sergeant Rock and sometimes as a Drill Sergeant Nasty.
    • Their counterparts, Woundwort and Campion, invert the trope: Woundwort is all about courage, brute force, and raw strength; Campion is about intelligence, strategy, and adaptation.
  • The Captain: Hazel, and every warren has a Captain of Owsla.
  • Cassandra Truth: Fiver, at first. In fact, the quote of the first chapter in the book is Cassandra, from the play Agamemnon.
  • Cats Are Mean: Tab is at first no meaner than rabbitkind's other countless enemies... until her big scene, where she turns out to be a bitch even by cat standards.
    • Averted in two stories in Tales from Watership Down, where the non-aggressive cats featured come off as much more sympathetic than their rabbit opponents.
  • City in a Bottle: Cowslip's warren and, to a lesser extent, Efrafa. Not quite Logan's Run, but close.
  • Come to Gawk
  • Conditioned to Accept Horror: All the rabbits of Cowslip's warren. They even have poets who sing about the nobility and dignity of accepting death.
  • Con Lang: The rabbits' Lapine language, of course.
  • Crap Saccharine World: Cowslip's warren, where the rabbits are strong, healthy, have plenty to eat, are developing the beginnings of art and music, and anyone can vanish permanently at any moment.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: Averted for the most part with El-ahrairah, as he differs from Jesus in many ways, but the comparison is inevitable.
  • Death Trap: Cowslip's warren, indirectly.
  • Defector From Decadence: Strawberry. The does of Efrafa are a subversion—their elil-free warren is meant to be rabbit paradise, but instead it's an oppressive police state that is slowly killing them.
  • Determinator: Woundwort will not give up his pursuit of the Watership rabbits—and Bigwig will not give up his defense of them, even after taking damage that ought to kill him.
  • Deus Ex Machina: The farmer's daughter rescuing Hazel from the cat and taking him home. The chapter is even called "Dea ex Machina".
    • Also, during one chase scene, the good guys are saved when their pursuers are killed by a convenient train. Appropriately, they take this for an act of Frith.
  • Deus Exit Machina: Kehaar, whose aerial support had been essential in the escape from the Efrafans and is big and aggressive enough to deter just about any rabbit except Woundwort,[3] returns to the sea before the final battle.
  • Doomed Hometown: Sandleford Warren.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Several of the characters have dreams loaded with foreshadowing.
  • Dystopia: Efrafa, and probably Cowslip's Warren.
    • For those wondering, Cowslip's warren is situated next to a farm, whose owner has been leaving food out to keep the rabbits there while setting traps for them, giving him a steady food source. This has led to many strange habits for the rabbits, including a taboo against wondering about the location of any rabbit, thus putting the concept of the traps out of their heads.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Hazel's death of old age.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Such an integral part of the story that it's lampshaded by the film's tagline: "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." One of the story's best features is that it effectively evokes the mindset of creatures who live with this trope every moment of their lives.
  • Evil Genius: Woundwort had an advisor named Snowdrop who pretty much designed Efrafa and the marks system by himself.
  • Fantasy Pantheon: The rabbits have a fairly standard pantheon of gods - Frith the creator and sun god, his lieutenant Prince Rainbow, the Black Rabbit of Inlé as a god of death, and El-ahrairah, the heroic prince of rabbits.
    • And at the end, Woundwort is added as the rabbit version of the bogeyman.
  • Feathered Fiend: Subverted by Kehaar, who is aggressive and disagreeable but is an important ally of the protagonists. Played straight by various other predatory birds, such as hawks and crows.
  • Fictionary: One of the most celebrated in literature. You'll be thinking in rabbit language for days afterward.
  • Fragile Speedster: Dandelion.
  • Fleeting Demographic Rule: Literally in-universe, due to rabbits' short lifespan. The main events of the novel are the stuff of legend some five years later, and humans are portrayed as driving cars and smoking cigarettes in the mythic past.
  • Folk Hero: El-ahrairah, the first rabbit and culture hero; eventually, Hazel becomes Shrouded in Myth and his adventures get retold as if they were El-ahrairah's.
  • Foreshadowing: Fiver, unsurprisingly, gets to do a lot of this.
  • General Ripper: Woundwort. Just... Woundwort.
  • Genre Popularizer: There are a number of other "epic animal adventure" stories, but it is difficult to read them without comparing them to Watership.
  • Ghibli Hills: The Downs.
  • Giant Flyer: Compared to the rabbits, Kehaar.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: By the end, pretty much everyone has scars.
  • The Grim Reaper: The Black Rabbit of Inlé. A frightening but dutiful Grim Reaper, not a murderous one.

Dandelion: "We go by the will of the Black Rabbit of Inle' and only by his will... he will avenge any rabbit who many chance to be destroyed without the consent of himself."

  • Hair-Raising Hare: General Woundwort. Also the Black Rabbit.
  • Head-in-The-Sand Management: The old Chief Rabbit, played straight. He insists on ignoring Fiver's warnings that the warren is in danger. (Folks who suggest it's an allegory see him as an actual Expy.)
    • In fairness to him, the rabbits do lampshade the logistical nightmare of the whole warren up-and-leaving above ground, concluding it might be safer to stay down and try to dodge whatever's coming where they can't be seen. Unfortunately, what they don't anticipate (because they've never met it before) is the humans' use of poison gas.
  • Heroic BSOD: In Lapine, it's called tharn - the state of mind where a rabbit simply breaks and watches blankly as one of The Thousand approaches to take his life.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Hazel's prayer.
  • Heterosexual Life Partners: Rabscuttle and El-ahrairah are never, ever, not together.
  • Honorifics: The Lapine language has its own, though only two are mentioned; -roo is an affectionate diminutive (similar to -chan), and -rah means "king" or "lord" (usually used to refer to chief rabbits).
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: A bit of a mixed bag; the rabbits, especially the few refugees from Sandleford, naturally do think humans are bastards, but the human reader can easily sympathise with their POV (see, again, Everything Trying to Kill You). On the other hand, the first story in Tales isn't nearly as subtle.
    • This is subverted at the end of the novel when a little girl from the farm rescues the wounded Hazel and takes him to a doctor, and later sets him free. This somewhat changes Hazel's opinions of humans. The construction workers shooting the rabbits from Sandleford as they try to escape, though, definitely is playing this trope straight.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: Subverted... maybe. They're generally regarded as just one more of the elil, but some of their stories treat them as elil above the other elil, which is also borne out by Cowslip's warren. Still, Hazel does get an excellent demonstration that we aren't Exclusively Evil.
  • I Don't Like the Sound of That Place: The warren of the Shining Wires.
  • Intellectual Animal: they're about as intellectual as you can get and still be wild animals with an IQ of hrair.
  • Kill'Em All: See Doomed Hometown.
  • Killer Rabbit: Woundwort is psychotic even by human standards.
  • Last Stand: Bigwig, against General Woundwort.
  • Meaningful Echo: "There's a large dog loose in the wood."
  • Moon Rabbit: The Black Rabbit of Inlé.
  • Mythopoeia: The legends of El-ahrairah.
  • Names to Run Away From Really Fast: Again, General Woundwort.
    • Note that Woundwort is a kind of flower, like Cowslip. (Since woundwort is a healing herb, the name also has a note of irony.)
  • Never Found the Body: Of General Woundwort. With the result that he becomes a legendary bogeyman figure in the rabbit mythology: "Such was Woundwort's monument, and perhaps it would not have displeased him." This is even Justified Trope, because he took on a dog.
  • Never Say "Die": In-universe example: among the rabbits, a dead rabbit is one who has "stopped running." Which emphasizes the rabbit world-view nicely.
  • No One Gets Left Behind: As Hazel would have it; see True Companions.
  • No Pronunciation Guide: Partially averted. There's a Fictionary, but Adams says names like Thethuthinnang and Thlayli are to be pronounced with a "wuf-fluffy" sound. The pronunciation guide only tells the reader which syllable is stressed (el-a-HRAI-rah, THE-thu-thin-nang).
  • Not Quite Dead: Bigwig, after his battle with Woundwort.
  • Only You Can Repopulate My Race: A major plot driver for the second half of the story. The group didn't think (or weren't able) to bring any does with them, so they need to find some or the new warren is doomed.
  • Pardon My Klingon: "Silflay hraka, u embleer rah!" English: "Eat shit, you king of stink!"
    • "Embleer Frith", which translates literally to "Stinking God", and is an oath roughly equivalent to "Goddammit".
  • Rascally Rabbit: El-ahrairah, the rabbits' own mythological/folkloric trickster figure. During their journey the rabbits tell several tales of El-ahrairah's trickster abilities.
  • R-Rated Opening
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: 'The Threarah', the Chief Rabbit of the Sandleford warren, appears to be the classic Obstructive Bureaucrat when he dismisses Fiver's warning out of hand. Holly later reveals that his reasoning was actually quite logical—most prophets are frauds, and even if they're genuine the warren would have lost more rabbits from a mass evacuation than from a flood or hunters. Tragically, the oncoming disaster is more massive than the Threarah can imagine or Fiver can explain coherently.
  • Safe Zone Hope Spot: Cowslip's Warren.
  • Scarecrow Solution: Kehaar.
  • Sedgwick Speech: Woundwort's Famous Last Words.
  • Shown Their Work: One of the biggest examples is the geography. Every little detail noted in the book was present in the location's real life counterpart.
  • Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism: Far non-human end of the spectrum (Intellectual Animals).
  • Sliding Scale of Gender Inequality: Level 1, in the sense that the female characters are pretty much Living MacGuffins (although Hyzenthlay is an exception). The sequel does attempt to address this.
  • The Smart Guy: Blackberry, an innovative-engineer type (who rather unnervingly becomes the Smart Girl in the TV series).
  • Spoony Bard: Dandelion (also a Fragile Speedster).
  • Story Within a Story: The tales of El-ahrairah.
  • The Storyteller: Dandelion, notably in the novels and TV series. More on it in the novels section.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Cowslip's warren.
  • Translation Convention: Rather elaborate, as Adams makes extensive use of terms that rabbits care about that have no English language equivalent; see Animal Talk.
  • The Trickster: El-ahrairah, the rabbits' cultural hero.
  • True Companions: The eight main rabbits' relationships are based on Adams' WWII unit buddies.
  • Truth in Television: People more familiar with cuddly cartoons than wild rabbits are surprised how viciously they can and do attack each other, due to their extreme territoriality. Adams researched most of his protagonists' behaviors in The Private Life of the Rabbit, by naturalist Ronald Lockley.
  • Unusual Animal Alliance: The rabbits enlist the aid of field mice and—more significantly—the seagull Kehaar to protect their warren.
  • Utopia Justifies the Means: Efrafa. It was designed to be completely and utterly safe from humans. Before that, Cowslip's warren is seen as a perfect utopia for rabbits... provided you never ask where anybody is.
  • Waif Prophet: Fiver.
  • Wicked Cultured: The doomed rabbits of Cowslip's warren have gotten into poetry, rudimentary cave art, and other human-like mannerisms. And in every dramatization Cowslip speaks with a posh accent.
  • X Meets Y: The Aeneid meets The Lord of the Rings with Rabbits.
  • Xenofiction: Often the go-to example for explaining the genre.
  • You Are Number Six: Fiver, both in Lapine and in translation.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: If you're a rabbit and Fiver says he has a bad feeling about something, not listening to him is basically suicide.
  • You Shall Not Pass: Quoth Bigwig: "My Chief Rabbit has told me to defend this run and until he says otherwise I shall stay here."

Novel[edit | hide]

  • Action Doe: Flyairth, the former Chief Rabbit of Thinial, tackles a (small) dog to save Hazel. Inspired by her example, Hyzenthlay becomes co-Chief Rabbit with Hazel, and her first major task is rescuing a wounded doe, as detailed in the story "Hyzenthlay in Action".
  • And Man Grew Proud: By the end of the novel, the events in the first part are passing into the rabbit canon of legends. It's easy to imagine the story of the Sandleford Warren's destruction going the same way.
  • Bavarian Fire Drill: A favorite trick of El-ahrairah. Holly and his companions do something similar to escape from Efrafa.
  • Berserk Button: Never, ever ask Cowslip where anyone went.
  • Book Ends: The first and last phrases of the book.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: "Ees finish Meester Voundvort, ya?"
  • Catch Phrase: Woundwort's main assurance to his officers who get spooked by different elil is to simply say they "aren't dangerous." He says this multiple times throughout the novel, such as "Stoats aren't dangerous," or "birds aren't dangerous." It goes to show just how badass the general is since he has the muscle to back up what he says. These wind up being the last words we hear from him.
  • Chekhov's Gun: At a certain point the author bothers to inform the reader that a certain dog, guarding the farm in which some rabbits are held in captivity, is tied with a rope, rather than a chain, so there won't be any rattling which could wake up the farmer. Said dog and the rope it's tied to will become quite relevant later on.
  • Chekhov's Skill: Hazel even notes that the "board floating on water" trick might come in handy later.
  • The Four Elements: Silverweed's poem, which has verses about wind, streams, leaves falling to earth, and Frith (the sun). Too bad all four verses are really about death.
  • Elephant in the Living Room: Everyone in Cowslip's warren knows about the snares, but they pretend they don't.
  • Epigraphs: Quotes from other epic novels, plays, and poems at the start of every chapter. The first one, naturally:

Chorus: Why do you cry out thus, unless at some vision of horror?
Cassandra: The house reeks of death and dripping blood.

  • Evil Counterpart: Silverweed is the prophet and poet of Cowslip's warren.
  • Famed in Story: By the end of the book, enough stories are being told about Hazel that he can't even remember which ones are true any more (though admittedly, his encroaching age doesn't help). Meanwhile, Woundwort has become Shrouded in Myth as a superpowered bogeyman with a touch of King in the Mountain mixed in.
  • Fragile Speedster: Well, all rabbits are. But Dandelion is singled out as the fastest of the rabbits in the book and uses his speed on several occasions.
  • Freudian Excuse: Holly and Silver observe, on separate occasions, that Efrafa's greatest fear is men and that Woundwort felt safer fighting than running. Woundwort's father was killed by a farmer and his mother and siblings were killed running from the farmer and a weasel.
  • Funetik Aksent: Kehaar the gull. In the novel this is clearly the result of his having to fall back on a sort of interspecies pidgin to communicate with rabbits (Peeg vater!) The film makes the unfortunate decision of translating this phonetic speech literally, so that he ends up speaking in JarJar-level You No Take Candle, and the animated series follows that convention.
    • Mind you, his accent is clearly different from other animals speaking Hedgerow—mice sound a bit stereotypical-Italian for some reason, and the rabbits when speaking Hedgerow have no Funetik Aksent, they just use a more limited vocabulary and grammar.
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: See Pardon My Klingon below.
  • I Was Just Passing Through: In the story "Hyzenthlay in Action", Bigwig objects to newly-appointed Chief Rabbit Hyzenthlay going off on her own to look for some missing does; she pulls rank on him and does so anyway. The next day, he goes out for a stroll and just happens to run into Hyzenthlay and the wounded doe she stayed behind to protect.
  • Ironic Echo: "Can you run? I think not."
  • Never Say "Die": Cowslip's warren. They do a lot of talking around the subject, though.
  • Pardon My Klingon: In one notable example, an entire sentence is left untranslated ("Silflay hraka, u embleer rah!") Careful attention to the Fictionary explains why...
    • For those who want the Cliffs Notes version, that's "Eat shit, you stinking prince!"
      • Given what the oft-mentioned but never explained "chewing pellets" means, this insult is somewhat puzzling. However, "chewing pellets" can be reasonably assumed to mean the necessity for rabbits to eat cecotrophs or "cecals" from the anus, due to a double-digestive system. This substance is not poop, and needs to be eaten. The dry little poops you might see in fields are real poop and should not be eaten - i.e. "shit."
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Bluebell, as an intentional tension-breaker, and for the heck of it.
  • Proud Warrior Race: It is Woundwort's goal to make rabbits into a Proud Warrior Race. One Efrafan prisoner says that it was a nice change from running from The Thousand and that Woundwort deserved at least that much credit.
  • Punch Clock Villain: Campion, Woundwort's second in command. He even shows some lenience with the protagonists, trying to reason with them rather than attack on sight.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: Fiver's not the only one whose dreams turn out to be full of foreshadowing. Pretty much every surreal dream depicted on-page makes a certain kind of sense in retrospect.
  • Refuge in Audacity: In "The Trial of El-ahrairah," the rabbit hero discredits a witness by leading him on a journey so bizarre that no one believes him when he testifies against El-ahrairah.
  • The Scottish Trope: "The wires...!"
  • Sedgwick Speech: "Come back, you fools! Dogs aren't dangerous! Come back and fight!" (Though this only counts if you believe Woundwort actually died.)
  • Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: After a frightening night journey some of the rabbits credit Hazel with their safe arrival and enthusiastically declare him Chief Rabbit. Bigwig responds sarcastically that he'll call Hazel "Chief Rabbit" the day he stops fighting! Later on when Hazel is truly accepted as their Chief Rabbit, Bigwig is the only one who doesn't address him correctly (as "Hazel-Rah") until his Facing the Bullets One-Liner to the Efrafans ("My Chief Rabbit has told me to defend this run, and until he says otherwise I shall do so"). After his unexpected survival Bigwig suddenly starts using the correct title, as well as announcing that he's giving up fighting for good.
  • Shout-Out: Adams' narration references Br'er Rabbit from the Uncle Remus tales and comments that the origin of those fables were the adventures of El-ahrairah, which eventually trickled into the story telling of humans.
  • Shown Their Work: Understated, but definitely present (in a good way) with the book's geography; essentially every location (down to individual trees and hedgerows) really exists and is accurately described as of the time of writing.
  • The Spartan Way: Efrafa.
  • Spell My Name with a "The": It's noted that the leader of the Sandleford Warren is almost always referred to as the Thererah ("The Lord Rowan Tree"), either because he's just that awesome or simply because there happened to be only a single rowan tree near the warren.
  • The Storyteller: Dandelion is noted as a gifted storyteller, among the rabbits. Bluebell also tells one to keep some of the rabbits calm in a climactic scene.
    • Speedwell, too, tells a story in Tales From Watership Down. However, his... style is vastly different from Dandelion's.
  • Take Our Word for It: The Black Rabbit's terrifying story.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Cowslip's warren.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: We don't get to hear the details of Hazel's plan to release the dog until it's well underway. And a good thing too.
    • Also applies to El-ahrairah's plans.
  • White Bunny: Silver is the only white rabbit in the story, while the others are more commonly colored. He agreed to leave with Hazel's group largely because the other young bucks in the Owsla kept making fun of his fur.
  • Worthy Opponent: Campion, Woundwort's Captain of Owsla in the original.
    • Bigwig wishes to convince Campion to defect along with the other Efrafa runaways, since he would rather not fight a rabbit he holds in such high regard. Even Hazel feels a grudging respect for Campion despite them only meeting once, hastily.


Film[edit | hide]


TV Series[edit | hide]

Lapine mythology[edit | hide]

  • An Aesop: Half of the rabbit folktales.
  • Animal Jingoism: As seen through rabbit eyes, most of the rest of the animal kingdom is either stupid or evil or both. Slightly subverted in that dogs are presented as mindless, slobbery brutes, while cats - bitchy as they may be - are allowed to speak their mind intelligently.
  • Bag of Holding: El-ahrairah's ears in King Fur-Rocious.
  • Balancing Death's Books: Appears in the story of El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit.
  • Batman Gambit: El-ahrairah's specialty.
  • Call Back: The new El-ahrairah story Vilthuril tells her kits at the end of the book (and Hyzenthlay at the end of the movie), indicating that the Watership warren's adventures have already passed into legend.
  • Chess with Death: El-ahrairah attempts this.
  • Creation Myth: Involves the sun-god Frith blessing each animal with its sapient characteristics; by the time he gets to El-ahrairah, the rabbit prince, fearing those who've been given the instinct to hunt his kind, has dived into a hole with only his bottom sticking out...so Frith blesses his bottom, giving him huge back feet to run away with, and a white cottontail to signal danger.
  • Did You Just Have Tea With Cthulhu: El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inlé.
  • Dude, Where's My Respect?: The not-too-bright dog Rowsby Woof suffers this when he's tricked into 'saving' his master by causing such a ruckus he's scolded and tied up.
  • Enemy Mine: The point of "The Story of King Fur-Rocius."
  • Folk Hero: El-ahrairah aka (First) Rabbit and "Prince with a Thousand Enemies"
  • Food Chains: El-ahrairah knows that eating the Black Rabbit's food will make his secret thoughts transparent.
  • The Grim Reaper: The Black Rabbit of Inlé, evidently the lapine version of Hades.
    • Everybody Hates Hades: Though how worthy or not of the hatred (mostly thanks to him being the representation of death) depends on the context (he ain't evil in the movie, for instance).
      • Even in the book, it's made clear in the story that he's necessary, and bears no particular malice towards rabbits.

'But he is our protector, too. Anyone who has seen a gamekeeper's gibbet knows the vengeance the Black Rabbit can perform upon elil who think they can do what they will.'

  • Guile Hero: El-ahrairah, and every other rabbit in his footsteps.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: How El-ahrairah tried to save his people in The Black Rabbit of Inlé. Failed, however. He ends up getting what he wants from the Black Rabbit simply for his persistence in remaining alive and thus disturbing the place of the dead beyond bearing.
  • Hrair-Gambit Pileup: El-ahrairah's schemes often work by playing his several enemies against one another. Noticeable especially in "Rowsby Woof and the Fairy Wogdog," "The Trial of El-ahrairah," and "The King's Lettuce."
  • Joker Jury: Composed entirely of elil - predators - in The Trial of El-ahrairah. Neatly subverted when El-ahrairah uses the predators' contempt for rabbits to convince them his accuser is crazy. Though this is to a certain extent a Batman Gambit by El-ahrairah, who knew in advance how important it was to discredit Hufsa, and set things up accordingly.
  • Just So Stories: Half of the rabbit folktales.
  • The Mole: Hufsa in The Trial of El-ahrairah (that is, he's a rabbit doing spy stuff).
    • Used as a metaphor by one of the Watership rabbits to explain the Owslafa, who are essentially Woundwort's Gestapo.
  • Of the People: The rabbits are only interested in their own origins, and how other animals relate to them.
  • Red Coney, Blue Coney: Rabscuttle and El-Ahrairah.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: "The Story of the Great Marsh"/"The Story of the Terrible Hay-Making" in Tales. El-ahrairah leads a warren across the marsh to keep them from being wiped out... and once they get to the other side, the rabbits make such a nuisance of themselves to humans that they get wiped out.
  • Shrouded in Myth: Half the rabbit folktales are half-remembered legends of forgotten rabbit chiefs, now associated with El-ahrairah.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle, finally returning from their adventures after meeting the Black Rabbit of Inle, find that most of their generation is dead and the young rabbits who make up the warren have little respect for them.
  • To Hell and Back: El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inle. Echoed a bit in the Tales story of "The Sense of Smell."
  • Too Dumb to Live: In keeping with the lapine theme of using your wits to evade your enemies, many of the El-ahrairah myths that appear in the sequel are cautionary tales involving rabbits/warrens like this. The warren in The Terrible Hay-Making is an excellent example. Those rabbits were also assholes anyway.
  • The Trickster: El-ahrairah.
  • Tuckerization: "Rowsby Woof" was also the name of a real-life composer and instructor at the Royal Academy of Music.
  • You Don't Want to Catch This: A standard tactic of El-ahrairah in these stories, when trying to avoid a more powerful enemy.
    • Funnily enough, when El-ahrairah attempted to actually catch a fatal disease himself (The White Blindness, also known as Myxomatosis, a real-life disease that kills rabbits), he failed to do so.

As an aside, only Dinotopia has gotten even close to using as many Animal Tropes as this novel.

  1. This poster should give you an idea on how dark the movie really is. Too bad that it is not enough to stop Animation Age Ghetto, and as a result, it traumatized a lot of children.
  2. In fact, a plot point of the main book is that, when they reach Watership Down, they suddenly discover that they forgot to bring females along!
  3. heck, including Woundwort on open ground without cover