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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")
An epic Low Fantasy adventure by Richard Adams, first published in 1972.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 (elite, a sort of Royal Guard), 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 colloquial of the Lapine word hrair, literally meaning "many" or "a thousand"). They think hrududil (cars and other large machinery) are some type of animal. They don't understand visual art, or human speech, or any of the strange things humans do.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 Inlé 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. Two thirds of the book are a mixed bag of new Lapine mythology (ranging from Eldritch Abomination to Cloud Cuckoolander tales, including a new one with a Woundwort Expy). The final third expands the Watership warren's post-battle history, that had previously just been given a brief mention in the original Epilogue. They include what became of Hyzenthlay, the formation of the new Watership-Efrafa joint warren (and its salvation from a pack of roving weasels), and what happened to Campion and Efrafa after Woundwort.Also notable is the animated feature film based upon the book. It's a very well-done adaptation, and while it's 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 insanely detailed animation fits the story perfectly, and real effort is made to respect the seriousness with which the rabbits take their quest. 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. Oh, this movie is really bloody too. 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 castspoiler 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!. 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.
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. This also helps differentiate the hutch rabbits (raised in captivity as pets) from the wild ones: Haystack and Clover versus Hyzenthlay and Thethuthinnang.
There is a certain logic to it: most of the females have poetic names like Nildro-hain ("Blackbird Song"), while most of the males are simply named after plants.
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.
Asskicking Equals Authority: It is generally the case that the Chief Rabbit of a warren is at the very least among its toughest fighters — Woundwort is a particularly vivid case, as he became the Chief Rabbit of Efrafa by killing the previous chief and a rival to take the warren by force. This becomes important late in the novel when Bigwig tells Woundwort that his Chief Rabbit told him to defend the run ... and the Efrafans panic, not understanding that the Watership Down warren is an exception to the rule and Hazel, the limping rabbit they met earlier, is their chief.
Authority Equals Asskicking: Again, a common rule in rabbit warrens that General Woundwort takes to an extreme at Efrafa — it is common for the strongest rabbits to drive their weaker fellows away from the choicest plants, but at Efrafa, rabbits who have not earned a high enough rank in the Owsla may only go out to feed at all on a fixed schedule, and such rank has a fixed association with martial prowess and wilderness skills.
Beast Fable: Sometimes thought to be much like Animal Farm with a theme about the dangers of appeasement and fascism, although the story makes it clear that these are fundamentally rabbits, and not people, so it's clearly not a full-on allegory like Animal Farm. The Story Within a Story is a series of Beast Fables that teach the rabbits about death and survival.
"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."
This one is actually a subversion; in effect, the Black Rabbit is telling El-Ahrairah (or, in the movie, Frith is telling Hazel) that he cannot interfere because the situation is out of his hands; essentially, the speaker is giving them the chance to create their own destinies. They will live or die, fail or triumph, on their skill and ingenuity alone. There will be no help for them, but neither will there be hindrance.
Big Brother Instinct: Bigwig may start out the story on the verge of being a Jerkass, 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 Sandleford 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 ("white sticks") and cars ("hrududil"). We actually never learn what the rabbit word for rabbit is, but then again, perhaps there isn't one. Also, Lapine words for other animals are sometimes used ("lendri" for badger, "homba" for fox, "yona" for hedgehog.)
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 for the Sandleford outcasts. Plus every warren has a Captain of Owsla.
Cassandra Truth: Fiver's predicament, 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 pretty mean even by cat standards. The fact that cats appear to be fluent in rabbit, whereas other animals must resort to a pidgin language for communication just makes the cat seem all the more sadistic.
Can you run? I think not... I think... not.
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.
Composite Character: The epilogue - in which Watership mothers tell their children the events of the main story, in the form of an El-ahrairah story - subtly implies El-ahrairah to a be a composite of every particularly clever Chief Rabbit who has ever lived.
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.
Crapsaccharine 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. The narrator directly compares him to Robin Hood and John Henry.
Defector from Decadence: Strawberry. The does of Efrafa are a subversion — their predator-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.
The farmer's daughter rescuing Hazel from the cat and taking him home. The chapter is even called "Dea ex Machina". Although not especially set-up, plot-wise, beyond a farm-hand's reference to young Lucy as liking rabbits, but the perfect ending to the Humans Are Cthulhu theme running throughout the book.
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.
Fiver's vision where he channels Rowsby Woof gives Hazel the idea of siccing the farm dog on the besieging Efrafans, and is implied to have come from El-ahrairah himself.
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* heck, including Woundwort on open ground without cover, returns to the sea before the final battle.
Don't Fear the Reaper: The Black Rabbit Of Inlé is only doing his appointed duty, after all. One line in Tales from Watership Down makes it clear: "The Black Rabbit... inspired a terrible, indescribable awe... but he is not wicked, evil, or cruel."
Dying Moment of Awesome: General Woundwort is last seen, already bloodied from fighting Bigwig, going head to head with a Labrador Retriever — and not only is no body ever found, but the dog is wounded badly enough to quickly lose interest in hunting the other rabbits.
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.
Eldritch Abomination: In-universe, a steam train which saves the first Watership envoy from pursuing Efrafans; Holly and the envoy are nearly driven tharn simply by its passage.
"I tell you, I was beyond being afraid...you may think it was a wonderful thing to be saved by Lord Frith in his power. But...it was far more frightening then being chased by the Efrafans. Not one of us will forget lying on their back in the rain while the fire creature went by above our heads. Why did it come on our account? That's more then we shall ever know..."
Evil Genius: Woundwort has an advisor named Snowdrop who pretty much designed Efrafa's police state 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 (who seems to represent humanity), the Black Rabbit of Inlé as a god of death, and El-ahrairah, the heroic prince of rabbits. It's implied that other animals have their own patrons in the vein of El-ahrairah as well. And at the end, Woundwort is added as the rabbit version of the bogeyman.
Feathered Fiend: Averted by Kehaar the gull, 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: All rabbits are. But Dandelion is singled out as the fastest of the rabbits in the book and uses his speed on several occasions.
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 already portrayed as driving cars and smoking cigarettes in what rabbits consider the mythic past.
Head-in-the-Sand Management: The Sandleford Chief Rabbit, played straight. He insists on ignoring Fiver's warnings that the warren is in danger. 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.
Honorifics: The Lapine language has its own, though only two are mentioned; -roo is an affectionate diminutive, 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 bringing along a kid to shoot the rabbits from Sandleford that try to escape, though, definitely is playing this trope straight. (Though it's strongly hinted that, since the shot rabbits were methodically collected and staked, that they were to be used for their meat and skins...thus bringing the trope full circle back to 'elil.')
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 Always Chaotic Evil.
Intellectual Animal: They're about as intellectual as you can get and still be wild animals with an IQ of hrair (5).
Kill 'em All: The human approach to the Sandleford warren sitting on land slated for development.
Last-Second Chance: Hazel to Woundwort before the attack on Watership Down, offering his vision of Efrafa and Watership working together. Woundwort considers it briefly, then flatly rejects it, directly leading to the Efrafan defeat. The same offer given later to Campion is accepted wholeheartedly.
Never Found the Body: Of General Woundwort. Efrafans are convinced that he didn't die, but went away to find a more worthy warren. Eventually, he becomes a legendary bogeyman figure in the rabbit mythology: "Such was Woundwort's monument, and perhaps it would not have displeased him."
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).
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 females with them, so they need to find some or the new warren is doomed.
"Silflay hraka, u embleer rah!" English "Eat shit, Prince of [fox] Stench!!"
"Embleer Frith", which translates literally to "Stinking God". A "shocking impiety", and everyone shuts up and turns round to see who said it. This effectively sets up the reader to be appropriately shocked themselves when it is later used in a far more casual manner by Woundwort.
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. To a lesser extent, all the rabbits, since they have to live by trickery.
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 anyone can imagine or Fiver can explain coherently.
One of the biggest examples is the geography. Every little detail noted in the book was present in the location's real life counterpart.
Also, the Author himself notes at the beginning of the book that he had done a lot of research, using naturalist Ronald Lockley's book The Private Life of the Rabbit as a basis for a lot of rabbit behavior, instincts, needs, etc. found in the novel.
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.
Wham Line: In-Universe, Bigwig's reveal that he was not the Chief Rabbit acted as this to Woundwort and the other Efrafans — who, given that Bigwig had effectively beaten Woundwort, found the idea of Watership Down containing a stronger rabbit terrifying.
In the TV show, Bark the lendri (badger) is an odd case: despite being elil, she wants to befriend the rabbits (particularly Fiver) and to forward that goal, speaks fluent Hedgerow - she lacks the Funetik Aksent.
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."
Action Girl: In Tales, 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.
Art Shift: The chapter named "Dea Ex Machina" shifts to the POV of the nearby farm family and thus uses a very different style than the rest of the book, in that human concepts of class and ethnicity suddenly come into play. Most of the dialogue (except the visiting doctor's) is written in a heavy Funetik Aksent.
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. Alright, that alone will only cause him to dodge the question; it's reminding him why he does so that provokes a more violent response. Same goes for the rest of his warren.
Book Ends: The first and last phrases of the book.
Catchphrase: 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 when he fights a large dog.
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.
At the end of The Story of El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inlé, Lord Frith gives the Prince a new set of ears with 'a little starlight in them'. At the end of the novel, when Hazel dies of old age, a rabbit with faintly shining ears asks him to join his Owsla...
Chekhov's Skill: Hazel even notes that the "board floating on water" trick might come in handy later.
*Cough* Snark *Cough*: In Tales from Watership Down, Speedwell tells a story with the stricture that the first rabbit to interrupt or ask a question gets to leave and go stand in the rain. Hawkbit makes it about three-quarters through the story, then has an explosive coughing fit that would have done the Deltas proud.
"Hawkbit was seized with a fit of coughing, through which could be heard the occasional words, "—nonsense—" "—whoever—" "—sky blue horse!". Speedwell waited politely until Hawkbit had finished coughing."
Evil Counterpart: Silverweed is the prophet and poet of Cowslip's warren, and thus counterpart to Fiver.
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.
Foreshadowing: While Bigwig is facing off with the General, he can hear one of the does in the burrow behind distracting the others with a story, "The Fox in the Water" in which El-ahrairah pretends to tells a fox his future.
"Swift hounds on the scent, and my enemy fleeing for his life."
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!). Given his species of gull, it's quite likely this was meant to resemble a German accent.
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.
Any Human in the book gets heavily phonetic British accents, with the exception of the (presumably better-educated) doctor.
Hell Is That Noise (In-Universe): Everyone is freaked out by the sound of Fiver snarling and howling like Rowsby Woof. (But it gives Hazel the idea that saves the warren).
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.
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, Prince of [fox/elil/predator] Stench!"
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."
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.
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.
This also applies to his research in The Private Life of the Rabbit, with one glaring aversion: in Adams' book it's an early plot-point that rabbits love cowslips, but in Private Life of the Rabbit, cowslips were one of the plants the rabbits refused to touch, even under starvation circumstances.
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, which reduces El-ahrairah to a quivering mess.
When Bigwig infiltrates Efrafa, only a few rabbits know that he's going to pretend to be a loner rabbit wanting to be an officer. Hazel rather sharply cuts Bluebell off when he starts joking about how Bigwig must mean to disguise himself as a hrududu and bring some does out.
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, naturally.
White Bunny: Silver, though his fur is a dilute version of typical brownish-grey rabbit coloring, not a pure white.
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.
Action Doe: Hyzenthlay plays a visible role in Holly's and Blackavar's escape attempts, and is one of the runners who lure the dog to the Down.
Arc Words / Book Ends: "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."
Art Shift: The opening myth of El-Ahrairah was animated in the Aboriginesque style of the late John Hubley, the legendary founder of Limited Animation. The main film is ultra-detailed naturalistic animation... and then you have the rabbits' horrific visions and recollections, animated by Martin Rosen in a similarly abstract style, but with gradual transitions from the real.
Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Seemingly attempted but ultimately averted. Holds the accolade of being the only film to be granted an U―Certificate from the BBFC to contain the words “piss off” within the dialogue.
Award Bait Song: "Bright Eyes" was a chart-topper performed by Art Garfunkel. The music, lyrics, and scene in which it is featured make it a Tear Jerker.
Batman Gambit: Fiver gets Kehaar to help him by keeping him around long enough to shock him that there are no does in the warren. When Kehaar brings this up, Fiver feigns ignorance, frustrating Kehaar into showing them how to get the does, doing all of the warren's work for them.
Compressed Adaptation: The animated movie had to streamline quite a bit of the story, otherwise it'd be hours long.
As well as including an otherwise-unavailable (at least at the time) commentary, the Australian DVD release, uniquely, provided a reversible cover, allowing one to choose between the child-friendly or dark versions.
Add to that, after Hazel is shot, Fiver realizes Hazel is still alive... because the Black Rabbit appears to him and leads him to where Hazel is hiding. Terrifying as he is, the Black Rabbit is clearly a caring spirit.
Getting Crap Past the Radar: Kehaar. Piss off!!! At several points, rabbits use words from their author-created language to curse: Embleer Frith and Silflay hraka would not have cut it in English, for example ("God damnit" and "Eat shit" respectively).
Good Colors, Evil Colors: Film only, and they have a fun way of inverting the Red Eyes, Take Warning subtrope. All the heroes have red eyes — they're rabbits after all. And we get so used to this over the course of the film that the minute we see the Efrafan rabbits' blue eyes, we sense something sinister about them.
Though to be fair, the eye colour is strictly limited to the rabbits' origins, and not their positions in the story. As seen by e.g. Blackavar and Hyzenthlay, who are blue-eyed Efrafans but the protagonist's allies. Alternately, Captain Holly and the late chief rabbit of Sandleford Warren, red-eyed, yet menacing antagonists (at least at first).
Gorn: A shocking amount of it in an animated movie (of the time). Gets particularly egregious when Bigwig is choking to death in the snare and when the dog attacks the Efrafans; those rabbits unfortunate enough to be caught are torn asunder or simply shredded.
Little "No": Fiver's reaction to being told about what happened to Hazel is to simply, quietly and calmly state "Hazel's not dead." He's right, of course, being a seer he could probably sense his brother was still alive
What Happened to the Mouse?: Fiver goes into a trance, claims to be dying, repeats "There's a dog loose in the wood" a few times... and that's the last we see of him in the film.
Action Girl: Spartina. Bark also qualifies, as she reappears in the finale to fight Woundwort and the Darkhaven rabbits.
Adaptation Expansion: The series at its best did allow for some interesting stories that are true to the original book while reflecting modern attitudes. For example, there is the main plot of episode 2 where Hazel notes that it's unfair that Blackberry, the only doe, has to do all the burrow digging, the traditional task of her sex, and he and Fiver have to find a way to make the other bucks do their bit.
Art Shift: The characters were redesigned for season three. Some changes were barely noticeable, others were drastic. Bigwig, in particular, looks like he's been Locked into Strangeness... which would make sense since he did just get out of a fight with Woundwort, but nobody says anything about it.
Ascended Extra: Hannah, Hawkbit, Silverweed, and Campion. Though they dumped several other extras.
Beware the Nice Ones: In the final few episodes, Hazel fights against Efrafa and Darkhaven. In the last episode he even goes toe-to-toe with Woundwort.
Brother Chuck: Blackavar was a minor character for the first season, a rarely seen background character for the second season, and disappeared altogether for the third season. And Captain Holly just vanished 2 episodes after his first appearance, though he would sometimes reappear in much later episodes.
Bowdlerization: El-ahrairah was changed to "Elarah", though this one is justified by a bunch of kids probably not being able to pronounce "El-ahrairah." (Too bad "Elarah" means "enemy prince" in Lapine.)
Canon Foreigner: Captain Broom, all of the Darkhaven rabbits. Other characters, like Primrose and Captain Moss, are perhaps adapted versions of previously existing characters.
As mentioned below, Primrose is the character Hyzenthlay; they just changed it to "Primrose" because the writers thought that kids would have a hard time pronouncing the original name.
Cerebus Syndrome: After the show runs out of source material from the novel at the end of season 2, the tone of the show... changed a bit. It got much more violent and upped the drama quotient, as well as making some downright strange decisions such as giving some characters the ability to control each other's minds and introducing magic.
Chekhov's Gunman: Bark the lendri, after being befriended in The Orchard, returns in the finale to help defend Watership against Woundwort and Darkhaven.
Disneyfication: The TV series changes aspects of the characters and story (gender flipping Blackberry and aging Pipkin down for younger audiences, for example). In effect, it radically changes or waters down the original story's drama and conflict.
Good Is Not Nice: Bark. We first meet her staring out of the darkness, growling, "Long-ears," like most of the elil. She then reveals herself and advances on Hazel and Bigwig. Quite understandably, they run for their lives. It turns out she was only trying to offer them an apple and a paw in friendship. Later subverted; Bark turns out to be too nice to an injured Fiver. See I'm Taking Him Home With Me below.
I Owe You My Life: After being healed by Blackberry, Granite shows her and Campion a way out of Darkhaven (it doesn't work). However, he stays loyal to Woundwort, even when he gets saved by Campion en route to Watership Down.
My Species Doth Protest Too Much: Bark, despite being "soft" elil (a predator), very much takes a shine to Fiver and wants to befriend the rabbits. She tells them she's quite sorry she's a badger. (Even the novels hinted this wasn't totally out of the realm of possibility: El-ahrairah himself once entered the service of a badger named Old Brock in exchange for a favor, though the trickster had to resort to his wits to get himself back out of it again).
Pet the Dog: Woundwort, especially apparent in his treatment of Pipkin.
Pity the Kidnapper: Subverted in the case of Bark the badger in The Orchard. She wasn't kidnapping Fiver, she was trying to rescue him, and she already was pitiable: she only wanted to befriend the rabbits, and regretted being born elil. When the Watership rescue party finally arrives, they administer a No-Holds-Barred Beatdown on poor Bark until Fiver, of all rabbits, rises to her defense. She ends up a strong ally of the warren.
Viewers Are Morons: Primrose and Hyzenthlay are essentially the same character, so one can't help but assume they changed her name to make it easier to pronounce/remember... As with some other Lapine terms and names.
An Aesop: Half of the rabbit folktales teach a lesson to the rabbit audience.
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.
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.
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 to maneuver the Black Rabbit into accepting his life in exchange for those of the rabbits in his warren — once in a game of bob-stones (the lapine equivalent of liar's dice) and then in a storytelling competition. El-Ahrairah loses both times.
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.
A Dog Named Dog: A hedgehog character named Yona shows up a few times; "yona" is Lapine for "hedgehog".
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.
Eldritch Abomination: Especially in Tales, in the stories "The Hole in the Sky", "The Story of the Comical Field." and "The Three Cows."
The Hole In the Sky was something only seen by El-ahrairah when an infection reduced him to delirium and insanity; described in more detail in the YMMV section.
The Story of the ComicalField took place in a hedge maze which concealed something black, gibbering, predatory, and madness-inducing which El-ahrairah refused to describe after he narrowly escaped from it.
The Third Cow is more an Eldritch Location: she is Time, existing outside the world as the rabbits perceive it and devouring all things, including El-ahrairah's lost youth. El-ahrairah willingly dives down its maw and wanders within, the details of which no storyteller will recall, because nobody understands what he found in there. Finally, however, he discovers a sort of Fountain of Youth - the Milk of Renewal in the cow's udder, through which he gains immortality.
Enemy Mine: The point of "The Story of King Fur-Rocius."
Folk Hero: El-ahrairah, a.k.a. (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.
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.
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.
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 anyway.
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 Inlé, 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 Inlé. 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 repeatedly uses trickery and wits to escape certain death. He's the role model for how rabbits should try to survive.
Tuckerization: "Rowsby Woof" was also the name of a celebrated violin instructor at the Royal Academy of Music; One of Adams's daughters was having trouble with one of his pieces, so he told her he'd "take care of him" by writing him into a story as a stupid guard dog.
What Happened to the Mouse?: When the story "The Black Rabbit of Inlé" is told in the novel, it ends with god Frith waiting for El-ahrairah on the road with a bag of gifts. He gives the prince a new nose, tail and star-spangled ears. There's a gift for Rabscuttle too but... We never find out what it was.
Considering that Fiver takes Rabscuttle's place in the story, it might have been prophetic visions.
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.