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Literature / Watership Down

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"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."

An epic Low Fantasy adventure novel written by Richard Adams, first published in 1972.

Hazel, our protagonist, is a youngster scratching out a living as best he can on the outskirts of society. He also looks after his little brother, Fiver, a fragile soul prone to odd hallucinations. After Fiver has a vision of their hometown being destroyed, Hazel gathers together a group of sympathizers and they set off for a new home after a brief but futile attempt to convince the town's leaders of the danger. Notable among Hazel's new followers are Bigwig, one of the community's elite enforcers; Dandelion, a very fast runner; and Blackberry, a genius capable of grasping high-level concepts like crossing water without having to swim by sitting on something that floats.

Because, see... Hazel and his fellows are rabbits.

Yes, rabbits. Bear with us for a moment.

These are not humans in rabbit form. They live and think like fragile prey animals. 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 "uncountably 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," as it were. 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 encourage 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. 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.

The novel proved so popular that in 1996, Adams wrote a collection of sequel stories called Tales from Watership Down. The stories therein actually take place during the original novel, albeit after the resolution of the plot. Two thirds of the book are a mixed bag of new Lapine mythology (ranging from Eldritch Abomination to Cloudcuckoolander tales, including a new one with a Woundwort Expy). The final third expands the Watership warren's post-battle history, which 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 1978 animated feature film based upon the book, directed by Martin Rosen. (Its page is here.) The film is well-known for how gritty and violent it is, far more than most animated films. Likewise notable is 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, and Richard Briers as Fiver. The American character actor Zero Mostel voices Kehaar the seagull. Also featured is Art Garfunkel's song "Bright Eyes", written for the film. As of 2015, the film is a part of The Criterion Collection.

From 1999 to 2001, a Lighter and Softer TV series adaptation was broadcast on British and Canadian television, made in collaboration with Canadian network YTV. The series revolves around Hazel and his friends trying to settle down and protect Watership Down from outside threats and natural disasters. While this version was made for very young kids, it was praised for its mature story telling and world building, and also had an All-Star Cast with actors such as Stephen Fry, Kiefer Sutherland, Stephen Mangan and Tim McInnerny. Richard Briers and John Hurt even return, this time as Captain Broom and General Woundwort respectively. The show also uses an instrumental rendition of "Bright Eyes" for its opening and ending credits. Its page can be found here.

In 2018, Netflix and BBC One produced another animated adaptation, a four-part CGI miniseries with an All-Star Cast of its own. Its page can be found here.

The cult tabletop role playing game Bunnies & Burrows was inspired by the book.

Examples of the following tropes:

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  • Action Survivor and Almost Dead Guy: Holly, twice.
  • 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's Song"), while most of the males are simply named after plants.
  • Allegiance Affirmation: Invoked during Bigwig's battle against General Woundwort in the runs of the warren on Watership Down. The General offers Bigwig a position in his own Owsla, "the Mark of his choice" if he'll surrender. That fails. Then he tells Bigwig that he had enough rabbits to bring down the wall in four places, so why doesn't he just come out. Bigwig's response fills Woundwort with terror, as he had assumed Bigwig was the Chief.
    Bigwig: My Chief Rabbit has told me to defend this run and until he says otherwise I shall stay here.
    • This is important for two reasons. First, at the beginning of the novel, Bigwig had said that he would never call Hazel his Chief, but here, in a life or death battle, he says it without hesitation. Also, Woundwort can't conceive of a warren where the Chief would be more clever than strong, so he immediately assumes that someone bigger and stronger than Bigwig is waiting for him, even if he finishes Bigwig off. The conviction of his allegiance to Hazel, though, is so intense that it breaks the spirits of all the other rabbits from Efrafa who had come to take down the warren at Watership Down.
  • Alone-with-Prisoner Ploy: Bigwig pulls this off a couple of times while undercover in Efrafa.
  • Always Someone Better: Bigwig is the largest and strongest rabbit in the story until Woundwort appears. As noted above, when Bigwig rejects Woundwort's offer out of loyalty to his own Chief Rabbit, the Efrafans immediately picture someone even larger and stronger.
  • Amalgamated Individual: The rabbits recount some of the exploits of El-ahrairah, the first rabbit, and their greatest trickster. El-ahrairah, the "Prince with a Thousand Enemies," is portrayed as an ingenious and innovative rabbit who routinely outsmarts his adversaries. A typical rabbit couldn't live long enough to have so many achievements, so the cunning of the Prince's descendants has been ascribed to him. It not only makes for good storytelling among the rabbits, but also works as a "con man's handbook" of trickery.
  • Animals Respect Nature:
    • This concept is built into the rabbits' own creation myth. In the beginning all the animals were herbivores, but eventually the rabbits start multiplying too fast and eating all the grass. To bring them back under control, Lord Frith reacts by turning some of the other animals into predators and filling them with the desire to hunt and kill rabbits.
    • Discussed later in the book by Strawberry when he tells Woundwort, "Animals don't behave like men. If they have to fight, they fight; and if they have to kill, they kill. But they don't sit down and set their wits to work to devise ways of spoiling other creatures' lives and hurting them. They have dignity and animality." Being the tyrant that he is, Woundwort doesn't listen.
  • Androcles' Lion: 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.
  • Animal Religion: The book goes into great detail regarding the rabbits' belief system. Frith, the sun, made all the stars and the Earth, and all the animals thereon. Frith's second-in-command is Inle, the moon, tasked with collecting the dead and meting out punishments. The first rabbit angered Frith with his arrogance, and was punished by becoming prey to oodles of predators, which made him El-ahrairah, the Prince With A Thousand Enemies. In the lapine world, El-ahrairah functions like a combination Adam and Hercules, and those rabbits that excel at survival skills are welcomed in the afterlife to El-ahrairah's inner circle. Much of this is depicted in the animated film.
  • 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: A day-to-day reality, although the principal characters actually make it to the end of the story, with Hazel dying of old age in the final pages of the book.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: As Hazel dies, El-ahrairah comes to make him one of his Owsla.
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: Usually the Chief Rabbit of a warren is also the strongest — Woundwort is a particularly vivid case, as he took command of Efrafa by killing the previous chief and another rival. Averted as a plot point late in the novel, when Bigwig tells Woundwort his Chief told him to defend the run; the Efrafans panic, thinking there must be an even bigger and tougher rabbit they haven't met yet. When he fails to defeat Bigwig in single combat, Woundwort starts to feel his authority slip away.
  • Badass Army: The Efrafan Owsla.
  • Badass Boast: Frith gives one on behalf of El-ahrairah and his descendents:
    Frith: "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."
  • Bathroom Control: General Woundwort runs the warren called Efrafa with an iron paw. He and his officers have the rabbits regimented, including dictating which rabbits can go above ground to feed, and when, and even where to excrete. Discontent is widespread, but none dare take action, as spies and snitches are everywhere, and punishments are swift and harsh.
  • Batman Gambit: Hazel keeps the injured Kehaar around long enough for him to see there are no does in their warren, and pretends to be surprised when Kehaar asks how it's possible that the warren is unaware there are no females there. Kehaar then does the warren's job of finding them.
  • 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.
  • Big Bad: General Woundwort.
  • 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.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Just when it looks like the escape from Efrafa has failed, and Woundwort is about to pounce on Bigwig, Kehaar shows up.
  • Bolivian Army Ending: The last we see of Woundwort, he's battling a giant hound. The next thing we're told is that they Never Found the Body.
  • Bogeyman: The General becomes this to young rabbits after his defeat - and he probably would have been pleased.
  • Bring News Back: The destruction of the Sandleford warren, and also the warning about Efrafa. Holly is the messenger in both cases.
  • Buffy Speak: Most Lapine words referring to complex concepts are composites of existing words. For example, silflay, the frequently used word for grazing above ground, translates literally as "Above-Food".
  • 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.)
  • The Call Knows Where You Live: It turns out Fiver was right; Sandleford is history. There's no chance of going back home.
  • 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 for the Sandleford outcasts. Plus almost every warren has a Captain of Owsla, though he typically serves as the Chief's second-in-command.
  • Cassandra Truth: Fiver's predicament, at first. In fact, the epigraph 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.
  • City in a Bottle: Cowslip's warren and to a lesser extent Efrafa. Not quite Logan's Run, but close.
  • Combat Pragmatist: Bigwig normally uses his superior size and strength to overpower his opponents but when he gets ready to go up against Woundwort (who's even bigger and stronger than he is) he realises that he'd be at a disadvantage in a straight confrontation. He buries himself in the floor of a run so he can wait until Woundwort is almost on top of him then attack him by surprise from below.
  • Come to Gawk: After Blackavar is caught and his ears are mutilated for attempting to leave the warren, he is displayed to all the other rabbits as an example.
  • 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 of accepting death.
  • Conlang: The rabbits' Lapine language, of course.
  • Covers Always Lie: Nearly every cover emphasizes the rabbits, giving the impression that it's a light-hearted story about bunnies. In actuality it's a blood-soaked tale of survival against incredible odds.
  • 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.
  • Creation Myth: Rabbits have their own creation myth. Their god, Frith, created the world and all the stars. When he created the animals, they were all gentle herbivores. El-ahrairah, the Chief Rabbit, made the other animals upset because his many wives and children were eating all the grass. El-ahrairah refused to rein them in, and Frith responded by giving a blessing to every animal, differentiating them from each other and creating predators. El-ahrairah learned of this and ran to dig a place to hide; when Frith came along, El-ahrairah told him he wouldn't come out, so Frith could just bless his backside. Amused, Frith did just that, which is why rabbits have such strong back legs. Because of El-ahrairah, rabbits have the whole world against them, but they exist as he did — by being fast, cunning, and able to trick their adversaries.
    • Against that, there are occurrences in the film — one of which is also in the book — which make it explicitly clear that both El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inle are real in-universe. The Black Rabbit leads Fiver to where Hazel lies wounded, one of the rabbits tries to bargain with El-ahrirah with his life for the survival of the Watership warren (something that happens to El-ahrairah himself in the book) and El-ahrairah comes for Hazel at the end of his life.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle:
    • It doesn't matter how big and badass a rabbit you are, taking on a large and vicious farm dog in single combat is never going to end in victory for you.
    • The Battle of Watership Down, and its aftermath. The Watership rabbits come out without a single loss (in the book) or only a single casualty (in the film). By contrast, of the twenty-six or twenty-seven rabbits Woundwort leads from Efrafa, only seven or eight make it back alive when the elil get through with them. To put this into perspective: a large warren like Efrafa has a max population of about 100 rabbits. (The Watership Down warren had around twenty-five rabbits after acquiring the Efrafan does.) So the Efrafans probably lost around a quarter of their strength, as well as their leader, in that one disastrous expedition. No wonder they were happy to make peace afterwards.
  • Dare to Be Badass: The primary theme of Frith's gift to El-Ahrairah:
    All the world will be your enemy, Prince With a Thousand Enemies
    And if they catch you, they will kill you.
  • Death Trap: Cowslip's warren. The nearby farmer uses it as a free-range farm for their meat and skins, leaving out both food and snares, and ruthlessly exterminating all elil. The rabbits understand that he will never allow the warren to be destroyed, but the flipside is that no individual is safe. It twists them psychologically. The Sandleford rabbits, once they realize what's going on, want no part of this.
  • Deer in the Headlights: The rabbits, being a species prone to this, have a term for it: "Tharn." It usually just means paralyzed with fear, but there's also an implication of doom. One rabbit comments that Cowslip's cursed warren is "as tharn as an owl in daylight."
  • Defeat Means Friendship: After the death/disappearance of Woundwort and the heavy casualties taken by the Efrafan force during the attack on Watership Down, Efrafa is taken over by the surviving Campion, who makes peace with Watership and eventually a half Efrafan/half Watership warren is established halfway between the two warrens cementing their alliance.
  • Defector from Decadence: Strawberry. The does of Efrafa are a subversion — their predator-free warren is meant to be rabbit paradise, but they are too frustrated by the restrictions to enjoy it.
  • 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.
  • Defiant to the End: El-ahrairah at the origin of rabbits, when facing certain death from predators, refuses to give up and keeps trying to survive. This is what impresses Frith enough to bless him after all, and forms the essence of his personal Badass Boast.
  • Deus ex Machina:
    • 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 passing 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, the Watership rabbits' main scout and aerial support, returns to the sea before the climactic battle.
  • Dig Attack: The Lancer Bigwig hides in a hollow in one of the rabbit tunnels, then is covered in dirt. When the Big Bad General Woundwort comes in, his forefeet sink into the hollow, and Bigwig is able to grab and cripple him. This tactic is faithfully depicted in Nepenthe Productions' Animated Adaptation.
  • 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."
  • Doomed Hometown: The Sandleford warren.
  • Dramatic Irony: Fiver begins to panic when he and Hazel see a new sign posted near the warren. The sign is a notice that the land is about to be developed, but of course none of the rabbits can read it.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Several of the characters have dreams loaded with foreshadowing, especially Fiver.
  • Due to the Dead: Being prey animals accustomed to frequent losses the rabbits have a practical and brief but nonetheless extremely poignant exchange of words when they learn of the death of one of their comrades: "My heart has joined the thousand, for my friend stopped running today."
  • Dying Moment of Awesome: General Woundwort, already bloodied from fighting, is last seen 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, so effectively he saved lives by standing up to it.
  • 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. The rabbits have adapted to this by trying to deny that the traps exist, leading to many strange rules and customs.
    • The only reason they accept this is because the farmer is also exterminating ALL other threats. The human threat is their ONLY threat, and there's an unspoken understanding that the human threat will never exterminate the warren outright.
  • Dystopia Is Hard: Efrafa is pretty clearly being held together solely by Woundwort's rule by fear, with frequent escape attempts, does that keep reabsorbing their litters, and a culture of backstabbing among the higher ranks. When Woundwort is apparently killed on Watership Down, Efrafa's political system collapses with it, and by the end it has become about as laissez-faire as you can hope for in rabbit society.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Hazel's death of old age.
  • 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. The Efrafans, who live near the railway, do not regard it with such awe.
      "I tell you, I was beyond being may think it was a wonderful thing to be saved by Lord Frith in his power. 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..."
    • A real one appears in Tales from Watership Down, in the short story "The Comical Field." Whatever it was, El-Ahrairah never once could bring himself to describe what it was. All he could say was that it was even scarier than the Black Rabbit of Inlé because it was "evil, wicked and cruel." It lived inside a hedge maze that was part of an abandoned country estate, and somehow was bound inside it.
  • Eldritch Location: Kehaar's description of the ocean (Peeg Vater) baffles the rabbits; they have a hard enough time with rivers and roads, but a massive body of water that seems to stretch on forever is more than they can understand.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: Such an integral part of the story that they made Frith's promise into the tagline of the movie: "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 has an adviser 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 — El-ahrairah has no trouble convincing a guard dog that fairy canines exist. At the end, Woundwort is added as the rabbit version of the bogeyman. And as the manner of Hazel's death reveals, IT'S ALL TRUE.
  • False Utopia: Cowslip's Warren.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: Inattentive Moral Guardians have often assumed that a book about bunnies would be Beatrix Potter stuff. No. These are wild animals in a struggle for survival. There are some blood-soaked scenes.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Religion: The rabbits worship Frith, who appears to be the closest thing they have to God. In addition, they also have El-ahrairah, who appears to be a counterpart to Jesus Christ.
  • Fantastic Honorifics: Rabbit leaders have the suffix "-rah" added to their names. Thus, when Hazel becomes Chief Rabbit he's referred to as "Hazel-rah."
  • Feathered Fiend: Subverted by Kehaar the gull, who is an important ally of the protagonists but hardly friendly and easy to be around. Played straight when he goes after their enemies, and by the other predatory birds the rabbits encounter.
  • Fictionary: One of the most celebrated in literature. You'll be thinking in rabbit language for days afterward.
  • Fragile Speedster: All rabbits — speed and quick maneuvering are all they have above ground. Dandelion particularly stands out (he counts as this trope even to other rabbits), and his speed is critical for Hazel's last plan to save the warren.
  • 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.
  • 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, implying the latter (or at least, his tales) to be a Composite Character.
  • Foreshadowing: Fiver, unsurprisingly, gets to do a lot of this.
  • Gender Rarity Value: When the rabbits arrive at Watership Down, they don't have any does. They quickly realize they need to do something about this if they want their new warren to last.
  • General Ripper: Woundwort.
  • Ghibli Hills: The Downs. Unlike most versions of this trope, the area is far from idyllic (at least for the main characters).
  • Giant Flyer: Compared to the rabbits, Kehaar the gull. He terrifies the Efrafans until they realize all they have to do is get into a ditch where the bird can't dive attack.
  • God Is Neutral: Lapine theology states that Frith the sun made the world and all the creatures in it. Only when rabbits developed explosive breeding did Frith "adjust" things so that predators came into being to decimate the rabbits.
  • God of Light: Frith, the creator of the world in lapine myth, is primarily a solar god and keeps watch over the world during the day.
  • God of the Moon: In lapine theology, Inlé, the moon, is the brother (or son, it varies) of Frith the sun, the creator god. Frith keeps watch over the world by day, while Inlé keeps watch by night. Inlé is also said to come to Earth as the Black Rabbit, a lapine version of the Grim Reaper.
  • 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 Inlé and only by his will... he will avenge any rabbit who may chance to be destroyed without the consent of himself.
  • Hair-Raising Hare: General Woundwort. Also the Black Rabbit.
  • Head-in-the-Sand Management
    • The Sandleford Chief Rabbit does nothing in response to Fiver's warnings that the warren is in danger. In fairness to him, moving an entire warren would be a logistical nightmare, and in most cases they'd lose fewer lives by staying underground and riding it out. Unfortunately, what they don't anticipate (because they've never met it before) is the humans' use of earth-movers and poison gas.
    • General Woundwort and his Council have less excuse. They're so fixated on maintaining their authority and minimizing the risks of detection by humans that they fail to do anything about Efrafa's overcrowding, like encouraging migration or sending out expeditions to form new warrens — even digging new burrows is out of the question.
  • Heaven Above: Frith, creator of the world and progenitor of all Earth's creatures, is the Sun itself. The moon is Frith's liaison to the world, acting both as a Muse and as The Grim Reaper.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Campion and various other Efrafan rabbits after the disastrous attack on Watership Down and the death/disappearance of Woundwort either make peace with or surrender to the Watership rabbits. This eventually leads to a full alliance between the two warrens.
  • 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. This is Truth in Television.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Hazel's prayer.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Rabscuttle and El-ahrairah are rarely seen apart.
  • Honorifics: The Lapine language has its own, though only two are mentioned; -roo is an affectionate diminutive, and -rah means "king" or "lord" (usually given to chief rabbits but sometimes to indicate something really exceptional, like tasty food (flayrah)).
  • Hope Spot: Just before the climactic battle between the Efrafans and Watership Downers, Hazel goes to meet Woundwort, hoping to talk him out of the war by offering a truce, along with a offer to help create a series of free-independent warrens allied to protect one another. In both the book and the animated movie, Woundwort actually spends a moment thinking over this offer, with the book actually having him consider what kind of leader he really wanted to be. Ultimately he refuses the path offered, only sparing Hazel so he can deliver the General's terms to "Chief" Bigwig.
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: A bit of a mixed bag; the rabbits, especially the few refugees from Sandleford, naturally do think humans are bastardsnote , 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: Definitely, though it focuses on the incomprehensible and dangerous aspect rather than malevolence. They're generally regarded as one more of the elil, but above the others, which is also borne out by Cowslip's warren. Still, Hazel does get an excellent demonstration that we aren't Always Chaotic Evil...which makes no sense at all to him, since he's being saved by the same kind of thing that kills rabbits because they're in the way.
  • Intellectual Animal: They're about as intellectual as you can get and still be wild animals with an IQ of hrair (5).
  • Killer Rabbit:
    • Woundwort is psychotic even by human standards.
    • The book and the film are reminders that rabbits are still wild animals, and own claws and very sharp teeth, which they will use when angry or backed into a corner.
  • Known Only by Their Nickname: Several rabbits' Lapine names are translated into English slang for the reader: Bigwig's true name is Thlayli, Fiver's is Hrairoo, Pipkin's is Hlao-roo.
  • 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.
  • Last Stand:
    • Bigwig, against General Woundwort.
    • Woundwort himself, against an enormous savage dog. We don't get to see the result.note 
  • Meaningful Echo: "There's a large dog loose in the wood."
  • Meaningful Name: El-ahrairah is derived from three Lapine words - "Elil"-"Hrair"-"Rah" meaning "Enemies"-"Thousand"-"Prince" hence "Prince With A Thousand Enemies".
    • Quite a few of the rabbits' names also have subtle symbolism, based on the plants they're named after: Rowan (Threar, the old leader of Sandleford) symbolizes kingship; Holly is a symbol of resurrection; Hazel represents good luck and divine protection; Buckthorn is resilient enough to thrive anywhere; Strawberry is pleasing but not very tough.
  • The Migration: The surviving Sandleford rabbits search for a new home, which they find in Watership Down after many adventures.
  • 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.)
  • Nearly Normal Animal: The rabbits have a language, mythology and organized military groups, and capable of planning and forming friendships, but otherwise look and behave like real rabbits.
  • 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.note 
  • 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.
  • Noble Demon: General Woundwort may be a tyrant, but his worldview has been shaped by events in his life and his heavy-handedness proved to have kept the warren from being attacked and allowed it to "thrive", at least until it become overpopulated. When fighting Bigwig he deems him a Worthy Opponent and offers him a position back in his Owsla if he gives up. Captain Campion also fits this role as well. He follows Woundwort out of honor and attacking Hazel's warren is nothing personal to him. after Woundwort is defeated, he leads the survivors back to Efrafa and becomes their leader. With Woundwort gone he no longer is a Noble Demon because his purpose of honorably serving Woundwort is fulfilled. He becomes the new leader of Efrafa and gives the rabbits more freedoms. He also forms a pact with Hazel and allows rabbits to leave Efrafa to create a new warren with some of Hazel's rabbits. (However, he ignores reports that the does can't mate under his system, and refuses to believe anything is wrong.)
  • No One Gets Left Behind: As Hazel would have it; see True Companions.
  • Not Enough to Bury: General Woundwort takes on a dog—and presumably lost and got eaten.
  • Not Quite Dead:
    • Bigwig, after his battle with Woundwort.
    • Hazel, after being shot.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Bigwig has one when he hears his name being called in an unearthly voice on a dark night as he thinks it's the Black Rabbit of Inlé calling him to his death. It's actually Captain Holly of the Sandleford Owsla.
    • Woundwort has one as well, during the attack on the Watership Down warren. He'd assumed that Bigwig was his warren's chief rabbit. When Bigwig refers to his own chief having given him orders, Woundwort pauses in shock because he assumes this chief must be even bigger and stronger than Bigwig, who is pretty huge as rabbits go. It never occurs to him that a smaller, cleverer rabbit like Hazel might also be considered a good leader.
  • 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.
  • Outside-Context Problem: Human things in general, and the destruction of Sandleford in particular. Rabbits simply can't understand or prepare for humans the way they can for a weasel or a fox, and in Woundwort's case it's driven him nearly insane with paranoia.
  • Pardon My Klingon:
    • "Silflay hraka, u embleer rah!" English 
    • "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.
  • Pike Peril: A story is told about El-ahrairah outsmarting a hungry pike: "Once, so they say, he had to get home by swimming across a river in which there was a large and hungry pike. El-ahrairah combed himself until he had enough fur to cover a clay rabbit, which he pushed into the water. The pike rushed at it, bit it and left it in disgust. After a little, it drifted to the bank and El-ahrairah dragged it out and waited a while before pushing it in again. After an hour of this, the pike left it alone, and when it had done so for the fifth time, El-ahrairah swam across himself and went home."
  • The Place: The eponymous down (hill) is where the main characters make their home and is one of the main locations.
  • Quirky Bard: Bluebell and Dandelion (also a Fragile Speedster, even by rabbit standards).
  • 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.
  • R-Rated Opening: "The field is covered in blood."
  • Reasonable Authority Figure: The Threarah, the Chief Rabbit of the Sandleford warren, gives Fiver a hearing but does not act on his warning. Holly later explains that his reasoning would have been sound for most situations — prophets are usually frauds, and even when they're correct, the warren would lose more rabbits from a mass evacuation than from a flood or hunt. Tragically, the oncoming disaster is more massive than anyone can imagine or Fiver can explain coherently.
  • Safe Zone Hope Spot: Cowslip's warren.
  • Scarecrow Solution: Kehaar.
  • Scenery Porn: You'd need a reference book to keep up with all the plant names Adams throws at you.
  • Sedgwick Speech: Woundwort's last words. "Dogs aren't dangerous!"
  • Sex Slave: Implied by the fact that the does at Efrafa can be called by Owsla officers (who are all apparently bucks) into their burrows for any reason...Does This Remind You of Anything?
  • 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.
    • 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.
  • Show Within a Show: The tales of El-ahrairah.
  • Sliding Scale of Anthropomorphism: Body Type 6, 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 becomes the Smart Girl in the TV series).
    • Up to a point,Strawberry - he's the one who designs the new warren's central room.
  • Sole Survivor: Captain Holly and Bluebell were the only Sandleford survivors to reach Watership Down. Holly says he saw a few others escape, but we're not told what happened to them.
  • The Storyteller: Dandelion, although this element was cut from the movie for time.
  • 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.
  • Vague Age: This can apply to any of the characters really.
  • Villainous Gentrification: Sandleford Warren is destroyed and the rabbits killed with poison gas because the land is going to be developed. Could be an Unbuilt Trope, since Adams has the dying Toadflax say that it wasn't done out of any particular malice against rabbits. The warren was simply in the way.
  • Villainous Valour: The secret to General Woundwort's success, all his life up to the point he tried it on a large and savage dog. He might have survived but is never seen again.
  • Waif Prophet: Fiver.
  • Weather Saves the Day: When the protagonists are escaping from Efrafra, a storm breaks at just the right time to confuse the pursuing forces and give Bigwig's crew the time they need. "Your storm, Thlayli-rah. Use it."
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Woundwort, of course. His totalitarian regime is actually intended to preserve the lives of his rabbits, and it's pretty effective at that. (The catch is, since rabbits breed fast to keep up with frequent predation, a warren that suffers no deaths by elil quickly outgrows its limits.)
  • Wham Line: In-Universe, Bigwig's reveal that he was not the Chief Rabbit was an effective Wham Line to Woundwort and the other Efrafans — who, given that Bigwig had effectively beaten Woundwort, found the idea of Watership Down possibly containing a rabbit who was even stronger than Bigwig terrifying.
  • Wicked Cultured: The doomed rabbits of Cowslip's warren have gotten into poetry, rudimentary cave art, and other human-like mannerisms. In every dramatization Cowslip speaks with a posh accent.
  • Xenofiction: Often the go-to example for explaining the genre.
  • You Are Number 6: Fiver, both in Lapine and in translation. A rare case of this trope not being used for dehumanization. Or perhaps, derabbitization.
  • You Can't Fight Fate: If you're a rabbit and Fiver says he has a bad feeling about something, ignoring him is virtual suicide.
  • You Have to Believe Me!:
    • Fiver to the Chief Rabbit. Not only is he scared out of his wits, the oncoming disaster is almost literally unimaginable for rabbits. Unsurprisingly, the Chief sees him as a harmless lunatic and doesn't listen to a word of it.
    • It happens again in Cowslip's warren with Hazel, who, as Fiver notes bitterly, should know better.
  • You No Take Candle: Speakers of Hedgerow, such as the mouse, combine this with Funetik Aksent.
    • 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."

  • Accent Slip-Up: An angered Blackavar briefly slips into an "Efrafan accent", saying "ye" rather than "you" and "neether" for "neither". It's a bit odd as it's the one and only time such an accent is mentioned, none of the Efrafans ever speak so, and Blackavar is not at all long out of Efrafa and thus unlikely to have picked up a "Watership accent" yet.
  • 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".
  • Angst? What Angst?: An in-universe trait of rabbits — they feel emotions like grief and fear very deeply and immediately, but briefly. A traumatized rabbit either recovers quickly or dies quickly.
  • 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: The rabbits of Cowslip's warren have an easy life, with one unspoken rule: never, ever ask where someone is. To openly state the reason for this prohibition provokes them to violence.
  • Bookends: The first and last phrases of the book. When it opens, the primroses are over for the season; when it ends, they are just starting to bloom.
  • Brick Joke: Early in the story, Fiver tells Hazel he has a chance of getting into the Owsla of his warren. He never does; he becomes Chief Rabbit of a new warren. At the very end of the book, he has a vision of El-ahrairah, who invites him to join his Owsla.
  • Brief Accent Imitation: "Ees finish Meester Voundvort, ya?"
  • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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."
  • Darker and Edgier: In-universe with the stories of El-ahrairah. "The King's Lettuce" and its sequel "The Trial of El-ahrairah" are funny tales where the Prince of Rabbits employs his wits to get the better of his enemies. However, "The Story of El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit" is a much darker and horrific tale where the consequences of El-ahrairah's actions in the previous stories finally catch up to him. His failure to outsmart his foes forces him to attempt a deal out of desperation with the Black Rabbit.
  • 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.
  • Everybody Smokes: A weird variant. The rabbits don't smoke, of course, but humans are seldom mentioned without some reference to the "white sticks" they burn in their mouths. However this is a case of changing social norms—in the early 1970s when the book was written over half of all adult males in the UK were regular smokers (it's around a quarter in the present day).
  • Evil Counterpart: Silverweed is the prophet and poet of Cowslip's warren, and thus counterpart to Fiver. Though strictly speaking, Silverweed himself isn't malicious—just very, very much lost in a world of his own.
  • 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 anymore (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!).note 
    • 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 a heavily phonetic British Hampshire accent, with the exception of the (presumably better-educated) doctor (who turns out to be an author avatar).
  • Funny Foreigner: Kehaar.
  • Glad You Thought of It: The rabbits want to use a bird to find another warren with does, so Bigwig pours out their troubles to Kehaar, who comes up with the idea of searching for it himself, whereupon Hazel lavishly praises Kehaar for thinking up such a clever idea.
  • Got Me Doing It: When Bigwig points out that Cowslip interrupts any question starting with the word "Where—?", Hazel immediately does the same thing.
  • Handwave: In-Universe; when telling of how El-ahrairah stole an entire field of carrots overnight, the storyteller states that he was a great prince who undoubtedly used magic powers unknown to mere rabbits like themselves.
  • Hell Is That Noise (In-Universe):
    • The cry of a distraught Captain Holly makes everyone think the Black Rabbit is out there. "Zorn! All Zorn!"
    • 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 Need to Go Iron My Dog: A suspicious Hazel declines Cowslip's dinner invitation, saying he and a few of his companions are going to feed outside. In the rain.
  • 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.
  • Innocent Inaccurate: The rabbits describe man-made things to each other as best they can. There are even levels to this: the Watership rabbits tell of a Great Messenger of their god who intervened to save them, while the Efrafans know it was only a train.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Lampshaded regarding Woundwort's Last Words. "Dogs aren't dangerous! Come back and fight!"
  • Ironic Echo: "Can you run? I think not."
  • It's Probably Nothing: When a mouse relays a story that more rabbits have arrived on the Down, Bigwig dismisses it as a hedgegrow rumor, or at least something they can investigate later. Hazel insists on sending scouts to check it out right away. It turns out to be the Efrafan rabbits preparing to launch a surprise attack.
  • Joker Jury: "The Trial of El-ahrairah," where his theft is tried in a Kangaroo Court where the jurors are elil. He escapes charges by taking the witness on a ridiculous journey beforehand so that his testimony sounds like nonsense (and having Rabscuttle hide the evidence).
  • Legend Fades to Myth: 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.
  • Mook Depletion: Bigwig's infiltration of the Efrafan Owsla is effective because due to the inadvertent actions of the protagonists they've lost several officers. Rank-and-file Owsla are easily replenished in the overcrowded warren, but rabbits with initiative and leadership ability—qualities not exactly encouraged in a dictatorship like Efrafa—are in short supply. So General Woundwort takes the chance of promoting this tough and resourceful rabbit who's seemingly made his way there on his own after the destruction of his last warren.
  • Moses Archetype: Tiny rabbit Fiver gets a premonition of doom, and beseeches his brother Hazel to abandon Sandalford. Hazel agrees, and convinces other rabbits to join the exodus. Fiver's premonition proves true: humans come with bulldozers and poison gas, killing rabbits galore. At one point, the wanderers come upon Cowslip's warren, but Fiver is unnerved by habits of these rabbits, and urges further seeking. Again, Fiver is proven right: snares around the warren cull rabbits, but not enough to panic the survivors, who pretend nothing's amiss. Together, Fiver and Hazel function as a lapine Moses, with Fiver having the premonitions, and Hazel acting as the leader.
  • 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!") The book has been gradually parceling out words from its Fictionary throughout, and this one and only untranslated sentence is composed of words you've already been given — but even if you don't work it out that way, the context of the sentence should point you in the general direction of "Eat shit, Prince of [fox/elil/predator] Stench!" for what the character in question might be saying in that moment.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 storytelling 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.
    • An odd case when it comes to carrots: The rabbits throughout the book are shown to greatly enjoy carrots, and eat them whenever they can. However in real life wild rabbits seldom, if ever, eat carrots or other roots. Additionally, carrots are very high in sugar, and eating too much of them is bad for their health. One of the El-ahrairah stories even centers around El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle hatching a plot to steal Prince Rainbow's carrots (in large part because Prince Rainbow was deliberately trying to put one over on him). However the only place where carrots are found in large supply within the narrative is at Cowslip's warren due to the humans that are feeding them and fattening them up. Elsewhere, they're presented as an uncommon treat, usually when they can be filched from a farm.
  • 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 Threarah ("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.
  • Title Drop Chapter: The original novel's chapter 18.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Cowslip's warren.
  • Tuft of Head Fur: Among the rabbits, Bigwig is distinguished by being The Big Guy and by a pronounced tuft of fur atop his head, hence his name: Thlayli in Lapine.
  • Two Roads Before You: Lampshaded when Hazel offers a peace treaty to Woundwort; there's a Hope Spot when he seriously considers it, only to cast it aside.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Several.
    • When Bigwig infiltrates Efrafa, only a few rabbits know that he's going to pretend to be a lone rabbit wanting to join the warren. 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. The justification is that anyone captured could be tortured into revealing the plan, so only those who need to know are in on it. Bigwig maintains this after he reaches out to Hyzenthlay to organize the does. It very nearly derails the entire plot when the mouthy Nelthilta decides to needle an Efrafan officer over the pending escape attempt; she's arrested, and gives up what she knows under interrogation.
    • We don't get to hear the details of Hazel's plan to release the dog until it's well underway. A good thing too.
    • Also applies to El-ahrairah's plans, naturally.
  • [Verb] This!: Thanks to the suspicious reports he receives from his Owsla, Woundwort unknowingly foils Bigwig's first escape attempt. As Bigwig returns to his burrow, he knocks over one of Blackavar's escorts and tells him "Go and report that."
  • We Can Rule Together: Once he realises he no longer has the stomach to fight Bigwig, Woundwort entreats him not to throw his life away and offers him a spot on his Owsla. He receives rabbit obscenities in response.
  • We Have to Get the Bullet Out!: After Hazel is wounded by a shotgun blast, Kehaar tells the rabbits they have to remove the "little black stones". The seagull locates two shotgun pellets by smell and plucks them out before his patient has time to flinch.
  • White Bunny: Silver, though his fur is a dilute version of typical brownish-grey rabbit coloring, not a pure white.
  • 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.
    • Woundwort as well for being The Determinator, when he rallies his forces despite a raging downpour and Kehaar dive-bombing them at every opportunity.
      Bigwig: He's not like a rabbit at all. Running is the last thing he thinks of.

    Lapine mythology 
  • An Aesop: Half of the rabbit folktales teach a lesson to the rabbit audience.
  • Androcles' Lion: "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 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.
  • Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: El-ahrairah's epic adventures include: talking back to God; grinding down Death himself until he condescends to rescue the rabbits; and... tricking a stupid farm dog so he and Rabscuttle can gorge themselves on stolen vegetables.
    • Which, in retrospect, may foreshadow that some of the El-ahrairah tales are those of other Rabbits.
  • 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.
  • Bag of Holding: El-ahrairah's ears in "King Fur-Rocious" are used to hold a cat, a nest of ants, and a stream. El-ahrairah sings a short ditty to call each of them out when needed.
  • Balancing Death's Books: Appears in the story of "El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit."
  • Batman Gambit: El-ahrairah's specialty.
  • Beast in the Maze: The thing in the hedge maze in "The Story of the Comical Field."
  • 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.
  • Crack in the Sky: In "The Hole in the Sky", while injured and delirious, El-ahrairah ends up seeing the eponymous hole — a massive, horrifying wound in the sky. It appears to descend toward him, and he rolls down a slope in a panic and blacks out. Coming to later, he asks Lord Frith how he could allow such a horror to exist, but Frith tells him that it was never real, only a product of El-ahrairah's delirious mind.
  • Creation Myth: Involves the sun-god Frith blessing each animal with its salient 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 We Just Have Tea with Cthulhu?: El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inlé.
  • Divine Punishment: In lapine mythology, Frith the sun made the world, and all the creatures on it. At first, all were herbivores, and lived in harmony. But the prince of rabbits sired so many bunnies that they grazed the earth bare. Frith commanded the prince to control his people, but the prince would not heed Frith. Thereupon, Frith remade some of the creatures into carnivores and predators that would hunt and slay rabbits. The prince saw the carnage and despaired, so Frith advised him, "Be quick, and full of tricks, and your people will never be destroyed."
  • 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; it is a tear in the sky resembling a jagged, infected wound. Rare example of an Eldritch Abomination that is not directly hostile - but to see it means you are already completely out of your mind.
    • The Story of the Comical Field 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, or a lapine version of an Outer God: 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-Rocious" — El-ahrairah can't defeat Fur-Rocious on his own; he has to secure the help of some other creatures/things that don't like him.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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. It 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.
  • 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.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The thing in the comical field goes unseen throughout El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle's attempts to flee from it. It briefly comes into view toward the end, spurring on their final dash that takes them out of the field. The sight of it is not described for the reader; the narration only says that El-ahrairah would never describe what he saw, and would only speak of it once — implying that it was evil — before refusing to say more.
  • Of the People: The rabbits are only interested in their own origins, and how other animals relate to them.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Rabscuttle and El-Ahrairah.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Prince Rainbow shows up without introduction in "The Trial of El-ahrairah" and his presence in the rabbit mythos is so established that he isn't even described.
  • 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. At least one of Hazel's own adventures is eventually incorporated into El-ahrirah's legend.
  • 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.
  • Take Our Word for It: In the novel, the Black Rabbit tells a story which reduces El-ahrairah to a quivering mess.
    Then the Black Rabbit told such a tale of fear and darkness as froze the hearts of Rabscuttle and El-ahrairah where they crouched on the rock, for they knew that every word was true.
  • 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 starlit ears. There's a gift for Rabscuttle too, but Dandelion is interrupted before we learn what it was.
    • Considering that Fiver takes Rabscuttle's place in the story, it might have been the gift of prophecy.
  • 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.
  • Year Outside, Hour Inside: Implied to have happened in Inlé. El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle return to find the warren much larger, no-one knows who they are, and their contemporaries are said to be white-whiskered old veterans.

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


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Tales From Watership Down


Dramatic Irony Cosmic Horror

Red describes the "Humans Are Cthulhu" trope, or as she calls it "Dramatic Irony Cosmic Horror".

How well does it match the trope?

4.94 (17 votes)

Example of:

Main / HumansAreCthulhu

Media sources: