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Written by R A Williams
Story as War Allegory
The entire story, complete with the destruction of the Sandleford warren, the adventures and bonding of Hazel and his followers until they find Watership Down, the conflicts with Strawberry's warren and the Efrafa warren, and the final showdown, can be read as a war allegory. The rabbits that escape Sandleford are all male, they bond together and operate a little bit like a small military unit complete with specialists, and they have a shared feeling of ongoing fear and helplessness that most humans only experience during times of war.
Sun as Frith Symbol
The rabbits use the same word, Frith, to describe both the sun and their deity and creator. Certainly the sun is the source of all the life in the world so far as the rabbits are concerned, and as crepuscular animals they are well aware of the sun rising and setting. Their creator, often called "Lord Frith", appears in many of the rabbit legends and stories.
The Black Rabbit of Inlé
The Black Rabbit of Inlé is death personified. He first appears in one of the El-Ahrairah stories and is referred to throughout the novel. Rabbits consider the Black Rabbit to be a fearsome, frightening character however some also consider him to be a messenger and servant of Lord Frith. At the end of the story, Hazel recognizes the Black Rabbit as an aspect of Lord Frith himself and goes off to join his Owsla, leaving his body behind.
Primroses as Time
Primroses are flowers that grow wild in some parts of England during the spring. In this story they can be read allegorically as representing Hazel's life. At the beginning of the story, the primroses are just coming into bloom. At the end, they have faded and are over.
El-Ahrairah, or the Prince with the Thousand Enemies, is the central figure of rabbit legend. He is described as being the ruler or prince of all the rabbit people, but is also a trickster and prankster. He loves his people and takes many risks on their behalf, but is not above stealing carrots when it suits his interests. Stories about him are sprinkled throughout the novel and the stories often contain lessons or morals about how rabbits should or should not behave.
Big Water as Symbol of Freedom
The seagull Kehaar wants nothing more than to return to his home, which he calls "Big Water". He is hampered by his injury, and relies on the rabbits for food and aid. After he repays their kindness by helping them sneak does out of Efrafa, he flies off in search of the wide, open water space he calls home. As much as he likes the rabbits, he feels constrained and unhappy trying to live in the mouth of a burrow.
Throughout the story, a few rabbits such as Fiver and Hyzenthlay display unusual foresight. Fiver in particular has the power to intuitively predict things that have not yet come to pass, and to draw conclusions based on very slight evidence. He never seems to guess wrong, and his precognition is eventually treated as reliable by the other rabbits although many are skeptical at first.
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