Veterans in Watership Down

I listened to Watership Down at the end of last year. It’s quite an interesting story about rabbits searching for a new home, figuring out problems, and fighting through dangers. The author, Richard Adams, was careful to have the rabbits act like rabbits, not humans, except for the ability to talk and think, which naturally led to a rabbit history and mythology.

Part of their mythology revolved around a folk hero rabbit, El-ahrairah, clever, cunning, strong and brave. In one of their stories, El-ahrairah has just finished a long, harrowing battle at great personal sacrifice to protect the warren. I took him three months to get back because he had to stop and rest and heal. This is the scene when he returns:

They made their way along the hedgerow, but could not altogether get their
bearings, because apparently the warren had grown bigger and there were more
holes than before, both in the bank and in the field. They stopped to speak to a
group of smart young bucks and does sitting under the elder bloom.

“We want to find Loosestrife,” said Rabscuttle. “Can you tell us where his
burrow is?”

“I never heard of him,” answered one of the bucks. “Are you sure he’s in this

“Unless he’s dead,” said Rabscuttle. “But surely you must have heard of Captain
Loosestrife? He was an officer of the Owsla in the fighting.”

“What fighting?” asked another buck.

“The fighting against King Darzin,” replied Rabscuttle.

“Here, do me a favor, old fellow, will you?” said the buck. “That fighting — I
wasn’t born when it finished.”

“But surely you know the Owsla captains who were?” said Rabscuttle.

“I wouldn’t be seen dead with them”‘ said the buck. “What, that whitewhiskered
old bunch? What do we want to know about them?”

“What they did,” said Rabscuttle.

“That war lark, old fellow?” said the first buck. “That’s all finished now. That’s
got nothing to do with us.”

“If this Loosestrife fought King What’s-His-Name, that’s his business,” said
one of the does. “It’s not our business, is it?”

“It was all a very wicked thing,” said another doe. “Shameful, really. If nobody
fought in wars, there wouldn’t be any, would there? But you can’t get old rabbits
to see that.”

“My father was in it,” said the second buck. “He gets on about it sometimes. I
always go out quick. ‘They did this and then we did that’ and all that caper.
Makes you curl up, honest. Poor old geezer, you’d think he’d want to forget about
it. I reckon he makes half of it up. And where did it get him, tell me that?”

“If you don’t mind waiting a little while, sir,” said a buck to El-ahrairah, “I’ll go
and see if I can find Captain Loosestrife for you. I don’t actually know him myself,
but then it’s rather a big warren.”

“That’s good of you,” said El-ahrairah, “but I think I’ve got my bearings now
and I can manage by myself.”

El-ahrairah went along the hedgerow to the wood and sat alone under a nut
bush, looking out across the fields. As the light began to fail, he suddenly realized
that Lord Frith was close beside him, among the leaves.

“Are you angry, El-ahrairah?” asked Lord Frith.

“No, my lord,” replied El-ahrairah, “I am not angry. But I have learned that
with creatures one loves, suffering is not the only thing for which one may pity
them. A rabbit who does not know when a gift has made him safe is poorer than a
slug, even though he may think otherwise himself.”

I fear too many of us are like those young rabbits who had no knowledge or appreciation of the sacrifices made for them, of what could have happened to them without those who fought for them. Whether we agree with certain wars or not, we can appreciate those who serve their country – who serve us – at great cost to themselves.

To all our veterans…Thank you.


(Sharing With Literary Musing Monday)

8 thoughts on “Veterans in Watership Down

  1. Such an apt excerpt, Barbara. I didn’t make it to the WWI Memorial on my last trip to DC, but the WWII Memorial was very moving. It was good to see hundreds of school children visiting the museums as well as memorials.

  2. I’m definitely very grateful for all the veterans, and this is an interesting take on remembering all they did. I’ve never read Watership Down but it sounds good!

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