“And the fox and the rabbit were friends” – Interspecies conflict and collaboration in Richard Adams’s Watership Down

This year’s biennial ESSE (The European Society for the Study of English) will be held in Brno (29 August – 2 September 2018).

Roberta Grandi (NaChiLitCul member) will present a paper for the seminar Lessons on Kindness: Contemporary Children’s Literature in an Uncertain World (http://www.esse2018brno.org/programme/seminars_outlines)


In the heroic “quest”[1] of Watership Down, Adams describes the world from a rabbit’s point of view. The world is dangerous and full of “elil” the name by which rabbits identify all predators such as “fox, stoat, weasel, cat, owl, man” (Adams 2012 (1972): p. 5 note). Just like in the Christian tradition, rabbits talk of a golden age, when “the fox and the rabbit were friends and they both ate grass”(ibid. 26) but then the supreme divinity, Frith (the sun) created predators to limit the number and punish the pride of rabbits. In this world of danger and fear men are only a secondary presence but a very negative one: “All other elil do what they have to do and Frith moves them as he moves us. They live on the earth and they need food. Men will never rest till they’ve spoiled the earth and destroyed the animals” (ibid. 149). In an age in which the idea of Anthropocene[2] is becoming more and more popular, such a consideration resonates in this children book as a dark omen.

But Watership Down is also a story of friendship and hope: led by the enlightened leader Hazel, the rabbits manage to build a new warren where they can live in peace and harmony with the other animals of the hill. Even though rabbits are not exempted from prejudices against the smaller “other” (“These small animals are more to be despised than relied upon, I reckon. What good can they do us?” (Adams 2012: 161)), Hazel introduces, even though with a primarily utilitarian purpose, a revolutionary idea: creating alliances with other non-elil creatures to help each other against the dangers that threaten them all. Responding to the invitation of most recent ecocriticism[3], the essay will try to reposition the reflection on this allegory about men, rabbits and other animals in the perspective of a post-humanist[4] analysis trying to highlight how the theme of interspecies cooperation might provoke a productive and fruitful re-consideration of the importance of kindness and respect towards all creatures.

[1]See Buell 2014 and Pawling 1984.

[2]See Clark 2015; Raffnsøe 2016.

[3] See Haraway 2008 and Tønnessen, Armstrong Oma, Rattasepp 2016.

[4] See Wolfe, 2010; Marchesini 2017 and Jaques 2015.


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