Watership Down — The Warren of the Snares

images-24There were three warrens Hazel and the others rabbits encountered which threatened their existence before the establishment of Watership Down as their home. They fled the unknown and unnamed threat of slaughter in the warren of their birth — the Sandleford Warren. After their flight from death into the unknown, they come upon a sleek, handsome, and sophisticated rabbit named Cowslip. “He had the air of an aristocrat and as he turned to gaze at Blackberry from his great brown eyes, Hazel began to see himself as a ragged wanderer, leader of a gang of vagabonds” (p. 65). We then have the initial interaction between the two groups of rabbits:

“We’ve come over the heather,” he [Hazel] said.The other rabbit made no reply, but his look was not that of an enemy. His demeanor had a kind of melancholy which was perplexing.
“Do you live here?” asked Hazel, after a pause.
“Yes,” replied the other rabbit; and then added, “We saw you come.”
“We mean to live here, too,” said Hazel firmly.
The other rabbit showed no concern. He paused and then answered, “Why not? We supposed you would. But I don’t think there are enough of you, are there, to live very comfortably on your own?”’
Hazel felt puzzled (p. 65).

As Cowslip leads them to this new warren, the sense of bewilderment continues. Cowslip assures them of his sincerity: “We don’t want to drive you away. And there is a warren here, but not as big a one as we would like. Why should we want to hurt you? There’s plenty of grass, surely?” (p. 67)

Fiver first questions their entrance into the company of these rabbits, “I think we ought to have nothing to do with that rabbit or his warren. We ought to leave this place at once” (p. 70). As they move on he is “dejected and reluctant as a sparrow in the frost” (p. 71). Hazel leads them on, but turns to the aid of El-ahrairah.

“Then we’ll go now,” said Hazel. “Get the others to follow me”…As Hazel turned from the hole, the clouds in the west broke slightly and there was a sudden dazzle of water, pale light. “O El-ahrairah!” thought Hazel. “These are rabbits we’re going to meet. You know them as well as you know us. Let it be the right thing that I’m doing” (p. 71)

As Hazel’s crew spends time in this warren its foreign nature emerges, and things become too good to be true. These new rabbits have no enemies, because the farmer kills them. There is an abundance of food — even lettuces and vegetables — all laid out by the farmer. These rabbits are large, sleek, well fed, and have no cares. There is no Chief Rabbit. They neither dig, nor run. They cannot fight. They make art. They have developed new, strange greetings. There is architecture. They have no faith or belief in El-ahrairah. When asked about how things work in the warren, Cowslip and others are evasive, and never give direct answers.


Bigwig is ensnared

Fiver’s misgivings grow and intensify to the annoyance of Bigwig and others as he declares to them, “I know there’s something unnatural and evil and twisted all round this place…I tell you, I’ll have nothing to do with this place” (p. 90). Even Pipkin has misgivings and likens the warren and its rabbits “like trees in November.” Fiver’s sense of danger and horror are proven true when Bigwig is caught in a farmer’s snare and is dying. But Hazel, Pipkin and the others free him by biting through one of the snare’s pegs: “Bigwig,” [Hazel] whispered, “we’ve got you out. You’re free” (p. 115). Bigwig lives, and Fiver unveils the evil of the warren:

That warren’s nothing but a death hole! The whole place is one foul elil’s [enemies’] larder! It’s snared — everywhere, every day! That explains everything: everything that’s happened since we came here…Listen Dandelion. You’re fond of stories, aren’t you? I’ll tell you one — yes one for El-ahrairah to cry at…The rabbits became strange in may ways, different from other rabbits. They knew well enough what was happening…But even to themselves they pretended that all was well, for the food was good, they were protected, they had nothing to fear but the one fear; and that struck here and there, never enough at a time to drive them away. They forgot the ways of wild rabbits. They forgot El-ahrairah, for what use had they for tricks and cunning, living in the enemy’s warren and paying his price? They found out other marvelous arts to take the place of the old stories…They sang songs like birds and made Shapes on the walls; and these could help them not at all, yet they passed the time and enabled them to tell themselves that they were splendid fellows, the very flower of rabbitry, cleverer than magpies…And since they could not bear the truth…[they] were squeezed under the terrible weight of the warren’s secret until they gulped out fine folly…about dignity and acquiescence, and anything else that could make believe that the rabbit loved the shining wire (pp. 117 – 118).

They were awakened to reality, and Bigwig, still dragging the remnants of the snare, asks: “Tell us what to do” (p. 119). Hazel replies, “To the hills (p. 119). All the rabbits slip from this warren’s sinister snare, and Watership Down is then discovered and settled.

Richard Adam’s never comments on the meaning of this warren. Thus, I supply my own commentary on the Warren of the Snares. The Warren of the Snares is our contemporary western “culture.” As the Warren of the Snares forgot the old stories, our “culture” has thrown out the Christian faith as something irrelevant and antiquated, but can offer nothing in its place but a sterile secularism. And, as with Cowslip and his fellows, the taboo subject for our time and place is death! Outside of Orthodox and Catholic Christian traditions, there are few funerals. Rather, we have “memorial services” with photos and amusing anecdotes of the deceased while living. Medical practice truly brings healing. But, far too frequently, it keeps death at arm’s length, but cannot bring us authentic life. We have longevity, but also lives filled with clever distractions that only perpetuate spiritual death. Like Cowslip’s companions, we want to believe we are as clever as magpies and exult in our consumer creations. No one questions the grip of gadgets, nor the lauding of our endeavors into god-like actions within unknown consequences. All of this is done in the false hope that one day — by the mighty work of “Lord Technology” — we will eliminate death itself.

I believe that if Fiver-rah could speak to us, he would reveal the truth of our “culture” to us — laid out raw and bare. But dare we hear?

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus

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