Watership Down Character: Blackavar


In Chapter 35 of Watership Down, “Groping,” Bigwig has infiltrated the Soviet-style Efrafan warren, and makes this observation of its inhabitants: “…never in his life had he seen such a cheerless, dispirited lot of rabbits.” Due to the oppressive rule of General Woundwort the warren was in decline, and Bigwig observes a disfigured rabbit. Adams gives this description:

This rabbit had very dark fur — almost black. But this was not the most remarkable thing about him. He was dreadfully mutilated. His ears were nothing but shapeless shreds, ragged at the edges, seamed with ill-knit scars and beaded here and there with lumps of proud, bare flesh. One eye-lid was misshapen and closed askew. Despite the cool, exciting air of the July evening, he seemed apathetic and torpid. He kept his gaze fixed on the ground and blinked continually. After a time he lowered his head and rubbed his nose on his forepaws in a listless manner. Then he scratched his neck and settled down in his former drooping position.

Bigwig, his warm, impulsive nature stirred by curiosity and pity, went across the run.

“Who are you?” he asked.

“My name is Blackavar, sir,” replied the rabbit.

Bigwig learns of Blackavar’s attempted escape from the repressive warren. He fled, but was captured by Captain Campion and taken before the Efrafan council. He was tortured, his ears shredded, and was made an example of the entire warren: try to escape, and this will be your fate.

Bigwig infiltrated Efrafa to lead does out of Efrafa, and he must act quickly. “How was he to begin his dangerous task? Begin he must…There was nothing for it but to take a chance and trust somebody.” He confides in a doe named Hyzenthlay, and the escape begins to unfold. As part of his plan he determines, “I’ll take that poor wretched Blackavar with me as well.”

A massive storm comes, and Lord El-ahrairah directs their escape to freedom. Blackavar, too, has his freedom and begins his return to “personhood” and purpose upon his entry into true cunicular life in Watership Down where he is immersed into a radically new cunicular culture. We read of Richard Adams’ “biography of Blackavar:

It turned out, however, that Blackavar, when not crushed by humiliation and ill-treatment, was a good cut above the ordinary. His story was an unusual one. His mother had not been born an Efrafan. She had been one of the rabbits taken prisoner when Woundwort attacked the warren at Nutley Copse. She had mated with an Efrafan captain…Blackavar, proud of his father, had grown up with the resolve to become an officer in the Owsla.

Adams continues to inform the reader that Blackavar was denied admittance into the Owsla. This reinforced “…the proud detachment of his nature.” He resolved to give no more to Efrafa than he cared to give them. He then conspires with Hyzenthlay, to petition Woundwort for the formation of a new warren to be led by himself. This was denied, “…when the does’ deputation to the Council failed, Blackavar turned to the idea of escape.”

In new found freedom and dignity, Blackavar begins his recovery. “Blackavar proved his worth again and again, until Hazel came to rely on him as much as on any of his veterans. There was a great deal more to him than anyone could have guessed.” Adams gives further insight to his “re-creation” within the culture of Watership Down:

Now, free among these easy-going strangers, he saw himself as a trained Efrafan using his skill to help them in their need. Although he did all that he was told, he did not hesitate to make suggestions as well, particularly when it came to reconnoitering and looking for sings of danger. Hazel…listened to most of what he said and was content to leave it to Bigwig — for whom, naturally, Blackavar entertained a tremendous respect — to see that he did not overreach himself in his warm-hearted, rather candid zeal.

Blackavar was truly entering into his new life in a new culture. He and Holly became good friends. He is becoming a true rabbit — he is beginning to embody the spirit of Lord El-ahrairah within himself. However, an Efrafan worldview lingered in parts of his being. Shortly after their escape from Efrafa with its new citizens, a fox ambushes two does taking one for its prey. Blackavar warned that the area was prime for a fox or two. Bigwig acknowledges his insight, but Blackavar callously comments on the doe’s death: “‘Anyway, what’s a doe more or less?’ Bigwig looked at him in astonishment. Blackavar did not appreciate the sacrifice and risk Bigwig and all the others had made to gather does — rightly valued and appreciated — into the community and life of Watership Down. We also learn of Blackavar’s readiness to attack and kill a foe. Just before their victorious return to Watership Down, a scouting party from Efrafa is seen led by Campion. In the Efrafan view of things they were to be killed. This is in contrast to the expanding view of life and its relationships of Hazel and his fellowship who gave protection to a mouse and befriended a seagull. Such an expansive worldview would have been unthinkable in Efrafa.

Though he may not have been aware of it, Blackavar was to undergo a conversion — a conversion into a new culture — the expansive, freeing culture of Watership Down. Watership Down was to be a new type of warren. A new type of warren with an expansive view of life and an egalitarian culture needed a new type of rabbit. Hazel and his companions who fled the doomed Sandleford warren had undergone the needed changes. These changes came about by their faithful imitation of their Lord El-ahrairah. They became as their Lord, and thus made citizens fit for Watership Down.

Conversion is more than coming to faith and belief. It is an ongoing process. This process demands a willful “conformity” to the worldview of the culture, and consequentially needed behavioral changes. Thus, Blackavar was not only freed from the oppressive culture and behaviors of Efrafa, but is now in a new culture where he will be free to imitate his Lord, and become a true, free citizen of the society of Watership Down. May we who are Christians so imitate Christ that we become true citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.

In Christ,
Fr. Irenaeus

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