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Friday, November 20, 2009

A Christ-figure in Watership Down, by Richard Adams?

I have previously posted a few times on Watership Down, by Richard Adams. (See here for the last of these posts.)

I have also considered the question of what makes a novel a Christian novel, and considered the question of whether or not several works of fantastic literature are, indeed, Christian. That post is here, and has links to posts which examine various pieces of literature. Although it is one of my favorite books, I have never done this sort of analysis on Watership Down.

If you are not familiar with the book, the plot is summarized in the Wikipedia article on the book.

I have recently re-read the book, and believe that, in some ways, El-ahriarah, the rabbit's mythical hero, is a Christ-figure. Why do I say that?

I say that because of the following passage:
"The Black Rabbit spoke with the voice of water that falls into pools in echoing places in the dark.
"'El-ahrairah, why have you come here?'
"'I have come for my people,' whispered El-ahrairah. - Richard Adams, Watership Down. New York: Avon Books, 1972. p. 283.
From the chapter, "El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inlé," which chapter is named for its content, which is a story that Dandelion, the rabbit story-teller, tells, on request from Bigwig. (Bigwig is, himself, about to enter into a dangerous mission, which could well cost him his life.) In the story, El-ahrairah has come for his people, who are oppressed by an enemy, King Darzin. They can scarcely leave their burrows. Rabbits go to the Black Rabbit when they are about to die. El-ahrairah tries to beat the Black Rabbit in various contests of skill and wit, but can't. He wagers his ears, his whiskers, and his tail, and loses all of these. He gets Rabscuttle, his constant companion, to get dock leaves to stick on his head in the place of ears. Finally, in desperation, he rushes into the pit of rabbit diseases, hoping to catch the white blindness, so as to infect the animals that are oppressing the rabbits. He knows that, if he gets this disease, he will die soon.

El-ahrairah's attempted self-sacrifice doesn't work, because the white blindness is carried by fleas in rabbits ears, and he has no ears, and no fleas. But the Black Rabbit says that he, himself, will rescue El-ahrairah's people, and he does. When El-ahrairah returns, he discovers that a few years have passed since he left. No one remembers him. Lord Frith, the sun-god of the rabbits, appears to El-ahrairah, and gives him new ears, with starlight in them, and a new body to match.

At the end of the book, Hazel, the leader of the rabbits of Watership Down, dies, but as he does, El-ahrairah appears to him, indicating that El-ahrairah has become immortal.

El-ahrairah, then, attempts to give his own life for the lives of others, and is resurrected as an eternal hero-figure. That certainly parallels Christ.

I would not say that Watership Down is a Christian novel, in spite of having a figure in it that is like Christ in some ways. As I said above, there is a sun-god in it, for one thing. It's really, I guess, a pagan novel. (See here for a little of what C. S. Lewis had to say about the relationship between paganism and Christianity.)

Thanks for reading. Read Watership Down.

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