Although rabbits and humans are two very different species, Richard Adams uses Watership Down to show the parallels between the two animals through their mutual practice of applying myth to their everyday life. Adams is able to demonstrate the different aspects of myth through the rabbits. The rabbits encounter many different problems throughout Watership Down and rely on their myths and stories to teach lessons, be the foundation of their belief, inspire and motivate them to continue their journey. The rabbits worship El-ahrairah, the god of all rabbits, as well as Frith, the god of all animals. The rabbits tell myths to inspire and motivate each other much in the same way humans tell stories. Additionally, the myths are also supposed to teach the rabbits different tactics and tricks that they may not have learned otherwise. Adams shows how humans are surrounded by myth in their everyday lives yet are starting to ignore it. The rabbits lifestyle represents how humans use to incorporate myth in their culture and how it should be reintroduced back into their society.
In the same way that humans practice different religions, the different warrens had unique ways of viewing each situation; that was a distinct interpretation from another warren. In Watership Down and Sandleford Down they worshiped the god El-ahrairah and told stories about him. The rabbits from the Warren of Snares had a different opinion on El-ahrairah. After a story about El-ahrairah was told, Strawberry voiced his opinion by saying “Conviction, that’s what it needs. You really have to believe in El-ahrairah and Prince Rainbow, don’t you?” (111). The rabbits from the different warren did not share the same belief as the rabbits that came from Sandleford Down. They viewed myths as something that was unnecessary and took an effort to believe. They did not look to El-ahrairah to make decisions and saw El-ahrairah as a mythological being. Their location played a key role in their thoughts about religion. Since the rabbits would get snared, those still alive would not consciously be able to believe in El-ahrairah because after all, El-ahrairah is the one who would help rabbits escape from a warren that was snared. They were forced to ignore what was a common part of rabbit culture because of their want for good, fresh, nutritious food. Their selfishness turns them against their morals because their greed is what is keeping them in a warren where their family is being killed. They convince themselves that it is the cultural norm to do what they are doing. Humans reflect this when they are enjoying something great and have to find a way to forget about the consequences.
Their belief in El-ahrairah and Frith is demonstrated by how they respond to situations that they encounter. When they are running away from Sandleford Down, Hazel receives high praise from another rabbit because he was running their “risks for us are you – like El-ahrairah?” (35). El-ahrairah was the one who had always went first and made sure things were safe and secure. In this case Hazel reflects some of the qualities that El-ahrairah had such as strength, courage and determination. These traits that Hazel possessed made him unique since the other rabbits did not have them. The rabbits of Watership Down put their trust in El-ahrairah and Frith. Bigwig shows this trust and faith when being attacked by another rabbit. He calls out to the attacker “may Frith blast you and your foul Owsla full of bullies!” (365). The anger shown towards the attacker is subdued with the belief that Frith will deal with the attacker’s warren. Bigwig places his faith in the god Frith, that he will do what is necessary. Humans follow many of the same patterns in faith as the rabbits do, partially because neither are able to relate to religions that are outside of their religions sector and their own comfort zone. They do not tend to be open minded about religion because to believe in myths, they need a strong faith. This can be jeopardized when they allow other religions to overtake their thoughts therefore possibly weakening their faith in their chosen religion. Adams demonstrates this when the rabbits are visiting another warren. They do not get the same reaction from the host rabbits, when telling stories, as they do from their own warren. The rabbits from Sandleford Down have grown up hearing about El-ahrairah and applying it to their lifestyle. The host warren had a different upbringing; therefore the myth did not hold the same importance.
Throughout the book, Hazel has to keep his rabbits motivated to survive. The motivation behind a myth was initially observed when a story was told to distract the rabbits from the great fear they were feeling. As Dandelion was forced to choke “back his own fear…he began” to tell his myth (37). Dandelion is motivated to tell the story by his fellow rabbits need for distraction. The story tells of a blessing given to the rabbits by Frith, bestowing strength and trickery onto them. By relaying this myth, it allows the rabbits to place themselves in another time and place and to drift away from the problems around them. It gives them a sense of tranquility that is needed after a day running away from their home and past life. The stories also helped ease the exhaustion that the rabbits felt. After running all day, “a little entertainment would be all to the good and raise their spirits” (273). The intention of this story was to give the rabbits something to think about and to keep their energy level high. It was important to keep them in a good emotional state so they did not succumb to their fear. Since the story allowed them to rest, their motivation to continue on their journey would be greater. Stories and myths were also useful during the winter months. Most rabbits enjoyed hearing “a few stories from time to time” (399). It kept them in good spirits and motivated them to stay strong for the winter. The stories are an important part in what keeps the rabbits motivated to get through the tough times. This parallel is noticed when humans are sick or find themselves in desperate times. They use myth to distract, amuse and entertain one another, giving their brains and hearts a reprieve from the fear the tries to consume their lives. Myth becomes something that is only thought of during hopeless and despairing moments, yet the rabbits exercise how else myth can be used.
The rabbits also use myths to teach one another valuable information. After creating the Watership Down warren, Hazel saves a field mouse’s life and helps an injured bird. The other rabbits are unsure of his ideas that “If anyone finds an animal or bird, that isn’t an enemy, in need of help, for goodness’ sake don’t miss the opportunity. That would be like leaving carrots to rot in the ground,” (171). His idea came from a myth once told about El-ahrairah and how he befriended other animals to play a trick on the Prince. The rabbits were able to use this story and apply it to their own lives. While they did not necessarily think of using other animals to play tricks, they knew it would give them a greater advantage in their new surroundings. Furthermore the rabbits learned how to improve their tricks and gain new ideas. El-ahrairah wanted revenge on Prince Rainbow “and it was while he was looking at them the carrots in the moonlight that his plan came to him” (179). El-ahrairah was always thinking of ways to get food for his people or to get revenge on someone else. The rabbits could use his tactics in their own warrens to make their lives more enjoyable. Hazel has the opportunity to put one of the stories to good use in the final battle. One of the myths about El-ahrairah exposed his cleverness in that he was able to deceive a dog and use the dog’s stupidity to his advantage. El-ahrairah reveals to Hazel that he to could trick a dog into helping them defeat the rabbits attacking from Efrafa. El-ahrairah told him that “If I were you I shouldn’t wait until ni-Frith. I should go now. In fact, I think you’ll have to. There’s a large dog loose in the wood” (433). Hazel is able to put this message and story to good use in his time of desperation. He takes previous knowledge that was communicated to him through myth and combines it with the wisdom that El-ahrairah has shown him, which would have been impossible to do if Hazel had never been exposed to El-ahrairah. Likewise humans apply myths and stories to their own lives in times of strife.
Therefore, Adams is able to shine a light on the advantages that myth and stories have in our society. Adams proves that humans can learn more about themselves as a whole and about each other’s religion and faith through the telling of myths. Myths unfold the lives of those before this generation and are a guide that humans can use to navigate their way through life. This reflects the rabbits’ constant use of myth and stories. Myth also had a great importance in keeping the rabbits in good spirits throughout their lives which is also observed in the lives of humans. Furthermore, the rabbits use the myths to gain more knowledge. This is a direct representation humans teaching systems, especially history class, which teach humans about mistakes made in the past so they are not made again in the future. Watership Down provides humans with a chance to realize how significant myth and stories are to their well being.