Thursday, December 6, 2007

On virtue and rabbits ...

One of my favorite books is Watership Down by Richard Adams, published in 1972. I've read the book four or five times over the years and for the last few weeks have been reading it aloud to my children.

Watership Down is the story of the adventures and challenges of a group of rabbits seeking to establish a new home. But what makes it great literature? I think what draws me to the story again and again is the inclusion of the virtue of courage. C.S. Lewis saw courage as key in relation to the virtues, writing in Mere Christianity, "you cannot practise any of the other virtues very long without bringing this one into play." The heroic rabbits of Watership Down are indeed courageous.

Another aspect of Watership Down that I've come to appreciate is the leadership style exemplified by Hazel. In his old warren, Hazel was a simple rabbit of little note, but he ends up becoming something much more remarkable--a great leader.

Adams has stated that he did not intend any sort of grand parable or allegorical application to life in Watership Down, but his story is nevertheless relevant to daily living and the ethical choices we all face.

If you have not read Watership Down, I encourage you to do so. Be open to the reasonable imagination of Richard Adams and you're in for a treat. And what better name for a villainous rabbit than General Woundwort?

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