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And so it begins, Part 1 of Watership Down. This part's called "The Journey." Gee, we wonder what's about to go down…
Adams kicks things off with an epigraph from Aeschylus, an ancient Greek playwright. His Agamemnon is a play about, well, Agamemnon. The character Cassandra can see the future but is cursed so that no one believes her.
After the epigraph, there's a long description of the natural world around Sandleford Warren, where these rabbits live (check out our "Writing Style" section for more). And then we finally get into the story.
We meet Hazel, a street-wise (well, field-wise) bunny who knows "how to take care of himself" (1.4); and then we meet the nervous Fiver, who we picture as a rabbit version of Woody Allen.
Fiver's got a bad feeling about this and no therapist bunny to talk to. He sees the fields covered in blood, which is, yeah, bad.
Fiver and Hazel get bullied out of some cowslip (the best part of the cow—kidding, it's a plant) by some bullies who belong to the Owsla (these are the important rabbits who work for and advise the chief rabbit of the warren).
In the field, Hazel and Fiver find a sign. The rabbits can't read, but we can: the sign says that there's going to be some buildings built on this field for modern housing.
The Chief Rabbit
We start with a quote from poet Henry Vaughan, about a "darksome statesman" who sounds very unhappy, "hung with weights and woe." Let's go meet him.
Fiver has a bad dream, and convinces Hazel to go see the Chief Rabbit (who may be that "darksome statesman" we've been hearing about).
Outside the Chief Rabbit's hole, they meet Bigwig, who agrees to introduce them, even though he thinks he'll get yelled out for letting Hazel and Fiver in.
The Chief Rabbit Thearah is a no-nonsense rabbit. Here's how no-nonsense he is: to protect the warren during an epidemic a while ago, the Thearah saved the warren by "ruthlessly driving out every rabbit who seemed to be sickening" (2.22). If we were going to cast him, we'd probably want someone cool and tough, like Samuel L. Jackson.
But when Fiver gives his warning, the Chief Rabbit points out how inconvenient it would be to get all the rabbits to just up and move. (Which is a nice way of saying, "you are crazy and I don't believe your warning.") It doesn't help that Fiver has a little fit during this meeting.
This time around the epigraph is quote from Xenophon's Anabasis (see "Shout-Outs") about how we need to get out of Dodge. (Excuse us for geeking out a bit about Xenophon. He was this ancient Greek dude who led his army out of enemy territory against all odds and hasn't yet had a movie deal, which we believe is a crying shame.)
Hazel and Fiver meet with other rabbit friends—including Blackberry, Dandelion, and Bigwig—who also want to move on.
But before they go, they're going to tell other rabbits that they should leave before… something something something. (Remember, Fiver doesn't really know what's going to happen, he just has a bad feeling.)
Here's a Shakespeare quote from Hamlet about Fortinbras, the one guy who actually gets things done in Hamlet (in our opinion).
Hazel gathers with the other rabbits: Fiver, Pipkin, Hawkbit, Dandelion, Blackberry, Buckthorn, Speedwell, Acorn, Bigwig, and Silver. Pay attention because there's going to be a quiz on them.
Before they leave, other rabbits in the Owsla come to arrest them, led by Captain Holly, but Hazel's group escapes.