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Watership Down

Watership Down

by Richard Adams

Cunning and Cleverness Theme

Usually rabbits in fiction are heavily muscled action heroes, like Bunny Schwarzenegger and Jean-Claude van Hare. Wait, that's not right—rabbits are usually tricksters, like Brer Rabbit and Bugs Bunny. Because rabbits aren't the strongest creatures in the world, they only survive if they use their wits to outsmart their enemies. That's actually something Frith says to El-ahrairah in the legend: "Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed" (6.8). This may be weird because we usually elevate straightforward types, like George Washington (who couldn't tell a lie); whereas the heroes in Watership Down would lie all the time if it would help their rabbit friends. So do the ends justify the means?

Questions About Cunning and Cleverness

  1. Are there any examples of cunning and cleverness that end negatively for our favorite rabbits?
  2. Do any evil rabbits or predators (like cats) use tricks? Are there any times when Hazel or other rabbits are cunning—but about something they shouldn't be?
  3. Who are the most cunning rabbits in Watership Down? Are other animals in this book cunning, too?
  4. Are there problems that cunning and cleverness can't solve? For instance, what's the cunning solution to Cowslip's problem?
  5. How does rabbit cunning compare to the cunning of other fictional characters? Do we like our heroes to be sneaky and tricky?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Cleverness is not the most important rabbit trait—kindness is.

Blackberry and Fiver are the cleverest and most important rabbits to the survival of Watership Down Warren, and that's that.

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