Study Guide

Watership Down Chapters 18-21

By Richard Adams

Chapters 18-21

Chapter 18

Watership Down

  • We're very happy to start Part 2, "On Watership Down," with a William Blake quote on how some things are imagined before they are proven. (Or maybe it means… something else? Blake is a notoriously difficult, wonderfully weird author.
  • Although we can see how that quote fits in with this chapter. For the whole book, Fiver has been going into trances and talking about finding a place up in the hills. Now, finally, Hazel's rabbits have reached Watership Down (see "Setting" for more). Fiver imagined this before it was prove.
  • And they all got through safely thanks to teamwork. (Yes, we know that sounds like an afterschool special.)
  • Up on Watership Down, Hawkbit even finds some abandoned rabbit holes they can use for the night. See: even Hawkbit can be helpful. (Which one was Hawkbit again? Oh, yeah, he's the one who is not very smart (4.6).)

Chapter 19

Fear in the Dark

  • The epigraph here is from Thomas Hardy, who has a quote about a mysterious messenger. Which is the best kind of messenger.
  • Watership Down is a pretty nice place: far from people, but still with good cell reception.
  • And since this is a new place, they have the chance to come up with some new ideas and start over. For instance, they could build an awesome palace of a rabbit hole like Cowslip's warren or maybe invent online social networking.
  • Oh, and also they have to dig a burrow to live in. And that's not something that male rabbits are used to doing. (Usually the female rabbits dig the burrows.)
  • But that night (cue scary music) they hear something screaming out Bigwig's name. Is it Death calling for Bigwig? Spooooooky.
  • But because we don't want you to get scared we'll just come out and tell you that it's Captain Holly, the rabbit who tried to arrest Bigwig in Chapter 4. And he really looks like he's about to die.

Chapter 20

A Honeycomb and a Mouse

  • Today's epigraph is from The Epic of Gilgamesh, an ancient Babylonian epic poem about one man's quest for immortality. It doesn't go well for him.
  • The book reminds us that Captain Holly used to be strong and important. But now he's near death.
  • He only survived long enough to find Hazel's rabbits thanks to Bluebell, who can't stop telling terrible jokes and now works for Shmoop. (Zing—self-burn.)
  • While Captain Holly and Bluebell recover, Strawberry plans out a great burrow using the roots of a nearby tree for support. The roots will be like columns and they'll call this room the Honeycomb.
  • (Though the rabbits don't use words like "columns." Bonus: they don't use architectural terms like "flying buttress" either.)
  • Later, Hazel rescues a mouse from a kestrel (which is a type of hawk). Mice don't speak the rabbit language Lapine, but all these animals speak Hedgerow, which is a super basic language you can talk to anyone in. Like French. (Zing! Take that, France.)
  • Hazel will explain why he's being nice to a mouse, but first, Holly is going to tell his story about what happened to Sandleford Warren.

Chapter 21

"For El-ahrairah to Cry"

  • Because our narrator is either nice or mean (depending on you point of view), we get two quotes here: (1) a quote from the Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky about loving animals and not being a jerk; and (2) another quote from W. H. Auden about injustice. Considering those quotes and this chapter's title, make sure you've got tissues handy in case you start crying.
  • This is Holly's story about how the Sandleford Warren got destroyed. The short version is some men came by and pumped poison gas into the warren.
  • Holly was out foraging for food when the warren was almost destroyed. But Bluebell was inside and he tells his nightmare version of that day. (This is the section that might lead to nightmares for children. To which we say: Good. Why should they get to sleep all the time?)
  • A few other rabbits escape from the warren, but some of them don't make it far. Toadflax dies that night; and Pimpernel gets killed by Cowslip's rabbits, the creepy jerks.
  • But after Holly beats up Cowslip, Cowslip tells Holly where Hazel's rabbits went. And that's how Holly and Bluebell survived long enough to get to Watership Down.