Thursday, December 11, 2008

Watership Down Characters: Hazel

Hazel is a leader among rabbits. He is described as being “still below full weight” and with a “shrewd, buoyant air”. He is not one of the “Owsla”, the top rank of clever and strong rabbits in a warren, but he is not a bullied, harassed rabbit because of this. He can take care of himself and is a very good leader.

Hazel is protective of those under his care. His brother Fiver is small, underweight and often bullied, and Hazel keeps older, stronger and meaner rabbits away from him. He is capable too, and noble in that he is willing to stay by the smaller rabbits. When they are journeying, they come to a river. It is swelled and rushing, but on the side they’re on is a dog who is hunting. The older rabbits can swim the flood, but Fiver and Pipkin are too small and tired out to. Bigwig, an impatient, tough rabbit, says that those who can should cross the stream and whoever can’t can just come later or not at all. Hazel says that he isn’t leaving Fiver and Pipkin, and if one of the other rabbits hadn’t found a large piece of wood for a raft, Hazel would have stayed and been killed by the dog along with Pipkin and Fiver before abandoning them.

Hazel is essential to the plot. One might call him the “star”. He is the one who takes care of everyone and keeps them going until they reach Watership Down. Without him, the plot would feel empty, as though something important were missing. But like everyone else, he has his weak points. Because he is secretly a little upset at not being chosen to “ambassador” to Efrafa, a nearby warren, he leads a disastrous raid on a nearby farm to rescue four rabbits who have lived there all their lives and are well taken care of, but lack the important instincts necessary to live in the wild. This raid results in three rabbits joining their warren, one being captured again and put back in the hutch, and Hazel being shot with a gun in his leg (causing in him being slightly lame there for the rest of his life).

I admire Hazel for his bravery, fortitude and nobility. When everyone else is tired and wants to stop traveling and stay where they are, he is the one who keeps them going. When Bigwig is caught in a snare and believed dead, he is the one who tries to get them away before a man comes. When the other rabbits begin to doubt Fiver’s visions and start turning against him, he is the one who restores them to sense. “A Chief Rabbit must be El-ahrairah [the rabbit hero; literally Elil-Hrair-Rah, enemies-thousand-prince: Prince with a Thousand Enemies] to his people and teach them cunning.” He is a true leader and one of the best personalities I have ever met.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


'My deadlines have come upon me!' cried
The Lady of Shalott.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Literary Diet

On her receiving the Caldecott Medal in 1959, Barbara Cooney said, "I believe that children in this country need a more robust literary diet than they are getting.... It does not hurt them to read about good and evil, love and hate, life and death. Nor do I think they should read only about things that they understand.... a man’s reach should exceed his grasp. So should a child’s. For myself, I will never talk down to—or draw down to—children."

Barbara Cooney is the writer/illustrator of Chanticleer and the Fox, Miss Rumphius, and other children's books.