Watership Down by Richard Adams is probably one of my favorite books and one of the few that I’ve read more than twice.
I first read it while in college. I was in my freshman year at UT (yes, long before we were the number one party school) and Richard Adams’ heroic tale of a group of rabbits building a new home for themselves was the best thing I read all year. It wasn’t even a course requirement; it was just something I found.
The story begins when one of the rabbits, a psychic named Fiver, has a vision that the Warren will be destroyed. The elders do not heed his warning, but an adventurous group led by Hazel, a small and unlikely leader, follows Fiver’s vision to Watership Down where they establish a new warren that will be a model of rabbit civilization.
The book examines the ways in which revolutions and social change occur from within and from outside societies. It explores issues of warfare, totalitarian governance, personal courage, leadership, and religious faith and mysticism.
Not bad for a book “about bunnies,” as Sawyer described it in the Lost episode “White Rabbit.”
Watership Down was one of the first books to appear on Lost, and its story of survivors building a new life for themselves neatly parallels events during the show’s first season. It is seen in “White Rabbit” in which Jack (like a combination of Hazel and Fiver) follows visions of his dead father to the caves where the survivors of Oceanic 815 will have water, shelter, and the possibility of a better life.
Like many of the Lost books, Watership Down deals with psychic phenomenon, the establishment of a new and better world away from the old world, and the ways in which societies select their leaders.
In terms of leadership, it provides an interesting counterpoint to another Lost book, Lord of the Flies that explores the ways in which leaders are chosen and societies structured. The vision presented in Lord of the Flies is of a decidedly Hobbesian system of governance.
It’s interesting to remember at this point that the philosophical counterpoint to Thomas Hobbes is John Locke, the philosopher who lends his name to a certain character on Lost. Watership Down depicts a more Lockian basis for society where leaders such as the lame and inspirational Hazel are chosen for their wisdom and courage and their dedication to protecting the freedoms of their subjects.
In this way we can see Watership Down providing a hopeful model for what life on the island could be like for the survivors which is why the book appears in the episode in which Jack begins the process of leading them to the caves to begin building what will hopefully be a temporary settlement.
In many ways, season one focused on the Watership Down model of creating an ideal society, whereas season two, with its emphasis on the more hardened tail section survivors explored the Lord of the Flies model. I suspect that the Locke vs. Hobbes argument (that can be simplified down to liberty vs. security) will be further explored in the third season when the survivors will have to deal with the threat of the Others.
For more of my Lost book posts, please see The Lost Book Club.