I’ve written before about my particular connection to this novel, which is about rabbits in search of a new warren. I read it in sixth grade. I was attending a private school at the time, one so small that the fifth and sixth grades were together in one room, and even still there were only 11 of us.
This was the kind of school where girls wore skirts (though there was no set uniform, just many rules), and each morning we had to kneel to be sure our skirts touched the floor. We had to memorize long passages from the biblical book of Proverbs. We took a character-building class that featured a lot of Zig Ziglar. Physical education for the girls consisted of ballet. Lots and lots of ballet. And cheerleading. I won academic awards in Science and History as well as one for “Thoroughness,” whatever that was supposed to mean. That I did my homework completely? Seriously, no idea.
My classmates liked that I could draw (Garfield and a dog based on the same general idea as Garfield) and asked me to show them how.
And they wondered about this big book I was reading. So one day, as we were sitting outside, I told them the story of Watership Down. They were intrigued and began to call me Hazel-Rah. Then they began adopting rabbit names for themselves, too, until every recess was a game of running up and down the playground hill pretending to be rabbits. The boys were Efrafa and raided our warren and we chased them away, again and again.
The teachers and administration were disturbed. There was nothing really wrong with the game, or the book, but that it had created such furor, and that it was so out of the ordinary . . . bothered them.
The next year I was moved to the public school system. An unmitigated disaster. But later some of those students who’d been in sixth grade with me joined me again in high school. (The private school had suffered some schism in its congregation and been unable to sustain itself.) They remembered me as Hazel-Rah, and I remembered them by their rabbit names, and it felt like a small victory. I had outlasted the place that had condemned me for my broad imagination and my desire to spread it to the masses.
2016 has been a crap year on a number of fronts, but its harshness is most quantified by the long list of famous people who have passed away over these 12 months. Just today we lost Carrie Fisher, but we also lost Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. The Black Rabbit of Inlé has come to fetch him home. May he enjoy green fields and primroses everlasting.