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Free Study Guide for Watership Down by Richard Adams

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CHAPTER 44 - A Message from El-ahrairah


Woundwort posts sentries around the beechwood while Vervain and Groundsel work at digging out the blocked holes. The sentries are made nervous by the droppings of Kehaar even though Woundwort assures him that they are old and the bird is nowhere near. Several tactics to take the warren are met with failure and severe maulings for Woundwort’s soldiers. Groundsel digs his way into the soft soil of one of the filled bank runs, but runs into Blackavar; he escapes but leaves a chunk of his neck flesh in Blackavar’s mouth. Woundwort realizes that the only way they can get into the burrow is to dig down through the top of it, so he sets rabbits to digging on each end.

Inside, Hazel and Bigwig move all the rabbits into the sleeping burrows, as far as possible from where the digging is heard. While waiting, Hazel comes across Fiver who seems to be having some sort of dream. At least he is in a deep trance. Once he gives an unearthly scream, and he talks about a large dog being loose in the woods. The ranting gives Hazel an idea and he rounds up Blackberry and Dandelion to go with him back to the farm to "gnaw another rope."

CHAPTER 45 - Nuthanger Farm Again


General Woundwort is barely able to keep some of his rabbits on the job, especially after they hear Fiver’s scream. They are convinced that some other animal is down there; some of the diggers leave their work and talk about stories they have heard, including the one about the great bird who turned into a shaft of lightning.

At one point, Campion spots the three rabbits running away toward the farm, but Woundwort says to let them go. When they finally do break through the open run, they find that it has been stopped up from below and they are no closer to the Honeycomb rabbits than they were before. Woundwort makes them continue digging.

Hazel’s idea is to get to the farm and chew through the rope that holds the dog. Then they will take turns luring the dog into following them, hoping to get him onto the down where he will have free pick of Woundwort’s gang. The dog gets loose and chases after Dandelion, but a cat catches Hazel.

CHAPTER 46 - Bigwig Stands His Ground


Woundwort breaks his way into a dugout burrow with two of his Owsla behind. They land in another blocked run where they find Fiver still lying in his trance. They believe he is dead. From the other side of the dirt wall Holly and Bigwig collaborate on how to defend against Woundwort before he can overpower them. Holly recalls that the Sandleford run was built to be defended from underneath which gives Bigwig the idea of digging himself into the floor so he will be under Woundwort when the wall gives way. The ruse works, and Bigwig seriously injures Woundwort although he also takes some bites and scratching himself.

CHAPTER 47 - The Sky Suspended


Blackberry and Dandelion have to work together to get the dog to follow them and maintain a speed that will preserve the element of surprise. Back in the burrow Bigwig is facing Woundwort. Holly offers to take his place, but the run is too narrow for Bigwig to get out of it even if he had wanted to. It occurs to him that even if he dies, he will be able to hold Woundwort back as his dead body will make an obstacle around which the Efrafans will have to dig. Woundwort tries to lure Bigwig out by telling him that if he returns to Efrafa, he will be given the command of any Mark he wants. Bigwig realizes that Woundwort just wants him to come out alive as his body will be a hindrance alive or dead. Finally Woundwort leaps onto him and the two rabbits close, snarling and biting in the tunnel. However, Bigwig has injured Woundwort’s nose and the blood running into it prevents Woundwort from breathing while he has his mouth clamped in Bigwig’s fur. He is forced to let go. Bigwig hears the voice of Fiver just before he faints.

Woundwort leaves the run and orders Vervain to go down and finish Bigwig off. Vervain refuses, knowing that Woundwort got the worst of the fight and is trying to get someone to cover for him. Then Bigwig, barely moving, appears at the end of the tunnel. He tells Woundwort that it will be much more difficult to push him back from there, and that he will not move because his chief rabbit has told him to stay. This surprises the Efrafans because they had thought Bigwig was the chief rabbit. Woundwort gives orders to dig into the Honeycomb from another spot and just let Bigwig stay where he is, but several of Woundwort’s rabbits have already run off. Woundwort tries to get his remaining rabbits to drop though the hole in the roof and dig out every remaining blocked burrow, but then he spots Fiver sitting there. He sends Vervain in to kill Fiver, but instead of fighting, Fiver simply tells Vervain that he is sorry for the deaths of the Efrafans. The strange behavior seems to put some sort of spell on Vervain who stumbles back into the daylight with a terrifying- although fictional-tale of a "great Chief Rabbit bigger than a hare." Woundwort tries to lead the way in to show the rabbits the wall that he wants taken down when two strange rabbits leap the bank in front of him and disappear down one of the tunnels. They are followed by the dog. Campion tells all of his rabbits to "run," but Woundwort stands his ground prepared to take on the dog. The last thing they hear from him is an order to fight, saying "dogs aren’t dangerous! Come back and fight!"


Forming the climax of the story, chapters 44 through 47 leap frog back and forth between the events at the farm as the rabbits try to free and lure the dog and those at the Honeycomb as Bigwig and Holly hold off Woundwort while they wait for reinforcements. Woundwort and Bigwig are intellectually and almost physically matched, but Bigwig has the slight advantage of being able to limit the ease with which the enemy rabbit can get to him. Furthermore, even though he acknowledges fear, he is able to fight to the death if need be because he is fighting for the lives of the does and little ones as well as the smaller bucks of his warren. The story lapses into a subtle, historical but effective cliche in using the concept that there is not fiercer fighter than one fighting for his home and family. Woundwort on the other hand is merely out for additional conquest, sort of a "Hitler" type figure who would conquer all the rabbits of his world if he could. His primary motivation is preserve his authority; he is not exactly fearless in the face of an enemy that is truly his equal, but he is able to put his own fear aside to keep his position and inspire his rabbit army. In the end, however, he is also a bit insane as he does not recognize the moment when running is his only option.


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