Supernatural has resonated with many people because of the timelessness of many of its themes like brotherly love, sacrifice, and courage against unbeatable odds. Recently, I was thinking about one of my favorite books, Watership Down by Richard Adams, and I was shocked to discover that there were several similarities between the book and the show. Contrary to what I first thought when I heard the title, the book has nothing to do with sinking boats on the ocean! Instead, it is set in England and is a tale of rabbits who take an epic journey from their warren to establish a new home of their own. Their journey is fraught with dangers, even after they find a perfect spot for their new warren. Published in 1972, It is a fascinating mix of realism with fantasy since the rabbits talk and have their own language and mythology. When I first read it in high school, I was immediately reminded of Pilgrim's Progress and Exodus from the Bible, but, now that I'm a fan of Supernatural, I saw numerous parallels between our show and this beloved book. (Readers are reminded that there will be references to the book in this article that may spoil certain events in the book.)
The main characters in Watership Down are brothers - Fiver and Hazel. Fiver is the younger brother, but, unlike Sam, he is the runt of the litter, and, even when grown, is smaller and weaker than the others. Like Sam, however, he has visions of the future, terrible visions of bloodshed and slaughter, visions which can be physically debilitating. The leader of the warren doesn't believe him, but his brother does, and together they guide a small group of rabbits out of their warren to safety.
Sam's visions are similar in their portrayals of future disaster, and the Winchesters are nearly always met with equal skepticism when they try to warn people of the danger they are in. While Hazel and Fiver lead a group to safety, Sam and Dean originally focus on saving people one incident at a time, though as the show continues, they help save the entire planet more than once. The rabbits gain stalwart allies like Bigwig; in the same way, the Winchesters have loyal friends, especially Castiel.
The rabbits typically do not fight; instead they are surrounded by predators and are constantly in danger. This seems similar to the way humans in Supernatural are preyed on by various monsters which are much more powerful than they are. In order to escape, the rabbits must use their wits and their caution; the Winchesters, too, though they do have weapons, must rely on their intelligence to outwit the dangerous creatures seeking to destroy them.
In the middle of the book, Hazel goes on a mission for the good of the warren and is apparently killed. Fiver, however, has a vision -- "The bloody hole . . . Hazel's in that hole . . . and he's alive" -- and seeks out his brother and helps rescue him. In a similar way, the Winchesters have often put themselves in peril for others and have also rescued each other from death.
Supernatural is full of mythology, and so is Watership Down. This is a unique part of the book: entire chapters that are tales the rabbits tell of their origins, of the creator, and of the adventures of the first rabbit. Many of these stories are trickster tales, because El-ahrairah, the first rabbit, is cunning. For me, the most memorable story is found in chapter 31 in which El-ahrairah, trying to save his people, goes to face the Black Rabbit of Inle. His determination despite the odds against him is incredibly moving. Every attempt he makes results in his losing, but he refuses to give up. He tries to bargain - like a demon deal. He is willing to give up his own life to a being that is remote, implacable, unmovable, yet he eventually succeeds - reminding me of Dean facing Death, willing to do anything to save his brother and intriguing him with his daring. El-ahrairah plays a game of skill against the Black Rabbit, like Sam gambling over years of life with Patrick, the 900-year-old witch. Even the idea of an inescapable fate is touched upon with the Black Rabbit's words: "There is no bargain for here is what must be."
In the end, Hazel hears some young rabbits in his flourishing warren telling stories; the stories are of his own adventures, but they are now being attributed to El-ahrairah. He himself is not even necessarily known nor will he specifically be remembered. Yet he is satisfied with personal obscurity because of the safe and prospering warren he has provided. This reminds me of how Sam and Dean save lives in obscurity, although they were once told that someday they would be read about in the Winchester Gospels.
When the book ends, Hazel receives peace when he is done as he is invited to join El-ahrairah's owsla, the guardians and defenders of the warren in the afterlife. Whatever ending you may prefer for Sam and Dean, this one at least offers peace, the satisfaction of a life well-lived and the knowledge that one's world will go on thriving because of the sacrifices and efforts they have made to protect it.
Bravery. Resilience. Fortitude. Sacrifice. Loyalty. Brotherhood. These are themes often repeated in classic stories, ideas that appeal to us on a deep level, motifs that can be found even in a children's book about rabbits or a television show about hunting monsters.
Watership Down is a survival and adventure novel by English author Richard Adams, published by Rex Collings Ltd of London in 1972. Set in southern England, around Hampshire, the story features a small group of rabbits. Although they live in their natural wild environment, with burrows, they are anthropomorphised, possessing their own culture, language, proverbs, poetry, and mythology. Evoking epic themes, the novel follows the rabbits as they escape the destruction of their warren and seek a place to establish a new home (the hill of Watership Down), encountering perils and temptations along the way.
I'm curious. Have you read Watership Down? Have you heard of it? What do you think of my comparisons? Have you read any other books that remind you of themes in Supernatural? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
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