Hazel’s departure

Like many readers, I imagine, I keep a mental list of novels which I think have particularly striking or moving endings.  Three good examples are Jane Eyre, L’Etranger and The Lord of the Rings.  One of the best is Watership Down, the rabbit Aeniad written by Richard George Adams in 1972.

Here are the last two pages, telling the end of the novel’s Aeneas or Moses figure.  The language is traditional and God speaks in the clipped, reserved tones of an Army officer (‘owsla’ means ‘regiment’): nonetheless moving for that as the realisation of what is happening detonates through the formal dialogue.

One chilly, blustery morning in March, I cannot tell exactly how many springs later, Hazel was dozing and waking in his burrow. He had spent a good deal of time there lately, for he felt the cold and could not seem to smell or run so well as in days gone by. He had been dreaming in a confused way—something about rain and elder bloom—when he woke to realize that there was a rabbit lying quietly beside him—no doubt some young buck who had come to ask his advice. The sentry in the run outside should not really have let him in without asking first. Never mind, thought Hazel. He raised his head and said, ‘Do you want to talk to me?’

‘Yes, that’s what I’ve come for,’ replied the other. ‘You know me, don’t you?’

‘Yes, of course,’ said Hazel, hoping he would be able to remember his name in a moment. Then he saw that in the darkness of the burrow, the stranger’s ears were shining with a faint, silver light. ‘Yes, my lord,’ he said, ‘Yes, I know you.’

‘You’ve been feeling tired,’ said the stranger, ‘but I can do something about that. I’ve come to ask whether you’d care to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you and you’ll enjoy it. If you’re ready, we might go along now.’

They went out past the young sentry, who paid no attention. The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silflay [grazing], keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass. It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.

‘You needn’t worry about them,’ said his companion. ‘They’ll be all right—and thousands like them. If you’ll come along, I’ll show you what I mean.’

He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.

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