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The Hero’s Journey present between the books: Watership Down &

Oedipus Rex

Exam Session- November 2018

Total Words:
Table of contents

1. INTRODUCTION ......................................................................................................... 1

2. BOOK’S CONTEXTUALIZATION ........................................................................... 2


2.2. OEDIPUS REX: A GREEK TRAGEDY BY DEFINITION ........................................................... 5

3. HAZEL AND OEDIPUS: TWO SIDES OF THE SAME COIN .............................. 7

3.1. ACKNOWLEDGE HERO’S JOURNEY AS INTERTEXTUALITY ................................................... 7

3.2. THE BOOKS’ FATE......................................................................................................... 11

4. CONCLUSION ............................................................................................................ 13

5. REFERENCES ............................................................................................................ 15
“Rabbits need dignity and above all the will to accept their fate”
Richard Adams

1. Introduction

Watership Down is a novel first published in 1972 by Richard Adams, it is the most

known work of Adams, it converts that popular due to the great similarity it presents with the

Greek Tragedy, through this he has received various critiques and, obviously, made him a

best-seller, not just because that similarity, but because he could do something that few have

done: write a book for kids with elements that belong to the “grown up world”.

March 24, 1974. “The New York Times”

I doubt that Richard Adams's “Watership Down” is really aimed at young

children, despite his having said that it arose from impromptu stories he used to tell

his small daughters. I can't imagine many readers under 13 or 14, an age when the

lines between juvenile and adult fiction begin to blur, having the patience and grasp

of extended allegorical strategies to persevere to the end of a 426‐page epic about a

community of rabbits. (Gilman, 1974, pg. 367).

January 4, 2015. “The Guardian”

Richard Adams, no stranger to terrifying children with his tales of rabbits being

snared or gassed, narrows his eyes and recites, word-perfect, a lengthy passage from

an intensely creepy short story by MR James called The Stalls of Barchester

Cathedral. The author of Watership Down has been remembering, with some pride,

how he used to petrify his children with scary stories at bedtime. (Flood, 2015).

I chose this book because, I liked when I read it. After the first reading for pleasure,

I could see the characteristics shown above: The Greek tragedy and the curious fact that it

was for kids but some people argue that. After I saw that, I started to look for more things

that call my attention, and I found this epic journey that the rabbits of Adams do, what is

more interesting that a journey to defeat fate?

Then, I wondered, how I could develop this journey into something else, into

something to be worth of research? The Greek tragedy was the answer, but I didn’t want to

related it with the same books or stories that others did, so, after some research, I ended up

with Oedipus Rex, a classic from Greek literature. I chose it because it is a must in everyone’s

library and I really wanted to get deep into it. These books will be joined later, by answering

the research question:

“How is the structure of hero’s journey presented through the plots of Watership

Down and Oedipus Rex?”

To answer this question, this essay will first develop contextualization of both books,

and then, these books will find their intertextuality (This term will be better defined in the

chapter 3) with the conductive thread called hero’s journey. This conductive thread is an

aspect that defines the way stories have been told from Greek literature to nowadays, which

happens to be the part of the point of the critics that Adams received with his novel.

2. Book’s contextualization

2.1. Watership Down: a multifaceted journey of adventure and survival

Richard Adams wrote the novel, when he was public employee. All began in a road

trip, when he was with his family and his kids asked for a story, he told them a tale about a

group of rabbits trying to achieve a journey of salvation, the reason of this story is due to his

love for nature and from the experiences, since that event, he took more than two years to

write the novel, and after many, many rejections, one publisher said “yes” and gave him the

opportunity that he was looking for (BBC News, 2016), but nobody could tell that Watership

Down was going to be a tremendous success and it will be the most recognized novel of

Adams, actually, the reason that he could change his career and his formal job is because this

novel was a best-seller in its time. However, let’s look into the story

The plot of Watership Down, is about a group of rabbits that is based all over two

rabbit brothers, called Hazel and Fiver. Their goal is to find a place where to live that is

sustainable for them, this because Fiver has a might is that he can predict when the things

were going to happen, be they good or bad. In this case, they were bad because the vision he

had was that their warren was going to be in danger, so his brother Hazel trusted in him and

he decided to leave that warren and other rabbits came with them, so they go into numerous

adventures along the way finding a new and safe home.

I considered that this book is multifaceted because, as the word’s meaning, has many

sides to look at and, this is a story that can be interpreted with numerous hidden meanings

and definitely this is one of the reasons I chose it. Let’s look at the characters, they may just

look like rabbits, but, from the start the reader would know that there is something else about

this rabbits, one of them has a vision, the ones that believed in him would do anything to

prevent that catastrophe. The reader can feel everything, the reader can see itself reflected in

at least one of them, the feeling is so overwhelmed that “by the time we have finished the

book, the rabbits have taken on both epic and allegorical proportions” (Anderson, 1983,

pg.12). Along the lines of these previous ideas, the main characters, Hazel and Fiver called

my attention; the way in which they show human conditions such as heroism, leadership and

the brotherhood they both have, how they support each other, in the good and bad moments

in all over the plot, this is why, Anderson (1983) refers to the characters as an allegory, even

though she clarifies in the same article that “Adams claims he is not comfortable with the

notion that Watership Down is ‘an allegory of the human condition’” (Anderson, 1983,


Another fact or side that captured my attention, that could be related to the one that I

explained before, is that this book is considered for kids or “familiar”, but the book present

various references for “adults”. It is common to find expressions like: “what mattered was

finding rabbits and killing them” (Adams, 2014, pg. 568). Simple and, at the same time,

indescribable. This kind of expressions can be seen all over the book, especially when the

end is near, for example, “They had a homba that killed Captain Mallow. My brother was

there. He saw it” (Adams, 2014, pg. 559). The author shows death as something natural,

something that needs to happen, even though if it is painful. But, from the moment that

Adams decided to show this exhausting journey developed by rabbits as protagonist along

the pages of his novel, he is introducing the children to the “grown up world” without

hesitation, without trying to hide reality with pretty faces or candies, without even the reader

noticing that, it just feels natural, that it belongs there and no somewhere else. So, it was not

surprising when in an statement he said that:

A book is a book is a book, and you write what has got to be written to tell the story

properly. I never consider the readers. I was allowed to read anything I liked when I

was little and I liked all sorts of things that I shouldn’t have been reading. I stumbled

upon frightening literature. Poe. The Hound of the Baskervilles. Algernon

Blackwood’s Ancient Sorceries. (Rees, 2016, pg. 13)

He does not think if kids are afraid of death or if their parents have some kind of

topics that cannot be spoken until certain age or any reason that somebody may think about

these expressions. He only wrote. And of course that is the reason why the book, very quietly,

puts the kids into a position that they did not ask for and neither their parents, but, I think that

is something good for the kids because it makes them to realize that death is normal, that

one day is going to arrive to everybody, even though if sometimes this death is due to natural

causes, like a disease, or external factors such as killings, suicides, violence and others (in

the book the killings are the one that is seen numerous times).

2.2. Oedipus Rex: A Greek tragedy by definition

Throughout literature, the Greek tragedy is one of the oldest genres which have been

worked on; who first worked on this genre was Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, 2.500

years ago (Hall, 2010). It present numerous definitions, but the most recognized is that, the

Greek tragedy it’s about the main character, which trough the history make a great mistake

that he does without realizing, this mistake usually have fatal consequences to him. Aristotle

(2000) says that the tragedy “should, moreover, imitate actions which excite pity and fear”

(Aristotle, 2000, pg. 17), so this mistake that the hero make is a plan, is something to enrich

the character, and he continue:

Such an event, therefore, will be neither pitiful nor terrible. There remains, then, the

character between these two extremes, —that of a man who is not eminently good

and just, yet whose misfortune is brought about not by vice or depravity, but by some

error or frailty. He must be one who is highly renowned and prosperous, —a

personage like Oedipus. (Aristotle, 2000, pg. 17)

The Greek tragedy tends to use tragedy as something that is inevitable, as I explained

before, that cannot be changed, by the main character; this can be seen in Oedipus Rex which

shows a contradiction of life because, this tragedy shows that who tries to escape desperately

from his destiny, it will happen to him exactly the opposite.

Oedipus Rex is one of the Greek tragedies written by Sophocles, between 430−426

B.C. and first performed in 429 B.C. Sophocles is one of the most ancient authors of the

Greek Tragedy, was born in Colonus, Greece on 496 B.C. He was a person of a reputable

family; due to this, he was member of a family of considerable rank, also was well educated

and various political positions. It is stated that he has written more than a hundred tragedies,

but only seven have survived the modern era, in one of them was “Oedipus Rex”. All the

works of Sophocles, were based on the ancient story of Oedipus, King of Thebes, known as

the “Theban Trilogy”.

This tragedy tells the story of a king called Oedipus, who was abandoned by his father

(Laius) and adopted by another king (Polybus), which raised him for 20 years, but he realized

that he had no resemblance (neither physical nor psychological) to the king who adopted him,

so he decided to go in search of his origin. This he did through the Delphi’s Oracle or most

known as “Pythia”, she told him his destiny was that he had to kill his father and marry his

mother. Unbeknown to Oedipus, he ends up killing his father (Laius) and married his mother

(Jocasta), as a consequence of this his mother realized what happened and commits suicide,

besides Oedipus with all this, proceeds to stab his eyes for not him to see what he had


Sophocles gave us not just some tragedy, he gave us Oedipus who, through history,

has been recognized as the perfect example of a tragic hero, as the man who has all the moral

value to hurt himself for his innocent mistake and would do nothing to change that, because

after running away from his fate, he ended up making it all as the oracle told him. Oedipus

marks the beginning of new characters, that later will be changing, as everything through

time, but the essence will remain.

The importance of this tragedy is such Oedipus transcends the literature world.

Sophocles’ character is so deep and so meaningful in so many levels, for example, it is well

known that Oedipus Rex “played a key role in Sigmund Freud's development of

psychoanalysis, demonstrating both the particular complex of desires and the powerful will

to deny them that Freud found in the human psyche”. (Murnaghan, 2010, pg. 9)

3. Hazel and Oedipus: two sides of the same coin

3.1. Acknowledge hero’s journey as intertextuality

In here, it is necessary to define intertextuality. This term is more common than it is

believed, only that many do not know how to name it. I'll give a daily example: you're

watching a series that you liked a lot and for a scene, a dialogue, a landscape, for any detail

that exists there, you remember another series that you saw a while ago or remember a book

that has similar traits or a painting and even a song, and it turns that remind some situation

in life; so until it becomes infinite. To talk about intertextuality is fundamental to mention

the philosopher Julia Kristeva, in her essay “Word, Dialogue and Novel” she begins to talk

about this term after an analysis of Bakhtin’s work and establish that “any text is constructed

as a mosaic of quotations; any text is the absorption and transformation of another” (1986,

pg. 37).

Not only does Intertextuality help us see a text within another text, but also to create

a third text, considering what Kristeva says. “The concept of intertextuality requires,

therefore, that we understand texts not as self-contained systems but as differential and

historical, as traces and tracing of otherness” (Martínez, 1996, pg. 268). When I speak of

texts I mean any type of content, of course, for the purpose of this extended essay, I will refer

to literature. So, this is how I get to Campbell, a theorist who gives us all the steps of the

hero's journey, that is going to be mentioned, and thus see the similarities of the characters

in both books through his theory. The hero’s journey is going to be the bridge between both

books, it is going to be the guide line and the structure that will allow me to put Watership

Down and Oedipus Rex in the same page for, at least, a moment.

To begin with that, let’s talk about how the mythologist the hero’s journey is defined

by Joseph Campbell in his book “The hero with thousand faces” as:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural

wonder fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won, the hero

comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his

fellow man. (Campbell, 2004, pg. 23)

Basically, the hero’s journey is the structure that has been used through all the

literature’s history, that is commonly known as the “Aristotelian structure”, it has a

beginning, a plot and an ending. This is not only for the literature world, it also for the

cinematographic world, and that’s why, after Campbell, there is more theory about the classic

structure. For instance, for this extended essay I will use the one from Christopher Vogler,

presents in his book “The writer’s journey”, in here he shows the 12 stages of the hero’s


Figure 1. The Hero’s Journey Model.

In this figure, based on Vogler model but realized by Voytilla (1999), it can be seen

in a better way the steps of the hero’s journey, I am going to explain four of them because I

think that they are the more accurate for both of the books, each step that I am going to

explain, will reflect the particular case for Watership Down and Oedipus Rex.

Ordinary world:

This stage is before the journey, the ordinary world is the home of the heroes, and is

where the hero allows us to know him and identify with him before he starts his journey. In

Watership Down, this ordinary world is Sandleford warren and in Oedipus Rex is the

Kingdom of Corinth, those places are where the main characters or the heroes permit us to

know them.

The call to adventure:

The call to adventure is where the comfort of the heroes in their ordinary world is

interrupted, by a dare or a defiance that he has to do, no matter what. This dare in Watership

Down and in Oedipus Rex is similar because, in both there is someone that predict the faith

of both heroes, in Watership Down is Fiver, ‘‘I don’t know it is’, answered Fiver wretchedly.

‘There isn’t any danger here, at this moment. But it’s coming- it’s coming’” (Adams, 2014,

pg. 8). And in Oedipus Rex is the Oracle of Delphos.

Crossing the Threshold:

Here is where the hero is prepared for the journey, and is ready to leave the ordinary

world and go for the special word, is the one where the dare or the faith take place. The hero

must defy an event that make him pledge to enter to the Special World, that there is no way

back. This event in Watership Down to Hazel is to save his group of rabbits and in Oedipus

is to confront the faith that was imposed.

Test, Allies and Enemies:

This stage is where heroes while they are in the journey, they learn how is the special

world by finding enemies, adversary or allies. In Watership Down there are no allies apart of

the group of rabbits, the enemies that Hazel and his group have is the General Woundwort

that in the plot is the antagonist, and in Oedipus Rex is the Sphinx that Oedipus found in his


As seen above this are some of the 12 steps that complements the heroes’ journey, I

chose these ones because are the ones that most resemble in both works, due to one of them

was similar to one but to the other wasn’t, so this 4 steps represent better Watership Down

and Oedipus rex.

3.2. The books’ fate

It is important to note that with no attempt to prove that Watership Down and Oedipus

Rex have the same story line, but rather the similarities that can be given between the

characters through intertextuality. Perhaps, it is necessary to begin with, the differences,

which are uncountable and that many times you can believe that this type of comparison is

unfeasible. Here, two will reign. To begin with the biggest difference and of which, I believe,

the other one follows: the genre of the stories. While Watership Down is a children's book,

Oedipus Rex is a Greek tragedy. At the outset, in each genre, the topics are limited, for

example, in a children's book it is not possible to show the suicide attempt as a possible cause

of death. In the Greek tragedy, although mythological beings are common, animals with

human-like faculties are not allowed because they will be confused with fables, and tragedy

and fable are not the terms that go hand in hand.

In first place, it is important to highlight the journey that Hazel undertakes, since it

shows in all his glory the hero’s journey. To do this, Hazel must be considered a hero, and

he is, he assumes a leadership that he did not ask, but it is natural for him. Oedipus, although

he does not undertake a journey full of adventures like Hazel, is a tragic hero that allows us

to see another side of the hero's journey, one that is more interior. Both try to escape from

their destiny, previously predicted by a third party, the results, obviously, are not the same,

Hazel manages to find another rabbit hutch and avoids her fate, while Oedipus takes his eyes

off having seen his destiny, of which both he fled, realized.

The main characters of the novel Hazel and of the Greek tragedy Oedipus among

them two present an intertextuality, in first place because both make a kind of hero’s journey

in the plot. The both of them leave their house to change the destiny that was predicted. By

the side of Oedipus, the Delphi Oracle told him that his destiny was to kill his father and

marry his mother and was going to do everything to change this destiny. With Hazel was the

same because, Fiver told him that the destiny of the warren was that it was going to be in

danger and Hazel as Oedipus was going to do everything to change it.

The destiny was very important for them to defeat , because by the side of Hazel in

his hands was the future of all the group of rabbits to find a home were to survive from all

the dangers that lurked. On the other hand, for Oedipus was very important to defeat it

because he did not want to betray his father by killing him and marrying his mother. Besides

this destiny was not defeat by both, well Hazel could change this destiny by finding a safe

home were him and his group could live in peace, but Oedipus could not because in the Greek

tragedy the main character can never change neither destiny nor world. As it happens with

Oedipus he tries to defeat the destiny by not killing his father and marrying his mother but it

turns out that his real father (the king Laius) abandoned him and was adopted by the father

that Oedipus think is his real father (the king Polybus). Therefore, in his road to defeat

destiny, he kills his real father (the king Laius) as the Delphi Oracle predicted. Suddenly after

he kills his real father, not knowing, because he never knew about his origin, he continues

his road by killing a sphinx. Due to this he was declared the new king of Thebes (were The

King Laius governed) because the king Laius was dead so he marries Jocasta the queen of

Thebes and as the destiny said he must marry his mother, he does.

Already giving those points, at the end of each one, the main characters dies. In

Watership Down, Hazel at the end of the story dies after seeing that the warren was

prospering and progressing, on the other hand with Oedipus, after he kills his real dad,

marries his mother; as a consequence of this his mother commits suicide, he decides to do

what in The Greek mythology is consider as a death, that was, after he took his eyes off, the


4. Conclusion

While doing the extended essay I found out in first place that the intertextuality is a

very extensive concept that is well worked through the hero’s journey, this is seen in

numerous of the arguments I realized. On the other hand, the hero’s journey since ever, have

been used through history, in books, movies, tragedy etc. From the B.C. (Before Christ)

epoch to nowadays and how this essence of the hero that always is in the characters or the

main characters has not change by the pass of the time.

The arguments which helps me to answer the research question where the model of

the hero’s journey due to how this model present the complete structure and steps that the

hero does trough the plot of the books. Besides, with this model I can relate the situations of

the books I worked with the model of the hero’s journey. In addition, another argument that

helps me were the fate of both books, because here I make the intertextuality between both

books, with this I relate the fate that each hero of each book have.

On the other hand, nowadays, we can see this concept easier, since we, as the

readers/consumers, are looking for a good story, something that moves all our feelings and

our deepest thoughts, something that we can relate to, like Aristotle said, the characters must

have something to imitate from us and something that we can imitate from them. This can

explain the big success of many books that are considered for teenagers like Twilight by

Stephanie Meyer, as with the movies, or The Hunger Games, both books and movies, or even

the Marvel’s movies. Even though many centuries have passed, the essence and the structure

of the hero’s journey has been intact.

Nevertheless, by the pass of time there have been concepts that have been changing

their essence or configuring the meaning of it, so the concepts have been “modernized”, so

day to day these structure for witting are changing.

With this, it is worth asking, to what extent can a new way of structuring stories be

considered? Should the stories have rules to read them?

5. References

Adams, R. (2014) Watership Down. London, England: Penguin Group.

Anderson, C. (1983) Troy, Carthage, and Watership Down. Children’s Literature

Association Quarterly, Volume 8 (number 1), pp. 12-13. Recovered from:


Aristotle (2000) The poetics of Aristotle (Trad. S.H. Butcher). The pennsylvania State

University: A Penn State Electronic Classic Series Publication. Recovered from:



BBC News (2016, 27th December) Watership Down author Richard Adams dies aged

96. BBC News. Recovered from: https://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-38446309

Campbell, J. (2004) The hero with a thousand faces. New Jersey, United States:

Princeton University Press Digital Monticello. Recovered from:




Flood, A. (2015, 4th January) Watership Down author Richard Adams: I just can’t do

humans. The Guardian. Recovered from:


Gilman, R. (1974, 24th March) The rabbits’. The New York Times. Recovered from:



Hall, E. (2010) Greek Tragedy: Suffering under the Sun. New York, United States:

Oxford University Press Inc. Recovered from:


Kristeva, J. (1986) Word, Dialogue and Novel. New York Columbia University Press,

pp. 34-61. Recovered from: https://cpb-us-



Martínez, M. (1996) Intertextuality: Origins and development of the concept. Atlantis,

Volume 18 (number 1/2), pp. 268-285. Recovered from:


Murnaghan, S. (2010) Sophocles (496-406 BCE). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient

Greece and Rome. University of Pennsylvania. Recovered from:


Reed, J. (2016, 27th December) Richard Adams: ‘Perhaps I made Watership Down too

dark’ - interview. The telegraph. Recovered from:


Sophocles (2011) Oedipus Rex (Trad. J. E. Thomas). Enotes.com Inc. Recovered from:



Vogler, C. (2007) The writer’s journey – Third Edition. Michigan, United States:

McNaughton & Gunn, Inc. Recovered from: http://craftywriters.club/reading/christopher-


Voytilla, S. (1999) Myth and the Movies: Discovering the Mythic Structure of 50

Unforgettable Films. Michael Wiese Productions. Recovered from:



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