C.S. Lewis loved rabbits. His affection for the cuddly rodents went all the way back to his childhood. And it continued through the whole of his life. In fact, you can read about “C.S. Lewis as an Advocate for Animals” at a Humane Society link below.*
Despite this affection, rabbits do not feature prominently in The Chronicles of Narnia. They are among the “statues” turned to stone by the Witch. In the description of Aslan breathing life back into them, it says, “then [Aslan] pounced on a tall stone dryad which stood beyond the dwarf, turned rapidly aside to deal with a stone rabbit on his right, and rushed on to two centaurs” (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe).
Rabbits helped spread the word about an impending attack on Archenland in The Horse and His Boy. Shasta urges the animals to spread the word.
“Oughtn’t your High King to be told?”
“Certain sure, something ought to be done about it,” said the Hedgehog. “But you see I’m just on my way to bed for a good day’s sleep. Hullo, neighbor!”
The last words were addressed to an immense biscuit-colored rabbit whose head had just popped up from somewhere beside the path. The Hedgehog immediately told the Rabbit what it had just learned from Shasta.
The Rabbit agreed that this was very remarkable news and that somebody ought to tell someone about it with a view to doing something. And so it went on. Every few minutes they were joined by other creatures, some from the branches overhead and some from little underground houses at their feet, till the party consisted of five rabbits, a squirrel, two magpies, a goat-foot faun, and a mouse, who all talked at the same time and all agreed with the Hedgehog.
For the truth was that in that golden age when the Witch and the Winter had gone and Peter the High King ruled at Cair Paravel, the smaller woodland people of Narnia were so safe and happy that they were getting a little careless.
In The Last Battle we see a clear contrast between the types of animals which populate Narnia. Tirian, the last king of Narnia, is leading the children toward their destiny.
First, he had given Jill some practice in archery and found that, though not up to Narnian standards, she was really not too bad.
Indeed she had succeeded in shooting a rabbit (not a Talking rabbit, of course: there are lots of the ordinary kind about in Western Narnia) and it was already skinned, cleaned, and hanging up.
Back to the Beginning
When he was a child, beginning at age eight, Lewis began writing stories about “Animal Land.” His brother Warnie, several years older, joined him in composing stories inspired in part by their reading of the words of Beatrix Potter.
Animal Land is clearly the product of young children—children with wonderful imaginations—but children nonetheless. These various works have been published by Lewis’ stepson in a collection called Boxen. As Douglas Gresham writes, “In developing the world of Boxen, Jack appropriated the ‘dressed animals’ of Beatrix Potter and that part of their fictional world they called ‘Animal-Land,’ while Warnie (whose interests were always a touch more prosaic than Jack’s) made his half ‘India.’”
The world was thoroughly thought out, complete with maps and a historic chronology.
Animal-land is divided into 13 provinces. Bear-land, Wolf-land, Squirrel-land, Mouse-land, Rabbit-land, Pig-land, Bird-land, Horse-land, Fox-land, Land of Typical Animals, Insect-land, Rat-land, With the island of Piscia, or Fishland. . . . Rabbit-land is the first provence in learning and art.
Rabbits feature prominently in Boxen. The very first element is a script, entitled “The King’s Ring (A Comedy).” The introduction is delightfully childlike: “Interesting carictars. Famous ones. For instance, Sir Big, a world-famed gentleman. A very good choreus and nice scenry. (Slight comic tints in and out threw it.)”
The two protagonists are King Bunny, whose ring is stolen, and Sir Peter Mouse, his “knight in waiting” who aids him in finding it. It is filled with silly dialog, despite the serious plot. For example:
KING BUNNY: Tell Sir Goose to tell Sir Big to tell Mr Gold Fish to tell Gollywog to tell Mr Icthus-oress to tell Dorimie to tell the sailors to take Hit [the villain] away.
In his autobiography, Lewis wrote of his childhood home. “Here my first stories were written, and illustrated, with enormous satisfaction. They were an attempt to combine my two chief literary pleasures—‘dressed animals’ and ‘knights-in-armour.’
Drawing Pleasure from Real Life Rabbits
Lewis’ correspondence includes passing references to rabbits, always expressed in an approving way. For instance, in 1947 he mentions enjoying a memorable event during a boring time. “I wonder how you are all getting on? Nothing much has happened to me except that I saw a rabbit yawn. I suppose people who keep tame ones have seen it often but this was a wild rabbit and I thought it a very curious sight. It was a very bored triangular yawn in the middle of a long hot afternoon.”
During WWII, he penned a curious comment about rabbits recently added to his home.
We are keeping rabbits at the Kilns now, in addition to the hens! But they are very much nicer. As I passed the enclosure in which all the young ones are the other evening, I saw they had all got into a box which happened to be lying there.
They were all standing (or sitting) up on their hind legs and all facing in the same direction: so that they looked exactly as if they were conducting some kind of evening service—the box looked just like a pew.
While the rabbits were almost certainly present to supplement food rations during the war, they were not treated as commodities. Lewis appreciated them in the way he respected other creatures designed by God’s hand. Thus, he had what my wife and I would consider to be a well-rounded family—including one or more members of the non-human variety.
Lewis described this diverse household in a 1943 letter to June Flewett,⁑ one of the children evacuated to his home during the war.
Bruce [Lewis’ dog] behaved with great lack of fortitude during the thunderstorm last night and two of the rabbits made it an excuse for absenting themselves without leave. Pushkin [his cat] behaved better, but not well. In fact there is a general lack of keenness and discipline among the four-footed members of the household which I deplore.
One more story about an actual rabbit with which the great author developed an ongoing relationship.
In a 1942 letter to Sister Penelope CSMV, he says, “I am establishing quite a friendship with one of the rabbits which we now keep along with the deer in Magdalen grove. It was done by the discovery that he relishes chestnut leaves which grow too high for his reach. He doesn’t yet allow me any familiarities but he comes and eats from my hand.”
Lewis continues to describe his new friend, and adds a keen theological observation. “But oh!, the great lollipop eyes and the twitching velvet nose! How does [God] come to create both this and the scorpion?”
Later that same year, Lewis updates the Anglican nun on the status of his animal-friend.
The Rabbit and I have quarrelled. I don’t know why, unless I gave him something that disagreed with him. At any rate, he has cut me dead several times lately—so fair and so fickle! Life is full of disappointments.”
At that time he shared his disappointment with his lifelong friend, Arthur Greeves. “Did I tell you in my last letter that I’d struck up quite an acquaintance (almost a friendship) with a rabbit in Magdalen Grove who used to come and eat leaves from my hand? Alas, I must have given something that disagreed with him, for he disappeared for about 10 days, and since his reappearance has refused to look at me.”
It may be that same rabbit, or one of its kin, renewed its relationship with Lewis, because he referred to a similar experience in two 1944 letters to other children.
I live in a College here: a college is something rather like a castle and also like a church. It stands just beside a bridge over a river. At the back of the part I live in there is a nice grove of Trees. There are a lot of Rabbits there. One very old rabbit is so tame that it will run after me and take things out of my hand. I call her Baroness Bisket because she is a kind of biscuit colour.
It’s not easy, nor is it usually relevant, to determine a bunny’s gender. So, Lewis may be excused for writing the following to the second young correspondent, six months earlier.
I am getting to be quite friends with an old Rabbit who lives in the Wood at Magdalen. I pick leaves off the trees for him because he can’t reach up to the branches and he eats them out of my hand. One day he stood up on his hind legs and put his front paws against me, he was so greedy. I wrote this about it:
A funny old man had a habit
Of giving a leaf to a rabbit.
At first it was shy
But then, by and by,
It got rude and would stand up to grab it.
But it’s a very nice Rabbit all the same: I call him ‘Baron Biscuit.’
Like C.S. Lewis, I adore rabbits. Years ago we had an indoor bunny, appropriately named “Sweetheart.” In her youth she acted like the cartoon character Ricochet Rabbit, pinging from place to place. In her senior years she settled down and was contented to be a cuddly lap bunny. I add my own “thank you” to Lewis’ for these precious parts of God’s creation.
* The Humane Society pdf is available here.
⁑ June Flewett is regarded as the inspiration for Lucy Pevensie in the Chronicles, and grew up to become an actress and theater director. C.S. Lewis paid for her tuition at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. When she and her two sisters were sent from London to the Kilns, her favorite author was C.S. Lewis. Ironically, it was a while before she learned that he and their host were one and the same.
20 thoughts on “C.S. Lewis and Rabbits”
I wonder if Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, was a fan of C. S. Lewis?
Great question. Don’t recall reading he was, but would certainly not be surprised.
Adams did write: “I rather agree with C. S. Lewis that a book that isn’t worth reading when you’re sixty isn’t worth reading when you’re six.”
I was just coming to the comments to add that there is a link between Richard Adams and CS Lewis: the cover illustration of my copy of Watership Down was painted by Pauline Baynes, who did the illustrations for the Narnia books and for several of Tolkien’s shorter works.
Wow! Thank you for sharing that.
That’s neat to know. Thanks.
Lovely post, Rob. We have a wild rabbit or two that run through our garden. I’m not sure where their burrows are, or what they do during the winter when it’s snowy for four months. (Hibernate, most likely!)
My desk faces a large window, and around dusk I often see a bunny or two crossing the driveway to nibble in our yard. We planted clover throughout our lawn for the deer and rabbits. They really love it.
You’ve gone and made me wish I had a rabbit. :)
There is always time to add one to the family!
Great post! Thanks for sharing all the background and insights.
Glad you enjoyed the post.
Yet another thing I share with our mutual mentor Jack. Not long after we married, my wife and I adopted our first “child,” a Holland lop named Flopsy-Jean.
They do make great pets. I have often wondered how our border collies would adjust to a new rabbit. Past experience proves they can learn to live with cats.
Oh for the new heaven and earth when the animals (and human beings!) will live again in harmony.
Narnia makes much more sense knowing how big of an animal fan Lewis was. Of course wishing they could speak is a dream, too.
Gary On Thu, May 7, 2020 at 8:37 PM Mere Inkling Press wrote:
> robstroud posted: ” C.S. Lewis loved rabbits. His affection for the cuddly > rodents went all the way back to his childhood. And it continued through > the whole of his life. In fact, you can read about “C.S. Lewis as an > Advocate for Animals” at a Humane Society link below.” >
Yes, indeed. As for speaking animals… I guess that is whimsical, since they didn’t even speak in the Garden. That doesn’t mean, of course, that they can’t communicate. A simple illustration of which is how many words/commands a dog can learn.
And, then there is a dog’s active communication. When they carry their ball or lease over to us and gaze up with longing, it’s pretty clear what they are “saying.”
I love that verbal language is only 10% of communication. Maybe animals do use non-verbal language and when we slow down enough we hear them. Just like my two dogs who know how to let me know they are hungry or ready to play.
Yes, they can become experts at nonverbal communication. A few actually stretch their wings with vocalizations too, communicating different messages. Two of our past dogs loved to sing along with my wife playing the piano. (Only particular songs though.)
Yes, I understand their “singing” was provoked by certain notes, etc., but it was still quite fun for all.
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