I'm doing a re-read of Watership Down, and it seems that the action of the story is taking place over much less time than I remembered: e.g. from the start of the story to Hazel and Bigwig meeting Holly under Watership Down (two strands of the tale coming together) is only a few days, rather than the weeks I'd imagined. There's quite a lot of mentions of days and continuity throughout, so do we have enough information to figure out exactly (or even approximately!) how long the whole story takes? A detailed timeline of what happened when would be brilliant.

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Making some reasonable assumptions, ~95 days

Note that 95 days is for what I consider the "main story" - from when Fiver has his first vision to when the Efrafan attackers are defeated. There's some stuff after that but the timing gets fuzzy. If you just want the timeline, skip past the "Timeline discussion" section. (Though you may want to peek at my list of timeline variables)

Timeline discussion

There are some time segments of unclear length. I've assigned these lengths variables. They're the reason I have to make assumptions about how long the story takes. Nevertheless, with some handwaving and math-ing, it's possible to make educated guesses about how long each time period is.

Timeline variables

  • a = number of days after the rainstorm and before Kehaar agrees to fly, “a few days”
  • b = number of days Kehaar is scouting, “several days”
  • c = number of days at the home warren before Dandelion tells "Rowsby Woof"

Timeline Math-ing

Let’s jump straight in, shall we? Day 5 is “May” and Day 7 is “June”. Therefore either Days 5 or 6 is the last day of May. Without losing much accuracy, let’s assume Day 5 is. About “six weeks later” from Day 41 + a + b + c (the last day) is “mid-October”. Day 41 + a + b + c, therefore, is late August. There are 30 days in June, 31 days in July, and 31 days in August. Late August would be ~90 days after May ended (which we assumed was Day 5). Therefore Day 95. Hey, round numbers are nice!

Can we estimate the values of the timeline variables? Unfortunately there’s no way to disentangle a from b; not enough information is given between Kehaar agreeing to fly and returning from scouting. On Day 28 + a + b the narration remarks that “June was moving towards July”, which perhaps means “the last days of June”. Again taking Day 5 as the last day of May, the last day of June would be Day 5 + 30 = Day 35. We know that a = “a few days” and b = “several days”. Eyeballing that, let’s say a + b = 7 days, a nice round week. Then Day 28 + a + b = Day 35 - hey look, that matches! Turning back to our estimate of Day 41 + a + b + c = Day 95, we find 41 + 7 + c = 95, or c = 47 days.

So with copious handwaving and some educated guesses, we can say that a + b = ~7 days and c = ~47 days. For even more handwaving, “several days” (b) seems more than “a few days” (a), and therefore let’s say b = 4 days and a = 3 days. There. We’ve done math in English class and it made a modicum of sense! Moving on...

The Timeline!

Actually, first some explanation of the timeline. Each set of events is headlined with a “Day X” heading. I split days by when I estimated midnight was. Some nighttime travelling was split over multiple days. When multiple timelines occur on the same day, there are headers for each timeline’s section of events, clarifying who is doing what. Absolute-timing indicators (months, mostly) are placed on the same line as the “Day X” they appear in. I have tried to pare this timeline down to the important events. Some less-important events were left in for the sake of having something for every day that was possible.

Day 1 (“May”)

  • Fiver gets a premonition of doom “half an hour to twilight”

Day 2
Fiver & Hazel

  • Fiver and Hazel visit the Threrah “a little after ni-Frith, or noon”
  • They gather a group and leave “into the dim, moonlit night”

Back at Sandleford

  • That “night” the Owsla do an initial search, give up

Day 3
Hazel’s refugees

  • “It was morning” when Bigwig says they must cross the stream due to a dog
  • They trade off sleeping, eating, and watching “through the day” in a safe field

Back at Sandleford

  • There are rumors, lots of talking, more dismissing of Fiver’s warning “the next day”

Day 4
Hazel’s refugees

  • “As the sun rose” they finally reach the meadow after travelling through Newton
  • “A little while after ni-Frith” Cowslip invites them over, and in “the late afternoon” they go

Back at Sandleford

  • “The next day in the afternoon” Holly sights men smoking by the notice board

Day 5 (“May”)
Hazel’s refugees

  • Strawberry takes them to get flayrah “some time after sunrise”
  • Dandelion and Silverweed tell a story and a poem, at “nightfall”

Back at Sandleford

  • “[Not] long before ni-Frith” Holly returns from lettuce-hunting and sees men gassing the warren, escapes with Bluebell and some others

Day 6
Hazel’s refugees

  • Bigwig is trapped in the “first sunlight”, the refugees leave soon after

Holly’s refugees

  • They cross the river, at “night” learn of Cowslip’s warren

Day 7 (“June”)
Hazel’s refugees

  • “In the twilight” “of the following day” the refugees finally arrive on the downs proper

Holly’s refugees

  • Holly’s group wakes, surrounded, “some time before ni-Frith”, and fight their way out

Day 8

  • Hazel’s refugees spend much of the rest of the day digging for the new warren
  • “In the faint starlight” they find Holly (who had been journeying with Bluebell the day)

Day 9 ("full moon")

  • More digging while Hazel consults Strawberry about warren layout
  • Silver points out a field mouse, Hazel saves it in the “late afternoon”
  • Holly & Bluebell tell their tale at “night”

Day 10

  • Kehaar is found in the “early morning”
  • More digging in the Honeycomb, including making an area for Kehaar
  • Kehaar moves in “As darkness began to fall”

Day 11

  • During evening silflay, the need for does is discussed

Day 12

  • It rains on Kehaar’s “third night in the warren”

Day 12 + a

  • Kehaar tells Hazel that he is willing to fly and look around for does “one afternoon”

Day 13 + a

  • Kehaar makes a few short flights the “next day”

Day 16 + a (“June”)

  • Kehaar sets out for real “three days later” in the “morning”

Day 16 + a + b

  • Kehaar arrives with news of the farm and another warren (Efrafa) “late one afternoon”

Day 17 + a + b

  • The down rabbits' mood gradually shifts towards a strong desire to go to the other warren

Day 18 + a + b

  • They plan an excursion to the strange warren

Day 19 + a + b
Holly’s explorers

  • They set out for Efrafa “early in the morning”

Back on the downs

  • Hazel decides to scout the farm with Pipkin “in the midsummer night”

Day 20 + a + b
Holly’s explorers

  • They set out again, as morning rain had lightened up “after ni-Frith”
  • They arrive at Efrafa and speak with Hyzenthlay, Woundwort in the “early evening”

Back on the downs

  • Hazel and Pipkin find the hutch rabbits and talk up freedom “before dawn”
  • Hazel and Pipkin return to the Honeycomb in the “evening”, as it rained in the morning

Day 21 + a + b
Holly’s explorers

  • They run from Efrafa during silflay at “night” in the rain

Back on the downs

  • Hazel tells Fiver “some time before dawn”, and the rest “next morning”, about the farm*
  • They plan the raid, and it rains at night

Day 22 + a + b
Holly’s explorers

  • They travel “for a day and a night” (the full day)

Back on the downs

  • Farm-raiding group reaches the sheds “in the twilight after sunset”

Day 23 + a + b

  • Farm-raiding group returns “at first light” and Holly’s returns “[l]ater that morning”
  • Fiver convinces Blackberry to help him get Hazel “a fair time after ni-Frith”
  • Hazel is helped into the bottom-of-the-hill ditch “just before dark”
  • That “evening” Holly tells the story of Efrafa, and later Blackberry announces Hazel’s survival

Day 24 + a + b

  • Kehaar removes shotgun pellets from Hazel’s haunch “before dawn”

Day 25 + a + b **

  • Holly tells Hazel about Efrafa

Day 26 + a + b

  • Hazel and Holly discuss Efrafan does, Holly starts back up the hill

Day 27 + a + b

  • Fiver and Hazel arrive during morning silflay “[j]ust before sunrise”
  • Hazel tells the warren that he intends to go to Efrafa “late in the afternoon”

Day 28 + a + b (“June was moving towards July”)
Hazel’s party

  • The raiding-party sets out “the next morning”
  • They encounter the fox under “the last of the setting sun”

Back at Efrafa

  • Efrafra sends out some fruitless patrols to look for the fox intruders

Day 29 + a + b

  • The raiding-party crosses the road very early morning, sleeps during the day
  • They reach the bridge at “sunset” and cross “just before darkness fell”

Day 30 + a + b

  • In the “afternoon” Hazel explores with some others and finds the boat
  • Bigwig arrives at Efrafa with Campion at “dusk”

Day 31 + a + b

  • Bigwig is shown around the Mark’s area “that afternoon”, talks with Chervil about Efrafa policies/rules
  • He meets Blackavar and the troublesome does during “evening” silflay
  • He calls Hyzenthlay to his burrow when “it was moonlight outside”

Day 32 + a + b

  • Bigwig speaks with Kehaar during “dawn” silflay
  • Woundwort calls for Bigwig during “evening” silflay

Day 33 + a + b
Hazel’s party

  • The rescue group agrees that Hazel should wait by the boat “late in the afternoon”

Bigwig & Efrafan does

  • Bigwig and Chervil sing at Kehaar “a little before dawn”
  • Bigwig is forced to run, with the does and Blackavar, during “evening” but “early” for silflay
  • The rabbits exit the boat “as darkness fell”; Bigwig last at “fu-Inlé” (midnight)

Back at Efrafa

  • Woundwort plans what to do about the escaped rabbits “that night”

Day 34 + a + b
Hazel’s party

  • Kehaar leaves them “soon after daylight”, and the travelling back begins in earnest

Back at Efrafa

  • “The following day” Woundwort holds a Council meeting
  • Woundwort leads the first watch-patrol out to the fox place

Day 36 + a + b

  • “After two days” Vervain relieves Woundwort

Day 37 + a + b ***

  • The escapees rest and silflay that “evening”, stop and make some scrapes

Day 38 + a + b

  • Campion relieves Vervain “two days later”

Day 39 + a + b
Hazel’s party

  • Travelling restarts after “the second morning” of resting
  • The group is confronted by Campion in the “early afternoon”

Back at Efrafa

  • Campion comes back with news of meeting the others “the next evening”

Day 40 + a + b

  • After “a day and a half”, Hazel arrives back “that night” and the rest “by sunset”

Day 40 + a + b + c (“August”)
On the downs

  • Holly and Blackavar check out a mouse’s tip and report Efrafan attackers at “sunset”
  • “As the sun set” Hazel goes to speak with Woundwort

The Efrafan attack party

  • They set out “before dawn” and make camp “early evening”
  • Various attack attempts are made during “sunset”, digging begins “as the moon rose”

Day 41 + a + b + c (“Thursday”)
Hazel’s farm-party

  • In “the small hours” Fiver makes a terrible sound, inspiring Hazel’s dog plan
  • They reach the farm when “the first light was clear”, Hazel releases the dog
  • Lucy finds Hazel “early morning”, drives him out about “twenty minutes” after “ten”

Back on the downs

  • There is fighting in the tunnel, Woundwort retreats from Bigwig under “dim… daylight”
  • The dog arrives in the “morning”, Woundwort fights it, the Efrafans lose

The Efrafan survivors

  • Campion starts taking survivors back to Efrafa “some time before ni-Frith”

Some later dates:

  • The survivors return to Efrafa “the afternoon of the following day” (Day 42 + a + b + c)
  • On an “evening in mid-October, about six weeks later [from Day 41 + a + b + c]” the warren rabbits converse among themselves, admire the litters
  • “One chilly, blustery morning in March” Hazel dies

Various footnotes

* I am making the assumption that “some time before dawn” and “the next morning” are on the same day. If they are, then the timeline (and even weather!) for Holly’s group lines up nicely with the warren group. Plus I think it’s more likely that Hazel wouldn’t wait a full day to share his discovery of the does.

** Some complicated timeline math. Hazel arrives at the ditch on Day 23 + a + b, night. He “stayed three days” there, so Days 24, 25, and 26 (all + a + b, of course). During the “one evening” when he and Holly discuss the need for Efrafran does, Hazel remarks that he’ll leave “tonight”, placing that conversation on Day 26 + a + b. Holly telling Hazel of Efrafa is “on the previous day” from the “one evening” conversation, which means Day 25 + a + b.

*** More timeline math! Introduce a variable e for “number of days journeying back from Efrafa before making scrapes” (“two or three days”). Then scrape-making is Day 34 + a + b + e, and the group meets Campion “on the second morning” after, or Day 36 + a + b + e. But from the specific staggering of patrols we know that Campion meets the main group on Day 39 + a + b. Therefore e = 3 days, and scrape-making is on Day 37 + a + b.

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