In Jasper Fforde’s The Constant Rabbit
(Viking, 2020), residents of the United Kingdom live among human-sized anthropomorphized rabbits.
The rabbits make fine citizens—more than fine, in fact. They in live harmony with the environment (embracing sustainable practices like veganism, for instance). They have a strong sense of social responsibility. They’re also smart: The average rabbit IQ is about 20 percent higher than the average human IQ.
Yet despite their upstanding qualities, the haters keep hating.
Fforde is an accomplished satirist and uses humor to spotlight some of our ugliest impulses, including racism and xenophobia. In The Constant Rabbit
, a populist party known as TwoLegsGood has parlayed leporiphobia (fear of rabbits) into a successful political movement. In control of the government, TwoLegsGood is planning to segregate the nation’s more than 1 million rabbits in a “MegaWarren” where they will be under round-the-clock surveillance and their freedoms curtailed.
TwoLegsGood’s treatment of rabbit has echoes of all caste-based and hate-filled societies, from Jim Crow to apartheid to the Nazis. “When it comes to the sort of demonizing of the minority other, there's just so much to draw on. You don't need to go to any specific place in the world or a specific time. You can just pick and choose from here, there and everywhere,” Fforde says.
“The rabbits are being got rid of because they're not human. But, of course, one of the first things that any discriminatory group will do against another group of humans will be to dehumanize them, to make them non-human. And this is often done through language. We had a politician recently in the in the U.K. who started referring to immigrants a plague.”
The novel’s first-person human protagonist, Peter Knox, denies having animus toward rabbits—in fact, he finds himself falling in love with one—and yet he’s forced to come to terms with the fact that he, too, has played a significant role in their oppression.
“I think the book is hoping to say to people, ‘Look, you cannot look at the hate groups and say “These people are the hate groups. I'm nothing like them.” In fact, perhaps what you should be thinking is “Maybe I am complicit, and in what ways could I possibly be so?” ’
Rob Wolf is the host of New Books in Science Fiction and the author of The Alternate Universe and The Escape.