by Richard Adams
Watership Down Art and Culture Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Chapter.Paragraph)
What Robin Hood is to the English and John Henry to the American Negroes, Elil-Hrair-Rah, or El-ahrairah—The Prince with a Thousand Enemies—is to rabbits. Uncle Remus might well have heard of him, for some of El-ahrairah's adventures are those of Brer Rabbit. For that matter, Odysseus himself might have borrowed a trick or two from the rabbit hero, for he is very old and was never at a loss for a trick to deceive his enemies. (5.11)
El-ahrairah is pretty much the ideal rabbit (and Chief Rabbit), and one of his ideal qualities is his cleverness, which gets him compared to Brer Rabbit and Odysseus. But notice that El-ahrairah also gets linked to Robin Hood (who is tricky, but mostly known for his generosity), and John Henry (who is known for winning a contest against a machine but dying). It's almost as if cleverness isn't the only value rabbits respect. They also respect kindheartedness and hard work.
All the rabbits had heard the story before: on winter nights, when the cold draft moved down the warren passages and the icy wet lay in the pits of the runs below their burrows; and on summer evenings, in the grass under the red may and the sweet, carrion-scented elder bloom. Dandelion was telling it well, and even Pipkin forgot his weariness and danger and remembered instead the great indestructibility of the rabbits. Each one of them saw himself as El-ahrairah, who could be impudent to Frith and get away with it. (6.7)
Unlike watching the Olympics, which are only good in summer (zing, Winter Olympics), storytelling is a fun activity the whole year round. Not only that, but storytelling is useful for a number of reasons: it makes rabbits forget their problems (as when Pipkin forgets his weariness), and it also inspires the rabbits, since each of them sees himself as El-ahrairah.
"Do you like it?" asked Strawberry.
Hazel puzzled over the stones. They were all the same size, and pushed at regular intervals into the soil. He could make nothing of them.
"What are they for?" he asked again. (13.40-2)
Hazel sounds like a parent whose toddler just gave him some "art"—what is it, what is it for, do I have to put it on the fridge? That might seem rude in some situations, but we've already seen Dandelion's stories do lots of useful things. So maybe this is a fair question: what is this Shape good for? (Or does Adams just hate mosaics?)