by Richard Adams
Watership Down Cunning and Cleverness Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Chapter.Paragraph)
Once, so they say, he had to get home by swimming across a river in which there was a large and hungry pike. El-ahrairah combed himself until he had enough fur to cover a clay rabbit, which he pushed into the water. The pike rushed at it, bit it and left it in disgust. After a little, it drifted to the bank and El-ahrairah dragged it out and waited a while before pushing it in again. After an hour of this, the pike left it alone, and when it had done so for the fifth time, El-ahrairah swam across himself and went home. Some rabbits say he controls the weather, because the wind, the damp and the dew are friends and instruments to rabbits against their enemies. (5.11)
This is kind of a funny introduction to El-ahrairah. First, we hear this long story about how he cleverly tricked a fish, which sounds totally reasonable, like a Brer Rabbit or Bugs Bunny story (though Bugs Bunny would probably put on a dress). And then we hear that some rabbits think El-ahrairah also controls the weather, which is more like something out of X-Men than Brer Rabbit. You can be really clever, but unless you're a mad scientist, you're not controlling the weather.
Now, at the sight of the river, Bigwig's assurance was leaking again and unless he, Hazel, could restore it in some way, they were likely to be in for trouble. He thought of the Threarah and his wily courtesy.
"I don't know what we should have done without you just now, Bigwig," he said. "What was that animal? Would it have killed us?" (7.7-8)
Bunny cleverness isn't just about avoiding predators, but about dealing with other rabbits. As Hazel realizes, he's going to have to be clever and political if he wants to lead this group. And that means being more like the Threarah, who was good at manipulating rabbits (usually).
"Hazel," he said quickly, "that's a piece of flat wood—like that piece that closed the gap by the Green Loose above the warren—you remember? It must have drifted down the river. So it floats. We could put Fiver and Pipkin on it and make it float again. It might go across the river. Can you understand?"
Hazel had no idea what he meant. Blackberry's flood of apparent nonsense only seemed to draw tighter the mesh of danger and bewilderment. (8.35-6)
Blackberry has just invented the raft and he seems to explain it pretty clearly to us, but notice that almost all the other rabbits are totally mystified by this. Even Hazel is lost here. Which is an interesting situation: why isn't the cleverest rabbit (Blackberry) leading the group and inventing his way out of problems like a bunny MacGyver?