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Free Study Guide for Watership Down by Richard Adams

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CHAPTER 15 - The Story of the Kingís Lettuce


In Dandelionís story, El-ahrairah has antagonized the animals with his treachery and has been forced to live in the marshes of Kelfazin where the land is barren and the grass is barely good enough for ducks. Prince Rainbow, (who seems to be a prophet of Frith) checks on him everyday to make sure he has stayed put. El-ahrairah makes a deal with Prince Rainbow by offering to steal the lettuces from King Darzinís garden. King Darzin is the leader of a large animal kingdom and has many animal spies and guards who protect the lettuce patches. A hedgehog overhears the conversation between Prince Rainbow and El-ahrairah and reports the incident to the king who double all his guards.

El-ahrairah, however, does not try to get the lettuces directly. Instead he sends his own Owlsa leader Rabscuttle into an unguarded area where the kingís children play. Rabscuttle plays with the children during the day and no one knows which child he belongs to. At the end of the day he enters the kingís palace with the kingís son who claims Rabscuttle is his friend. Rabscuttle makes his way to the royal storerooms where he finds some lettuce heads that have already been picked and spoils them. The next evening King Darzin sends for his chief taster who brings in the spoiled lettuce heads. The king and his people become sick; the more lettuce they eat, the sicker they become as Rabscuttle spoils the lettuce as fast as it is brought in. After five days of this Rabscuttle returns to El-ahrairah.

El-ahrairah nibbles his fur short and covers himself with blackberry stain and burdock, then makes his way to the captain of the guard where he claims to be the "chief physician of the land beyond the golden river of Frith." He says he has been sent by Prince Rainbow to cure the sickness of the king. At first the guard refuses to let him in, but then is intimidated by the name of Frith and Prince Rainbow and by the fear of punishment if he is blamed for preventing the king from receiving help.

El-ahrairah examines the king, then announces that the lettuce is infected with "Lousepedoodle," a deadly virus. At first the king does not believe it, so El-ahrairah has him send for a "useless" subject to be used as a test. Rabscuttle is brought in and told to eat the lettuce. After doing so, he thrashes around helplessly as if he is in great pain. Then the hedgehog comes in and tells the king that the creatures from the marsh are planning to steal the royal lettuces. The King has a "clever" solution; he will have all the lettuces delivered to the marsh where they will sicken and kill the rabbits. Of course this is exactly what El-ahrairah was after all along. So when Prince Rainbow returns and sees all the lettuces, he has to keep his word and let the rabbits out of the marsh. From that day on, "no power on earth can keep a rabbit out of a vegetable garden."


The story is symbolic even though the rabbits of Cowslipís warren consider it merely an entertaining myth. These rabbits have given up the very skill that keeps the rabbits alive in that they are accepting daily handouts from men. The scraps of vegetables that are scattered in the field are essentially "poisoned," for they fatten the rabbits and cause them to forget the skill of vigilance and foraging that keep them intellectually sharp and enable them to make quick decisions in avoiding their enemies.

CHAPTER 16 - Silverweed


The Cowslip rabbits have no response for Dandelionís tale other than "it was charming." Cowslip says that they donít tell the "old stories" very much, but that they tell stories and poems about their lives where they are. El-ahrairah doesnít mean much to them. However, they consider Silverweed a great poet. When Buckthorn protests that El-ahrairah is a trickster and rabbits will always need new tricks, an unidentified rabbit responds that what rabbits need is dignity and the will to accept their fate. The voice is that of Silverthorn who smells- according to Fiver- "like barley rained down and left to rot in the fields." The poem is a lot of nonsense about the rabbits joining Frith and becoming the "rabbit of the stream" or the "rabbit of the leaves." If anything the poems seems like some sort of eulogy.

At the end of the poem Fiver becomes nearly hysterical and fights his way out of the burrow, clawing and snarling at anyone in his way as he goes. Hazel tries to explain that Fiver is a poet himself and sometimes has strange reactions to things. Hazel and Bigwig follow him. Bigwig considers the poem a lot of foolishness but is concerned that Fiver may have caused a row and endangered their "good start" in the warren.


The poem is a foreshadowing of the eventual fate of all rabbits who remain in this warren. Fiver "sees" it in his vague way, but has no idea just what the nature of the trouble will be.


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Ruff, Karen SC. "TheBestNotes on Watership Down". . 09 May 2017