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Free Study Guide for Watership Down by Richard Adams

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CHAPTER 20 - A Honeycomb and a Mouse


Under Strawberry’s direction, the rabbits dig out around the roots of the beech trees, leaving the vertical roots in place to support the ceiling. They end up with an elaborate underground structure that is "honeycombed" in multiple directions. Hazel accidentally helps a mouse that is being chased by a hawk. This gives him the idea of making friends with other animals who are not otherwise their enemies. Most of the rabbits think he is a little crazy, especially Bigwig who envisions a burrow crawling with mice. They are able to communicate a little with the mouse, and he promises to help them someday in return for saving his life. Holly gets well enough to be able to climb the hill to the honeycomb. He explains to Silver that he has not come to make trouble for Hazel or Bigwig and that he has no intention of altering the leadership situation as it is.


Bluebell is characterized as something of a joker who is never at a loss for a pun or a clever turn of a phrase. Hazel finds it a little irritating at first, but Holly explains that if it hadn’t been for Bluebell’s jokes, they never would have been able to muster the courage to keep on traveling. Hazel’s friendship to the mouse also introduces a change the in the way the rabbits think about other creatures.

CHAPTER 21 - For El-ahrairah to Cry


Holly explains what happened to the Sandleford warren. The day after Fiver, Hazel and the others had left, men came and plugged many of the holes. Then they pushed strange looking "sticks" down the remaining holes and set the sticks on fire. The sticks were poison gas which killed many of the rabbits underground. Others escaped through open holes near the edge of the forest, but most were shot as quickly as they emerged from the hole. Holly watched it all from a distance because he had gone out on his own looking for early carrots. Bluebell escaped with Toadflax and Pimpernel who were both injured. Toadflax died that night. Pimpernel traveled with them as far as Cowslip’s warren.

When Holly mentioned the names of Hazel and Bigwig, Cowslip and his friends attacked and tried to kill the three. They killed Pimpernel, but Holly and Bluebell managed to escape. One of the rabbits ran after them and told them that Hazel and his group had gone to the high hills in the distance. From there on, it was Bluebell’s jokes that kept them going. At the end of his story, Holly tells Bigwig that the rabbit who tried to arrest him was a different rabbit who had lived long ago.


There is quite a contrast between Cowslip’s welcome of Hazel and his following welcome of Holly and companions. Cowslip’s group have become so inured to their fate that they would rather kill another rabbit than acknowledge the possibility that they might not have to live such uncertain lives.

CHAPTER 22 - The Story of the Trial of El-ahrairah


Holly and Bluebell recover very quickly. Accept for his torn ear, Holly’s problems were primarily exhaustion and terror. Hazel further discusses his idea of trying to make friends with other small animals. Silver doesn’t see what good a mouse could possibly be to them; Blackberry thinks the theory may be good, but doubts there will be much opportunity to put it to practice. Bluebell, however, knows a story when El-ahrairah did something similar once and it worked. After sundown or ni-frith (moon-rise) the rabbits gather on the bank to enjoy an evening of feeding under brilliant moonlight. Hawkbit reports that he and Speedwell had been talking to another mouse who told them that there was a place where the grass was even better just on the other side of the wood. They feed f or awhile, then return to the wood to listen to Bluebell’s story.

It was shortly after El-ahrairah and his band had been permitted to move out of the marshes. Prince Rainbow came to check on him one day, bringing with him a strange rabbit. Rainbow explained that the rabbit was named Hufsa and that he would be sleeping in the burrow with El-ahrairah. Rabscuttle who usually shared El-ahrairah’s burrow was ordered to sleep elsewhere because the two of them planned too many tricks when they were together. In the following days, Elahrairah has numerous close calls and soon suspects that the new rabbit is reporting on him somehow. He sets a trap for Hufsa and his suspicions are confirmed.

The next time Prince Rainbow checks on El-ahrairah, he comments on the trickster rabbit’s changed ways. He deliberately temps El-ahrairah by showing him a fresh field of carrots and telling him that he would be extremely angry if any creature dreamed of stealing his carrots. El-ahrairah comes up with a scheme for not only stealing the carrots, but also for getting rid of Hufsa. He talks a hedgehog and a pheasant into doing things neither of those animals ever do. The hedgehog is supposed to sit on a stump and sing for his slugs. The pheasant agrees to swim under the pretext of growing longer tail feathers. Rabscuttle is supposed to die his tail red and his ears green and carry a white man-stick (cigarette) and then jump down a well when El-ahrairah and Hufsa approach.

Each of the animals performs as agreed. El-ahrairah explains what they are doing and adds the comment "as everyone knows." They steal all the carrots and hide them in a hole. When they are out of sight Rabscuttle moves the carrots to a different hole. Prince Rainbow appears and accuses El-ahrairah of stealing the carrots but agrees to a trial with a "jury" that will consist of animals that are natural enemies to rabbits. They are two badgers, two foxes, two stoats, an owl and a cat. Two dogs are also placed to guard El-ahrairah. Hufsa is called upon to testify, but makes a fool of himself when he talks about passing a singing hedgehog, a swimming pheasant and a rabbit with a red tail and green ears who jumped into a well. Desperately, Hufsa tells them to never mind the testimony and just look in the hole, but of course the carrots are not there. El-ahrairah feigns innocence and demands that Prince Rainbow take the "mad" rabbit out of their midst.


The story foreshadows that the rabbits will eventually not only communicate with other animals, but also that those animals will be talked into doing things out of the ordinary, and some of Hazel’s enemies will end up looking foolish because no one will believe their reports. The illustration and example of El-ahrairah suggests possibilities for the rabbits; taking advantage of such opportunities will make Hazel and company appear to have supernatural abilities.


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