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Free Study Guide for Watership Down by Richard Adams

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WATERSHIP DOWN FREE STUDY GUIDE NOTES

CHAPTER 31 - The Story of El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inle

Summary

El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle had outsmarted King Darzin, but the king was not content to let well enough alone. He captured Rabscuttle and put him in a pit. However, the rabbits merely dug a tunnel to the pit, and Rabscuttle escaped into the wood with the other rabbits. King Darzin decides to start a war and sends his soldiers out to attack the rabbit holes. They cannot get into the holes, but they wait outside watching for the rabbits to emergy. Whenever the rabbits try to come out to feed, the soldiers attack them. Soon the rabbits become thin from starvation and some become sick. El-ahrairah cries out to Lord Frith that he would bargain with any one, even the Black Rabbit of Inle to save his people. The Black Rabbit is described as the personification of fear and darkness, something akin to Fate or perhaps to the Grim Reaper. He controls the lives and deaths of the rabbits, protects them from harm or calls them when their time of life is over. Yet he is also an avenger for the rabbits due to Frith’s promise that the rabbits will never be entirely destroyed.


El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle make their way to the home of the Black Rabbit, an environment that is described as freezing cold, dark and silent. When they arrive and are questioned about their purpose, El-ahrairah explains that he has come to give his life for his people. The Black Rabbit tries to trick him into eating, but El-ahrairah does not fall for it because he knows that if he should eat there, all of his secrets will be known. But the Black Rabbit is not interested in bargains and insists on playing bobstones. El-ahrairah tries to use the game, saying that if he wins, the Black Rabbit is to accept his life in return for his people’s safety. El-ahrairah loses, but says he can make do with willow herb and clematis. Unwilling to give up, El-ahrairah asks to play again, but this time he will have to give up his ears. He loses and wakes with nothing but wounds where his long ears had been.

Realizing he can never defeat the Black Rabbit, El-ahrairah decides to lie in the hole until his wounded ears become infected with the white blindness which he will try to take back and transmit to King Darzin’s army. The Black Rabbit stops him however, telling him that the white blindness is carried by fleas in rabbits’ ears, fleas which will not remain on the leaves that El-ahrairah is trying to use for ears. Then the Black Rabbit tells him that the dark warren is no place for warm hearts and brave spirits and that El-ahrairah has become a nuisance to him. He tells him to go home, for the people have already been saved.

El-ahrairah and Rabscuttle get back to their warren to find that a great deal of time has passed, and few of those who fought in the war with King Darzin are still alive. But the story they heard was that in the moment when the Black Rabbit decided to spare them, the fields around Darzin seemed suddenly full of huge rabbits with red eyes. The soldiers fled and the rabbits disappeared without any of the live rabbits having seen them. Lord Frith pays him a visit and restores his tail, whiskers and ears.

Just as Dandelion is finishing the story, Pipkin announces that a fox is approaching the combe or valley in which they are hiding.

Notes

The purpose of the story seems to be to encourage the rabbits on the grounds that if their time has not come, nothing can hurt them. Also, El-ahrairah learned that suffering is not the only thing for which one may pity his loved ones. They are even more to be pitied if they fail to recognize and use gifts which have been given to them. While El-ahrairah’s willingness to sacrifice his whiskers, tail and ears for his people was noble enough, it was also useless and would not have sufficed to save them. Such things are the gifts with which rabbits are intended to survive. Perhaps El-ahrairah also learned that one cannot barter with the grim reaper. He should have simple asked for the safety of his people rather than thinking he could barter or trick the Black Rabbit into granting his wishes.

 

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