Dandelion begins his tale. Long ago, El-ahrairah and his followers were driven by enemies to the marshes of Kelfazin, a dreary place with scarce food and ground unsuitable for digging. El-ahrairah complained to Prince Rainbow, Frith’s messenger, but Prince Rainbow replied only that El-ahrairah had made so many enemies that there was nowhere left to live but the marsh. El-ahrairah, desperate for a way out, asked Prince Rainbow if they’d be set free if they could steal lettuces from King Darzin’s garden. Prince Rainbow, knowing how difficult the task would be, agreed with a laugh to let El-ahrairah free and “multiply [his] people everywhere” if he pulled the heist off.
Dandelion’s story—which starts in a place of hardship, statelessness, and scarcity—sets up a picture of the world the rabbits move through as one which has always been harsh and unforgiving. In rabbit folklore, rabbits are always being hunted, victimized, and put-upon, often by their creators. In this way, the rabbit mythology mirrors a good deal of human mythology: these stories exist as a kind of guidebook through grief, pain, and suffering.
A hedgehog, Yona, had overheard this business between Rainbow and El-ahrairah, and ran to the palace to warn the King. Darzin ordered the guard doubled. That night, El-ahrairah and his companion Rabscuttle went to the palace, but deterred by the fierce guards, returned emptyhanded to the marshes. Prince Rainbow tauntingly asked where the lettuces were, and El-ahrairah replied that he was having them delivered.
In this passage, it seems as if El-ahrairah has no way forward—yet, even in the face of defeat, he affects a cool, unbothered exterior and remains, at least outwardly, confident in his ability to outwit anyone.
The next day, Rabscuttle infiltrated the palace by posing as the playmate of a young rabbit. He made his way to the storerooms and poisoned the food. That night, when King Darzin and his guests ate of the lettuces, they fell ill; with each meal, they got sicker and sicker. After several days, Rabscuttle escaped from the palace and returned to the marsh—El-ahrairah, meanwhile, set to work disguising himself, pretending to be a chief physician from a faraway land. After arriving at the palace, El-ahrairah was allowed to examine the king. He told the king that the sickness came from eating the prize lettuces.
Camaraderie and solidarity are, in this story as they are in the frame story of Hazel and his friends, vital to the rabbits’ survival and ability to keep their families together. By working together, Rabscuttle and El-ahrairah take down a powerful king whose authority is hardly, if ever, questioned.
At that moment, the captain of the guard came in to announce that El-ahrairah’s people were preparing for a siege on the palace to steal the lettuces—Darzin ordered a thousand “bad” lettuces from the garden be sent to the marshes to sicken the army. That evening, back at the marsh, El-ahrairah returned home to find a stunned Prince Rainbow, who was shocked that El-ahrairah had indeed had the lettuces delivered after all. In return, Prince Rainbow let the rabbits free, and blessed them with the cunning and trickery to make it into any vegetable garden anywhere in the world.
The tales the rabbits share don’t really have morals—instead, they are designed to bolster the often-frightened rabbits’ confidence and pride in their abilities: swiftness and trickery. The world is cruel to rabbits, and hearing tales of their folk hero’s cunning inspires them to have faith in themselves even in difficult, impossible situations.