El-ahrairah, the trickster rabbit folk hero of legend, is invoked several times throughout the novel as various groups of rabbits in different warrens gather to tell tales of his bravery, trickery, and wisdom. In the stories told about him, El-ahrairah is often shown outsmarting other rabbits—often kings and rulers who seek to subjugate their people or withhold the best food for themselves—and even elil. Throughout the novel, El-ahrairah is a symbol of hope and the possibility that rabbits, though small and vulnerable, can together rise to greatness. Many of the difficult schemes Hazel and his band of rabbits pull off are inspired by the schemes of El-ahrairah himself, and as they wrangle creatures who were formerly elil (such as the gull Kehaar) or even pose a direct threat (such as cats and dogs), they draw comfort and inspiration from their folk hero and convince themselves that together, they can do anything they put their minds and paws to.
El-ahrairah Quotes in Watership Down
‘I will bless your bottom as it sticks out of the hole. Bottom, be strength and warning and speed forever and save the life of your master. Be it so!’ And as he spoke, El-ahrairah’s tail grew shining white and flashed like a star: and his back legs grew long and powerful and he thumped the hillside until the very beetles fell off the grass stems. He came out of the hole and tore across the hill faster than any creature in the world. And Frith called after him, ‘El-ahrairah, your people cannot rule the world, for I will not have it so. All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.’
“We can’t go on with nothing but these two does.”
“But what else can we do?”
“I know what we’ve got to do,” said Hazel, “but I still can’t see how. We’ve got to go back and get some does out of Efrafa.”
“You might as well say you were going to get them out of Inlé, Hazel-rah. I’m afraid I can’t have given you a very clear description of Efrafa.”
“Oh, yes, you have—the whole idea scares me stiff. But we’re going to do it.”
“It can’t be done.”
“It can’t be done by fighting or fair words, no. So it will have to be done by means of a trick.”
[Hazel] raised his head and said, “Do you want to talk to me?”
“Yes, that’s what I’ve come for,” replied the other. “You know me, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course,” said Hazel, hoping he would be able to remember his name in a moment. Then he saw that in the darkness of the burrow the stranger’s ears were shining with a faint silver light. “Yes, my lord,” he said. “Yes, I know you.”
“You’ve been feeling tired,” said the stranger, “but I can do something about that. I’ve come to ask whether you’d care to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you and you’ll enjoy it. If you’re ready, we might go along now.”
They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention. The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silflay, keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass. It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body anymore, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.
“You needn’t worry about them,” said his companion. “They’ll be all right—and thousands like them. If you’ll come along, I’ll show you what I mean.”
He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.