A Leader to Lead Them All: Hazel and El-ahrairah
In the novel Watership Down, Hazel, leader of the Sandleford Warren escaped rabbits, demonstrates many ways in which he is similar to the bunny-famous mythological hero “El-ahrairah”. To rabbit-kind, El-ahrairah is a rolemodel, a leader and an inspiration. To the Watership Down rabbits, Hazel is whom they look to when decisions need to be made and plans generated. Hazel is, figuratively, El-ahrairah to the Watership Down rabbits because of his cunning plans, his inspiring devotion to his warren and friends, and his dedicated, unwavering leadership.
Almost all of Hazel’s plans created and executed throughout the story contain thematic influence from El-ahrairah’s fictional tales that are told by several rabbits throughout the novel. When the story of “Rowsby Woof and the Fairy Wogdog” is told in Chapter 41, it is just before Hazel creates his plan to use the Nuthanger farm dog as a weapon in the battle against Woundwort (Adams 451). The connection between El-ahrairah’s use of Rowsby Woof to get food for himself and his friends, and Hazel’s use of Bob the farm dog as a battle weapon is very clear. Both rabbits thought beyond what most may have done, and demonstrated a unique method of thinking in which they found a way to turn a creature commonly regarded as “elil” into an extremely useful tool to benefit themselves and their warrens.
El-ahrairah’s incredible devotion to his people is also reflected through Hazel’s hard work and care for his warren. In the story of “The Black Rabbit of Inlé” (Chapter 31), El-ahrairah selflessly sacrifices his ears, tail, and whiskers (three things that are very important to a rabbit) to the Black Rabbit, hoping that it will earn him a solution to end his warren’s suffering under the control of King Darzin. El-ahrairah demonstrates that he prioritizes his peoples’ wellbeing as above his own, and that he is willing to figuratively “take one for the team” when he knows how important and influential his actions will be for the greater good of the group. Each of Hazel’s missions to Nuthanger farm also contain this same unwavering chivalry and selflessness. When Hazel attains his leg injury (Adams 220), it is while he is trying to get does necessary for the warren. During Hazel’s visit to Nuthanger farm in Chapter 45, in the midst of the war with the Efrafans, he has a seemingly deadly encounter with an agressive farm cat who has a particular dislike for him. Hazel is entirely aware of this cat’s vendetta against him, but understands that the Nuthanger farm dog is Watership Down’s best chance of beating the Efrafans, so he decides to try anyway.
Hazel’s undying love and dedication to the rabbits in his warren is extremely similar to El-ahrairah’s loving care for his people. Hazel repeatedly stands up for the smaller rabbits in his warren, and does not ever treat them as any less than an Owsla. Hazel does not question Fiver when he tells him about a “bad feeling”, and scolds the other rabbits for making fun of or doubting him. Hazel brings Pipkin on one outing to Nuthanger farm, knowing that he could easily have brought a larger, stronger rabbit with him but instead choosing to look past Pipkin’s shaky exterior and see his useful traits (Adams 196). Hazel hates to see any of his friends hurt or suffering, and if he does, he will do everything in is power to help them. El-ahriarah demonstrates the same caring nature when he stands up to Frith in “The Blessing of El-ahrairah” (Adams 28) and his wit earns his people the gift of faster legs to outrun their enemies once the elil become dangerous. El-ahrairah’s people are all his children, so their safety and happiness are extremely important to him. Just before El-ahrairah sets out to talk to the Black Rabbit in Chapter 31, he is “risking his life again and again to bring down a few mouthfuls of grass for a doe and her family whose father had been killed” (Adams 267). As a leader, El-ahrairah is incredibly involved with his people and makes it his personal job to help those weaker than him in any way he can, just as Hazel does.
Although El-ahrairah and Hazel’s personalities have some minor differences, their overall leadership styles and morals are the same. They devote themselves to their people, dedicate themselves to their friends and lead their followers with as much heart as could possibly fit in their tiny rabbit bodies. Hazel’s virtues are proof that legendary leadership can arise in unexpected places – in the humble yet heroic world of Adams’s rabbits.