Sunday, March 13, 2011

Day 6: Fruits or vegetables

Today's prompt was to work with the fruits or vegetables in your kitchen. Thanks to helping out a local grower we know through the Farmer's Market, we currently have more lettuce than we know what to do with. I wasn't sure how to use it for this, though, but then Bridgie suggested lettuce was for rabbits, and I should do something connected to the book 'Watership Down'.
I admit it, I saw the animated movie before I read the book. That was true for both this and 'Plague Dogs' (also by Richard Adams), but I never could get through the latter even when I tried just a few years ago. I was excited when I realized, after seeing the movie, that the book was already on my parent's shelf, but I struggled with reading it, because certain parts were just so chillingly well-written that I got too scared to read on. It took me several tries, first getting bogged down at the Warren of the Snares, later the Efrafans. I think I was at least 13 before I got all the way through it, and by then of course I was in love and read it all over again.
One of the things that makes the culture of rabbits in the book so amazing is that they have their own mythology, enough that there's even a second book just for stories from it. In the movie, these myths were portrayed in a different art style, stylized and almost aboriginal. Here then, bizarrely stylized out of vegetables, is a kind of origin story of the rabbits.

Long ago, Frith made the world. He made all the stars, too, and the world is one of the stars. He made them by scattering his droppings over the sky and this is why the grass and the trees grow so thick on the world. Frith makes the rivers flow. They follow him as he goes through the sky, and when he leaves the sky they look for him all night. Frith made all the animals and birds, but when he first made them they were all the same. The sparrow and the kestrel were friends and they both ate seeds and flies. And the fox and the rabbit were friends and they both ate grass. And there was plenty of grass and plenty of flies, because the world was new and Frith shone down bright and warm all day.
Nom nom nom...
 Now, El-ahrairah was among the animals in those days and he had many wives. He had so many wives that there was no counting them, and the wives had so many young that even Frith could not count them, and they ate the grass and the dandelions and the lettuces and the clover, and El-ahrairah was the father of them all. And after a time the grass began to grow thin and the rabbits wandered everywhere, multiplying and eating as they went.
Frith speaks to the Prince of Rabbits

     Then Frith said to El-ahrairah, 'Prince Rabbit, if you cannot control your people, I shall find ways to control them. So mark what I say.' But El-ahrairah would not listen and he said to Frith, 'My people are the strongest in the world, for they breed faster and eat more than any of the other people. And this shows how much they love Lord Frith, for of all the animals they are the most responsive to his warmth and brightness. You must realize, my lord, how important they are and not hinder them in their beautiful lives.' 
Raaargh! Nom nom nom...
  Frith could have killed El-ahrairah at once, but he had a mind to keep him in the world, because he needed him to sport and jest and play tricks. So he determined to get the better of him, not by means of his own great power but by means of a trick. He gave out that he would hold a great meeting and that at that meeting he would give a present to every animal and bird, to make each one different from the rest. And all the creatures set out to go to the meeting place. But they all arrived at different times, because Frith made sure that it would happen so. And when the blackbird came, he gave him his beautiful song, and when the cow came, he gave her sharp horns and the strength to be afraid of no other creature. And so in their turn came the fox and the stoat and the weasel. And to each of them Frith gave the cunning and the fierceness and the desire to hunt and slay and eat the children of El-ahrairah. And so they went away from Frith full of nothing but hunger to kill the rabbits.
You can bless my bottom!
 Now, all this time El-ahrairah was dancing and mating and boasting that he was going to Frith's meeting to receive a great gift. And at last he set out for the meeting place. But as he was going there, he stopped to rest on a soft, sandy hillside. And while he was resting, over the hill came flying the dark swift, screaming as he went, 'News! News! News!' For you know, this is what he has said ever since that day. So El-ahrairah called up to him and said, 'What news?' 'Why,' said the swift, 'I would not be you, El-ahrairah. For Frith has given the fox and the weasel cunning hearts and sharp teeth, and to the cat he has given silent feet and eyes that can see in the dark, and they are gone away from Frith's place to kill and devour all that belongs to El-ahrairah.' And he dashed on over the hills. And at that moment El-ahrairah heard the voice of Frith calling, 'Where is El-ahrairah? For all the others have taken their gifts and gone and I have come to look for him.'
      Then El-ahrairah knew that Frith was too clever for him and he was frightened. He thought that the fox and the weasel were coming with Frith and he turned to the face of the hill and begin to dig. He dug a hole, but he had dug only a little of it when Frith came over the hill alone. And he saw El-ahrairah's bottom sticking out of the hole and the sand flying out in showers as the digging went on. When he saw that, he called out, 'My friend, have you seen El-ahrairah, for I am looking for him to give him my gift?' 'No,' answered El-ahrairah, without coming out, 'I have not seen him. He is far away. He could not come.' So Frith said, 'Then come out of that hole and I will bless you instead of him.' 'No, I cannot,' said El-ahrairah, 'I am busy. The fox and the weasel are coming. If you want to bless me you can bless my bottom, for it is sticking out of the hole.'
El-ahrairah, Prince with a thousand enemies
      Then Frith felt himself in friendship with El-ahrairah, who would not give up even when he thought the fox and the weasel were coming. And he said, 'Very well, 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.' And El-ahrairah knew then that although he would not be mocked, Frith was his friend. And every evening, when Frith has done his day's work and lies calm and easy in the red sky, El-ahrairah and his children and his children's children come out of their holes and feed and play in his sight, for they are his friends and he has promised them that they can never be destroyed. 

If you haven't read the book, you should, and if you have read it I also recommend you track down 'Tales from Watership Down' for more mythology about El-ahrairah, the Black Rabbit of Inle, and a few more adventures of Fiver, Hazel, and their Warren.
Vegetables was a weird medium, but I guess a significant point in the story is how edible the rabbits were... now I'm off to go eat Lord Frith with lunch.


  1. I never knew! We have 'Tales from Watership Down', too. Jen and I both loved it as kids, but I think she was even more into it, she had pet rabbits, and drew rabbits a lot... horses were still my first passion.