Course Hero. "Watership Down Study Guide." Course Hero. 15 Nov. 2017. Web. 22 Sep. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Watership-Down/>.
Course Hero. (2017, November 15). Watership Down Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved September 22, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Watership-Down/
(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "Watership Down Study Guide." November 15, 2017. Accessed September 22, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Watership-Down/.
Course Hero, "Watership Down Study Guide," November 15, 2017, accessed September 22, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Watership-Down/.
The epigraph, from Company Prospectus of the South Sea Bubble, reflects Hazel's unwillingness to tell anyone on the journey what the plan is, so that if they get caught, they can't divulge any information that would harm the others. Holly says nothing further about his fears, choosing to be loyal to Hazel instead. The group who goes to Efrafa is lured by Hazel's description of an adventure and theft. However, the closer they get to Efrafa, the more dread they all feel. They are able to travel safely, under the cover of crops and hedges to the woods, but they are all tense. Bigwig is grouchy, but Hazel gives him the job of checking the woods to see if they are safe before the rest go through it. Before they get there, Kehaar finds them and tells Hazel that the river is a good place for them to hide. They don't have to swim because there is a bridge they can cross, and across the bridge there is a wooded area that will hide them from the Efrafans. Hazel asks Dandelion to tell the group a story to keep them from getting nervous. Much to everyone's dismay, Bigwig wants the one about the Black Rabbit of Inlé.
The epigraph is from Robert Browning's poem "Prospice," about being strong and facing fear. In this story El-ahrairah has to figure out a way to protect his people from King Darzin's army, who are positioned outside El-ahrairah's warren holes and are blocking the entrances, starving those inside. El-ahrairah is so desperate that he shouts he would even make a bargain with the Black Rabbit of Inlé to save his people. He has them fight King Darzin's soldiers to create a distraction, while he and Rabscuttle go out the back way to find the Black Rabbit of Inlé. El-ahrairah makes a series of wagers with the Black Rabbit and loses them, in the process losing his whiskers, his tail, and his ears. Rabscuttle gives him whiskers and a tail, as well as ears, made from plant parts.
El-ahrairah wanders away from the Black Rabbit's warren, and the Black Rabbit's Owsla follow. He comes upon a warren that has been struck by white blindness, a rabbit disease. He is told to stay away, but he secretly goes into the warren to catch the disease. The Black Rabbit is suddenly beside him and asks what he is doing. El-ahrairah explains that he has caught the white blindness and is going to save his people by spreading it to the enemy. The Black Rabbit explains that this is not possible because white blindness is spread by fleas on a rabbit's ears, and El-ahrairah no longer has his ears. The Black Rabbit tells him to go home, that he will save El-ahrairah's people. El-ahrairah becomes ill along the way, and Rabscuttle takes care of him, replacing his wilted leaf ears with fresh dock leaves and cleaning his wounds. When they get back to their warren and ask for King Darzin's captain, no one knows who El-ahrairah is talking about because the conflict was over long ago. Lord Frith comes to El-ahrairah and gives him new whiskers, ears, and tail, with starlight in them. The story is almost at its end but as Dandelion is finishing his tale, Pipkin cries out that a fox is nearby.
The rabbits' journey is tiring for everyone and their enthusiasm for an adventure wanes as they realize how much closer to danger they are, the further they travel. Bigwig reverts to his old grouchiness, but Hazel is used to this, so in order to preserve the coherence of the group and prevent Bigwig from making a fuss, he sends Bigwig to check the safety of the woods. Still, Bigwig acts like a child, demanding the story he wants to hear. Bigwig is extremely uncomfortable not knowing what he will have to do or how the plan is supposed to unfold, so he takes it out in anger on the group. This is Bigwig's version of fear: a discomfort with not knowing where he fits in the plan.
The story about El-ahrairah is supposed to show how there are no bargains to be made with death if it is time for one to die. If it is not time, then no matter what one does to skirt the issue, it isn't going to happen. El-ahrairah tries to catch a disease, risking his life to save his people, but the Black Rabbit of Inlé, by taking his ears, has made sure that he can't catch the disease. The Black Rabbit is the only one who knows when and how rabbits are going to die. When El-ahrairah returns to his warren, the rescue has already happened so long ago that no one knows what he is talking about. It isn't up to El-ahrairah to do the actual saving. In this situation it isn't up to Hazel to do the actual saving either, because he is not able to and because he isn't the best choice to enact the plan. Hazel knows this, but Bigwig may be trying to get the point across more strongly by requesting the story. Bigwig doesn't want to lose his leader.
Lord Frith is able to help El-ahrairah heal by giving him what he has lost, but in a different form. This part of the story mirrors what has happened to Hazel, having been given back the ability to walk after being wounded, but Hazel is a different rabbit now, one who has realized how much risk he took and knows he has to moderate his risk this time around. The group is more important than his individual pride and need to be the hero.