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Tales From Watership Down

Richard Adams


  Watership Down


  The Plague Dogs

  The Girl in a Swing

  The Unbroken Web




  Voyage Through the Antarctic

  (with R. M. Lockley)


  The Tyger Voyage

  The Ship's Cat


  A Nature Diary

  Nature Through the Seasons

  (with Max Hooper)

  Nature Day and Night

  (with Max Hooper)


  The Day Gone By



  Copyright (c) 1996 by Richard Adams

  Decorations copyright (c) 1996 by John Lawrence

  All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., New York. Distributed by Random House, Inc., New York.

  First published in the United Kingdom by Hutchinson, London.

  The author and publishers wish to thank the following for permission to reproduce extracts in the chapter epigraphs: The Estate of Roy Fuller for lines from "Autumn 1942"; A.P. Watt on behalf of Anne Yeats for lines from "The Municipal Gallery Revisted" by W. B. Yeats; Frederick Warne & Co. for the extract from "The Tale of Mr. Tod" by Beatrix Potter, Copyright (c) Frederick Warne & Co., 1912; Jonathan Cape Ltd. for the extract from Auto da Fe by Elias Canetti; Hamish Hamilton Ltd. for the extract from The Affluent Society by J.K. Galbraith ((c) 1958, 1967, 1976, 1984), reproduced by permission of Penguin Books Ltd.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Adams, Richard, [date]

  Tales from Watership Down / Richard Adams.

  p. cm.

  eISBN: 978-0-307-80823-3

  1. Rabbits--Fiction. 1. Title.

  PR6051.D345T3 1996

  823'.914--dc20 96-17047


  To Elizabeth, with love and gratitude



  Other Books by This Author

  Title Page





  Note on Pronunciation


  1 The Sense of Smell

  2 The Story of the Three Cow

  3 The Story of King Fur-Rocious

  4 The Fox in the Water

  5 The Hole in the Sky

  6 The Rabbit's Ghost Story

  7 Speedwell's Story


  8 The Story of the Comical Field

  9 The Story of the Great Marsh

  10 The Story of the Terrible Hay-Making

  11 El-ahrairah and the Lendri


  12 The Secret River

  13 The New Warren

  14 Flyairth

  15 Flyairth's Departure

  16 Hyzenthlay in Action

  17 Sandwort

  18 Stonecrop

  19 Campion

  Lapine Glossary

  I am most grateful to my secretary, Mrs. Elizabeth Aydon, who not only typed the manuscript of the book with accuracy and patience but also was of great value in picking up inconsistencies and in offering valuable suggestions during our discussions.


  The tales in this book have been divided into three parts. First come five traditional stories, which all rabbits know, about the hero El-ahrairah ("The Prince with a Thousand Enemies") and some of his deeds and adventures. Two of these, "The Fox in the Water" and "The Hole in the Sky," are glancingly mentioned by Dandelion and Hawkbit toward the end of Chapter 30 of Watership Down, and Bigwig, during his fight with General Woundwort (Chapter 47), hears behind him Bluebell telling "The Fox in the Water" to the does. At the end of Part I have been included two tales, "The Rabbit's Ghost Story" and "Speedwell's Story." The latter seemed worth including as representative of the kind of nonsense tales which rabbits enjoy.

  Part II contains four of the many stories which are told of the adventures of El-ahrairah and his stalwart, Rabscuttle, in the course of their long journey home from their terrible encounter with the Black Rabbit of Inle.

  In Part III are further tales of Hazel and his rabbits, which took place during the winter, spring and early summer following the defeat of General Woundwort.

  Note on Pronunciation

  So many people have asked about the correct pronunciation of "El-ahrairah" that it seemed to be worth including a short note.

  The first two syllables are pronounced "Ella" (like the girl's name). These are followed by the single syllable "hrair," rhyming with "fair," and finally "rah," rhyming with "spa."

  All the syllables are equally stressed except the "la" in "Ella," which is almost (but not quite) elided. The two r's should be lightly rolled.



  The Sense of Smell

  ... noses have they, but they smell not.

  PSALM 115

  Who dares wins.


  "Tell us a story, Dandelion!"

  It was a fine May evening of the spring following the defeat of General Woundwort and the Efrafans on Watership Down. Hazel and several of his veterans--those who had been with him ever since leaving Sandleford--were lying on the warm turf, full of grass and comfortably relaxed. Nearby, Kehaar was pecking among the low tussocks, not so much feeding as using up the day's remains of his continual, restless energy.

  The rabbits had been chatting together, recalling some of their great adventures of the previous year: how they had left the Sandleford warren after Fiver's warning of imminent disaster; how they had first come to Watership Down and dug their new warren, only to realize that there was not a single doe among them. Hazel had recalled the ill-judged raid on Nuthanger Farm, in which he had nearly lost his life. This had reminded several of them of their journey to the great river, and Bigwig had told yet again of the time he had spent in Efrafa as a supposed officer of General Woundwort; and how he had persuaded Hyzenthlay to form the group of does who had broken out in the thunderstorm. Blackberry had tried but could not explain his trick with the boat, which had enabled them to escape down the river. Bigwig, however, had refused to tell of his underground fight with General Woundwort, insisting that he wanted only to forget it; so instead, Dandelion had recounted how the Nuthanger dog, let loose by Hazel, had pursued him and Blackberry into the midst of the Efrafans gathered on the Down. He had hardly finished, when there arose the well-worn cry: "Tell us a story, Dandelion! Tell us a story!"

  Dandelion did not respond immediately, seemingly reflecting as he nibbled the grass and took a few hops to a sunnier patch before settling himself again. At length he replied, "I think I'll tell you a new story this evening; one that you've never heard before. It's about one of the greatest of all the adventures of El-ahrairah."

  He paused, sitting up and rubbing his front paws over his nose. No one hurried the master storyteller, who appeared, by taking his time, to be rather relishing his standing among the group. A light breeze stirred the grass, and a lark, ending its song, dropped down near them, paused for a time and then began another ascent.


  There was a time (said Dandelion), long ago, when rabbits had no sense of smell. They lived as they do now, but to have no sense of smell was a terrible disadvantage. Half the pleasure of a summer morning was lost to them, and they couldn't pick out their food in the grass until they actually bit into it. Worst of all, they couldn't smell
their enemies coming, and this meant that many rabbits fell victim to stoats and foxes.

  Now, El-ahrairah perceived that although his rabbits had no sense of smell, their enemies and other creatures--even the birds--possessed it, and he determined that he would seek out that extra sense and win it for his people, whatever the cost. He began to seek advice everywhere he could, asking where the sense of smell was to be found. But no one knew, until at last he asked a very old, wise rabbit in his warren, named Heartsease.

  "I can recall that when I was young," said Heartsease, "our warren gave shelter to a wounded swallow--one who had traveled far and wide. He pitied us because we had no sense of smell, and he told us that the way to the sense of smell lies through a land of perpetual darkness, where it is guarded, he said, by a band of fierce and dangerous creatures known as the Ilips, who live in a cave. More than this he did not know."

  El-ahrairah thanked Heartsease and, after deliberating for a long time, went to see Prince Rainbow. He told him that he meant to go to that land and asked him for his advice.

  "You had much better not attempt it, El-ahrairah," said Prince Rainbow. "How do you think you are going to find your way through a land of perpetual darkness to a place you don't know? Even I have never been there, and what's more, I don't intend ever to do so. You'll only be throwing your life away."

  "It's for my people," replied El-ahrairah. "I'm not prepared to see them hunted down day after day for want of a sense of smell. Is there no advice you can give me?"

  "Only this," said Prince Rainbow. "Don't tell anyone that you meet on your journey why you are going. There are some very strange creatures in that country, and if it were to become known that you have no sense of smell, it might well be the worse for you. Invent some purpose. Wait--I'll give you this astral collar to wear round your neck. It was a gift to me from Lord Frith. It may just possibly help you."

  El-ahrairah thanked Prince Rainbow, and next day he set out. When at length he came to the border of the land of perpetual darkness, he found that it began with twilight, which deepened until all around was dark. He could not tell which way to go, and what was worse, he could form no sense of direction, so that for all he knew, he might be going in circles. He could hear other creatures moving in the dark around him, and as far as he could tell, they seemed to know what they were doing. But were they friendly, and would it be safe to talk to any of them? At last, in sheer desperation, he sat down in the dark and waited in silence until he heard some creature moving nearby. Then he said, "I'm lost and confused. Can you help me?"

  He heard the creature stop, and after a few moments it replied in a strange but just understandable tongue. "Why are you lost? Where have you come from and where do you want to go?"

  "I've come from a land where they have daylight," answered El-ahrairah, "and I'm lost because I can't see and I'm not used to this darkness."

  "But can't you smell your way? We all can."

  El-ahrairah was about to answer that he had no sense of smell, but then he remembered Prince Rainbow's warning. So he said, "I'm afraid the smells are all different here. They only confuse me."

  "So you've no idea what sort of creature I am, for instance?"

  "Not the least. But you don't seem fierce, that's one blessing."

  El-ahrairah heard the creature sit down. After a little, it said, "I'm a glanbrin. Are there any where you come from?"

  "No. I'm afraid I've never heard of a glanbrin. I'm a rabbit."

  "I've never heard of a rabbit. Let me sniff you over."

  El-ahrairah kept as still as he could while the creature, which was furry and seemed to be about the same size as himself, sniffed him over carefully from head to foot. At last it said, "Well, you seem to be very much the same sort of animal as I am. You're not a beast of prey and you obviously have a very strong sense of hearing. What do you eat?"


  "There isn't any here. Grass won't grow in the dark. We eat roots. But I think you and I are very much alike. Don't you want to have a sniff too?"

  El-ahrairah pretended to sniff all over the glanbrin. In doing so, he found that it had no eyes; that is, what might have been its eyes were hard, small and sunken, almost lost in its head. But for all that, he thought, "Well, if this isn't some sort of rabbit, then I'm a badger." He said, "I don't believe there's anything much to choose between us, except that I ..." He was about to say "can't smell" but checked himself and finished: "that I'm utterly confused and lost in this darkness."

  "But if your right place is in the lighted country, why have you come here?"

  "I want to talk to the Ilips."

  He could hear the glanbrin startle and jump. "Did you say 'the Ilips'?"


  "But nobody ever goes anywhere near the Ilips. They'll kill you."

  "Why should they?"

  "Well, they're flesh eaters, for a start, and they're very fierce. But even apart from that, they're the most feared creatures in all this country. They possess evil magic and ugly spells. Why do you want to talk to them? You might as well go and jump in the Black River while you're about it."

  Then, since he could see no help for it, El-ahrairah told the glanbrin why he had come to the Dark Country and what he meant to try to do for his people. It heard him out in silence. Then it said, "Well, you're brave and goodhearted. I'll give you that. But what you want to do is impossible. You'd much better go home now."

  "Can you guide me to the Ilips?" said El-ahrairah. "I'm still determined to go."

  After a long argument, the glanbrin at last gave in and undertook to guide El-ahrairah as near to the Ilips as he himself dared to go. It was all of two days' journey, he said, through strange country where he had never been.

  "Then how will you know the way?" asked El-ahrairah.

  "Why, by the smell of the Ilips. Do you mean to say you can't smell it at all?"

  "No," said El-ahrairah. "I can't."

  "Well, now I know you've got no sense of smell. I should stay like that, if I were you. At least you don't have to smell the Ilips."

  They set out together. On the way, the glanbrin told a great deal about the customs and way of life of his people, which, it seemed to El-ahrairah, did not differ much from those of his own rabbits.

  "You seem to live much the same as we do," he said.

  "All together in groups, I mean. How was it that you were alone when you met me?"

  "It's sad, is that," replied the glanbrin. "I'd chosen a mate, a beautiful doe. Her name's Flairgold. She's much admired by everyone. We were going to dig a burrow and raise a litter. But then along came a stranger, a hulking great glanbrin calling himself Shindyke. He said he meant to fight me and take Flairgold for himself. We fought, and he won. I just wandered away. I felt heartbroken; I still do. It's spoiled my life, really. I don't know what to do with myself. When you and I met, I was just straying. That's why I'm guiding you now. I might as well do that as anything else."

  El-ahrairah told him how sorry he was. "It's an all too familiar story," he said. "It's the same where I come from. It's happening all the time. You're not the only one, if that's any comfort to you."

  The glanbrin had said "two days," but in that terrible country El-ahrairah could not count days. Also, he kept stumbling and hurting himself because he could neither smell nor see. He became covered in cuts and bruises. The glanbrin was sympathetic and patient, but El-ahrairah could tell that he wished they could get on faster. He was plainly nervous and wanted to get their journey done as soon as possible.

  After they had gone a long way, for what seemed to El-ahrairah to be many days, the glanbrin stopped at a place where piles of stones lay scattered all about. These at least El-ahrairah could feel.

  "This is as near as I dare go," said the glanbrin. "You must find your own way from here. Use the wind for direction. It stays fairly steady as a rule."

  "What do you mean to do now?" asked El-ahrairah.

  "I'll wait here for two days, in case you come back, though I k
now you won't."

  "Yes, I shall," said El-ahrairah. "I'll find these stones again, dark or no dark. So I'll only say goodbye for the present, friend glanbrin."

  He set off once more into the dark, being careful to go steadily into the light wind. But it was very difficult to keep direction, and he went slowly. The truth was that the darkness was becoming more than he could endure. He was worn out by it and, in spite of what he had said to the gladbrin, was beginning to wonder whether he would be able to bear it long enough to get home. Without the use of his eyes, he was continually startled by every least sound, and was always tripping and falling. This was bad enough, but the silence was worse. He felt that the darkness itself was alive and hated him; and it never changed, never slept, never spoke. All it had to do was to wait for him to go mad, to break down, to give up and surrender. Then he would have lost and the implacable darkness would have won.

  Adding to his fear and uncertainty were his hunger and thirst. He had had no grass since he first came into this dreadful country. True, he had not starved, for the glanbrin, explaining that his people lived principally on what he called "brirs," a kind of wild carrot, had smelled some out and dug them up. They were succulent and quenched thirst as well as hunger. But without the glanbrin he would nevr be able to find any more. He prayed to Frith for courage, though he could not help doubting whether even Lord Frith was stronger than this darkness.

  Yet still he went on, as steadily as he could, for he knew that if he did not, it would be the end of him. He felt desperately lonely and would have given anything to have Rabscuttle beside him. Rabscuttle had begged to come, but El-ahrairah had firmly refused him.

  Hours passed. At least the wind was steady, but he had no idea how far he had still to go or how long it would take. It would be as bad now to go back as to go on, he thought.

  Just as this depressing notion was passing through his mind, he heard in the dark the movement of some creature coming toward him. He could tell that it was big--far bigger than himself--and that if felt entirely confident and secure. He froze stock-still, hardly daring to breathe and hoping that the creature, whatever it was, might pass him by.