What is it that makes Richard Adams' Watership Down so captivating? I suspect that Adams, a student of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, understood in depth what makes a transcendent story. It is a story that has deeply enriched the lives of many fans of both the novel and the movie. Some have even chosen to have words and images from Watership Down tattooed on their bodies.
In this gorgeous piece above by artist Rabbit Abbey, LiveJournal user smallpio1990 remembed the death of Hazel-Rah and the last line of the novel.
It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, 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.
Again, the passing of Hazel-Rah--the cycle of life and death experienced by readers through him--has left an impression. Flickr member puñopakearda desagradable remembers.
The movie included the scene. El-ahrairah--or was it the Black Rabbit of Inlé?--came to tell Hazel that his time was completed. Seth Mushrush of Baker Street Tattoo placed it on a leg belonging to Flickr member okayjerks.
Who is the Black Rabbit of Inlé? The theology is unclear. He is certainly Death, for when the Black Rabbit calls for you, you must go. But he is no enemy to the people of El-ahrairah. No, the Black Rabbit, here depicted on the wrists of Xemia Pelial Su Toshikawa, simply fulfills his role in a system that preserves the childen of El-ahrairah.
"My heart has joined the thousand, for my friend stopped running today." Rabbits say these words when they lose a loved one. I said them when my own pet rabbits died. The Black Rabbit comes for all of us, eventually. Heather Knight added these words of mourning to her side.
At one point, El-ahrairah, the mythical forefather of all rabbits, thought that the only way to save his people would be to offer his life in exchange for the Black Rabbit's help. El-ahrairah journeyed into the underworld to find him:
"You are a stranger here, El-ahrairah,' said the Black Rabbit. "You are alive."
"My lord," replied El-ahrairah, "I have come to give you my life. My life for my people."
The Black Rabbit drew his claws along the floor.
"Bargains, bargains, El-ahrariah," he said. "There is not a day or a night but a doe offers her life for her kittens, or some honest Captain of Owsla his life for his Chief Rabbit's. Sometimes it is taken, sometimes it is not. But there is no bargain, for here what is is what must be."
To the rabbit, a healthy sense of fatalism is proper. LiveJournal member kwisper marked these words on her body.
It was not always so. There was once a time of innocence, after Frith made the world and all the creaures in it:
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 count them, and they ate the grass and the dandelions and ate the lettuces and the clover, and El-ahairah was the father of them all....after a time the grass began to grow thin and the rabbits wandered everywhere, multiplying and eating as they went.
It was a lovely time and one of those remembered on skin by redditor WatchingAlice. But it would not last, for Frith created elil--predators--to attack the people of El-ahrairah.
The scene, recreated by Flickr member Bourj, was dire:
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 different from the rest....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.
Yet Frith did not forsake his friend El-ahrariah. Frith blessed El-ahrairah and his descendants with powerful hind legs that would preserve them in time of peril. As El-ahrairah dashed across the hills, Frith put to him the lapine condition:
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.
That's good advice for both rabbits and humans kept at ready reference by Flickr user Andrew Iverson.