Six Degrees: From Kelsier to El-ahrairah
In this week’s Six Degrees offering we take a look at what it takes to be a leader. Sometimes a leader seems born into his role, for instance Captain Kirk from Star Trek or Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings. But other times a leader can be cut from a different mold, such as is the case with Malcolm Reynolds from Firefly or Edmund from The Chronicles of Narnia. Kelsier, a character from Jenelle’s last post seemed to me to be of the latter sort. She described him as a sanguine character, whose “mad, ludicrous plan to turn a band of thieves and tricksters into saviors of the downtrodden and oppressed may seem far-fetched, but there is just enough yearning for justice in each of their hearts to make them stay and see if such a thing could truly be possible.”
Kelsier reminded me of El-ahrairah from Richard Adam’s classic book, Watership Down. El-ahrairah is the archetypical trickster, more clever than Ali-Baba, Indiana Jones, and Robin Hood all rolled into one. You see, it turns out that rabbits are much like the band of castoffs led by Kelsier. They are at the bottom of the food chain. They are constantly running for their lives, sneaking into farmers’ gardens, and making off with what they can just to get by. And those are the good days. But through El-ahrairah’s guidance and example, they learn to use their wits, their speed, and rabbitish trickery to come out on top. Like Kelsier from the Mistborn series, El-ahrairah leads his band of underdogs against impossible odds, helping them gain the upper hand over the stronger, more gifted animals of the forest.
Though El-ahrairah does not participate in the main events of Watership Down directly (he is more of a mythological figure whose tales get told by the other rabbits), there are many rabbits who do. The leader of the band that escapes the old warren to live on the downs is Hazel. In many ways he is the opposite of El-ahrairah. He is not looking for challenges or to walk on the edge. He just wants to survive. He doesn’t even seek to become the leader of the band of refugees but endears himself time and time again to his fellow rabbits such that it just becomes obvious that he is the one they can count on to make the important decisions.
Hazel’s brother Fiver is perhaps the most intriguing character of the book (and also my favorite). He has a sort of “second sight” or intuition when danger is on the horizon. He is sometimes even seized by visions which overwhelm him and which he does not fully understand. A weakling and a runt physically, thankfully he has Hazel to look after him, otherwise the other rabbits probably would never trust his odd and seemingly insane predictions.
Bigwig is close in prominence in the warren to Hazel. As his name implies he is the biggest and toughest of the rabbits in the band, a fearless warrior, but possessed of a considerable amount of wits and “street smarts” (if there were streets in the forest).
Blackberry is the rabbit with the highest IQ. He is able to think outside the narrow rabbit box that these simple animals are accustomed to. Hazel relies on him to get them out of tight situations or past dangers that none of the others can riddle their way through.
Dandelion is the poet of the group. It is he that recounts most of the tales of El-ahrairah’s exploits. He is also the fastest rabbit they have and Hazel uses his abilities at times for scouting and to send him into tight situations knowing he can escape without getting caught.
Pipkin is the smallest rabbit in Hazel’s band, but the most loyal. He’s that friend that every leader needs in their corner, knowing that when all else may doubt him, he will remain true.
There are many other characters in this wonderful novel, but the most ominous and terrifying is certainly General Woundwort. A maniacal dictator, he one of the most single-minded, driven characters I have ever encountered within the pages of a book. He leads the cowed rabbits of his warren with an iron paw, pushing them to become mere automatons who follow is imposing, sadistic will. He is one of the most memorable villains in all of literature and did I mention he is a rabbit!?
I hope you have a chance to read this truly epic tale at some point. If you’d like to read more of my thoughts on this novel, check out my review.