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One of the El-ahrairah stories told in Watership Down features someone called King Darzin, but it's not clear what sort of animal (or even human?) he's supposed to be.

Now, King Darzin ruled over the biggest and richest of the animal cities in the world at that time. His soldiers were very fierce and his lettuce garden was surrounded by a deep ditch and guarded by a thousand sentries day and night. It was near his palace, on the edge of the city where all his followers lived.

What kind of creature is King Darzin? Is there any evidence in the novel, or any extratextual information from the author, to indicate what exactly King Darzin might be?

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Some fan sites, such as the Watership Down Wikia, have speculated or even presumed that King Darzin and his followers are hares, but without providing much evidence to support this conclusion, and in spite of evidence against it such as the fact that the rabbits have supposedly never seen the type of creature that Darzin was.

A fan asked Richard Adams this very question in an Ask Me Anything session on Reddit seven years ago, in 2013. He replied:

I always imagine him as a kind of beaver creature - gregarious, constructive (he and his associates have to construct things like dams to get fish for sustenance). They had no enemies, but they did have disputes among themselves. A gregarious animal, living in packs and living by constructing bridges and dams. Exploiting running water for their living

So, although evidence from the text itself is inconclusive, we have some extratextual material to say that the author's intent was for Darzin to be something like a beaver. This somewhat makes sense in that Darzin is said to have a "city". Animals don't really build cities, but beavers are certainly more accomplished builders than most. Other details which don't exactly fit could be chalked up to embellishment over the years that the stories have been retold among rabbits.

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  • Gah! The first time I don’t cite the AMA it turns out I should have! Though if I’d realised you intended a self answer I’d not have waded in at all. – Spagirl Dec 30 '20 at 21:42
  • @Spagirl Ha! :-D Actually my reason for asking this question was that I found this nugget of info while reading the AMA after you linked it. Originally I was planning to do an instant self-answer, but then I thought it's better to give other people a chance to answer from other points of view or to find the AMA info independently. So I appreciate having your answer which is purely based on the text as well as this - it's always nice to have different approaches represented. – Rand al'Thor Dec 30 '20 at 21:47
  • @Randal'Thor cheers. Didn’t mean to sound grumpy! I so nearly checked the AMA, but having just looked a day or two before I thought I’d have been bound to remember. My memory gets worse at an astonishing rate! (I did remember to upvote your answer though.) – Spagirl Dec 31 '20 at 13:38
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In the story we read:

The next night Rabscuttle, who had been told by El-ahrairah what he had to do, went to the garden and dug a scrape. He hid in the scrape all night; and the next morning, when the children were brought to play, he slipped out and joined them. There were so many children that each one of the mothers and nursemaids thought that he must belong to somebody else, but as he was about the same size as the children and not much different to look at, he was able to make friends with some of them.

Since Rabscuttle was Captain of Owsla for El-ahrairah, he must be a full sized rabbit. So the children of King Darzin and his followers are similar in size and appearance to full grown rabbits.

Some fandom sites suggest that this means the King must be a Hare. However, we also read that:

“Now, as soon as Rabscuttle got inside the King’s palace, he scurried off and went into one of the dark burrows; and here he hid all day.

Hares don’t burrow, so this probably rules that out as an option.

In The Story of El-ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inlé we learn that the King’ soldiers:

couldn’t get down the rabbit holes. Some tried, to be sure, but they soon came out again, because they met El-ahrairah and the other rabbits. They were not used to fighting in narrow places in the dark and they got bitten and scratched until they were glad to come out tail-first.

This confirms that they are bigger than rabbits, and have tails, but that they are not used to rabbit style ’in-burrow’ fighting, despite having burrows of their own.

El-ahrairah believes that King Darzin and his troops will be susceptible to the diseases that afflict rabbits as he tries to infect himself with ‘the white blindness’ (I assume myxomatosis) from the holes where

lie all the plagues and diseases that come to rabbits

In the end however, when the Black Rabbit and his shadow owsla come down upon King Darzin and his troops

They turned and fled. They vanished in the night; and that is why no rabbit who tells the tales of El-ahrairah can say what kind of creatures they were or what they looked like. Not one of them has ever been seen, from that day to this.

If the tellers of the tales don’t know themselves what manner of animals they were, then we mere readers of the tales can hardly be more sure.

The best we can say is that they are bigger than rabbits, like them in some ways but unlike them in others. (Unless there is other information in the Tales from Watership Down book, which I’ve never read.)

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