Rabbits in Art and Storytelling

Rabbits in Art and Storytelling
1950 Stevan Dohanos
Frank S Guild for Ladies’ Home Journal
The European Rabbit Gustav Mützel. pub.1900
GOOD HOUSEKEEPING Magazine October 1936 Vol 103 No 4
My Bunny picture book 1927
My Bunny picture book 1927
Marie-Madeleine FRANC-NOHAIN [1878-1942] Alphabet In Pictures 1933
In Animalville 1939 ‘Good-bye I’ll be around to see you next Easter’

RABBITS VS HARES

‘Prince Okuni & a Hare’- Gakutei
Mountain Hare (winter) Archibald Thorburn for ‘British Mammals, Vol. 2.’ ~ 1921
Mountain Hare (winter) Archibald Thorburn for ‘British Mammals, Vol. 2.’ ~ 1921
The Hare by Septimus E Scott
The Hare by Septimus E Scott
Allen William Seaby 1867-1953 Snow and Hare c1923
Georg Pencz, The Hunter Caught by the Hares, c. 1535
Hard-headed hare with illustration by Edmund Dulac
John Lawrence. An illustration from the 1976 edition of Watership Down rabbits

Rabbits and hares look very similar but rabbits are related to rodents and hares are related to dogs. Hares are bigger and their fur changes colour according to the season. Their ears and back legs are also longer. Rabbits live in burrows underground. Hares make nests above ground, like wild dogs.

Takagi Haruyama, hare, Edo period,  1850’s
Takagi Haruyama, hare, Edo period, 1850’s
Allan Brooks from Mild Animals by Julius King, Grosset & Dunlap, 1936

Killer Rabbits in Medieval Manuscripts from Open Culture

Before I begin, I feel the need to acknowledge that rabbits and hares, despite looking similar, are not at all closely related in evolutionary terms. In fiction, however, it’s useful to consider them more closely, as furry little creatures of nature, with floppy ears, who can also inflict a lot of damage upon a local environment if left to breed in safe conditions.

Battle Bunny by Jon Sciezka and Mac Barnett, Illustrated by Matthew Myers

Readers on the cusp of adolescence will have seen enough of picture books and toddler-paraphernalia to know that rabbits (especially when referred to by the cutesy name of ‘bunnies’) are synonymous with innocence and light. This is why rabbits Scieszke and Barnett ‘turned off their brains’ (in their own words) and came up with the inane ‘Birthday Bunny’ before turning it into a story far more attractive to young readers. Apparently they started out by writing the sappiest, least interesting children’s book they could. They chose rabbits as star.

SOME RABBITS FROM FOLKLORE AROUND THE WORLD

AZTEC: Gods known as Centzon Totochtin (‘Four Hundred Rabbits’), led by Ometotchtli (‘Two Rabbit’) represent fertility, parties and drunkenness (much like Bacchus).

EAST ASIA: From East Asia, the moon at night looks a bit like a rabbit is standing on tippy toes pounding on a mortar.

IRELAND: Oisin wounded a hare. He chased it into undergrowth where he found a door leading to an underground hall. Seated on a throne was a woman with an injured leg…

JUDAISM: rabbits (shfanim) are associated with cowardice. (In English we tend to use the word ‘chicken’.)

OJIBWE: (Native American) Nanabozho, is an important god associated with the creation of the world. Nanabozho sometimes appears in the shape of a rabbit. In his trickster rabbit form he is called Mishaabooz (‘Great Rabbit’ or ‘Hare’).

ZAMBIA:  “Kalulu” the rabbit, in known in rabbit stories, similar to the trickster Brer Rabbit

BRER RABBIT

“BRER RABBIT”; “BRER FOX”; “BRER BEAR”- These characters from Joel Chandler Harris’s “Tales of Uncle Remus” (1888) were once mainstays of American folklore
Harry Rountree, Australian (1878-1950) frontispiece for Uncle Remus or The Story of Mr. Fox and Brer Rabbit 1923
Harry Rountree, Brer Rabbit

Trickster Heroes have bred like rabbits in the folktales and fairy tales of the world. Indeed, some of the most popular Tricksters are rabbit heroes: The B’rer Rabbit of the American South, the Hare of African tales, the many rabbit heroes from Southeast Asia, Persia, India, etc. These stories pit the defenseless but quick-thinking rabbit against much larger and more dangerous enemies: folktale Shadow figures like wolves, hunters, tigers and bears. Somehow the tiny rabbit always manages to outwit his hungry opponent, who usually suffers painfully from dealing with a Trickster Hero.

The Writer’s Journey, Vogler

BUGS BUNNY BOOKS

Bugs Bunny Too Many Carrots

The modern version of the rabbit Trickster is of course Bugs Bunny. The Warner Brothers animators made use of folktale plots to pit Bugs against hunters and predators who didn’t stand a chance against his quick wits…

The Writer’s Journey, Vogler

AESOP’S FABLES

… Once in awhile it’s fun to turn the tables and show that Tricksters themselves can be outwitted. Sometimes a Trickster like the Hare will try to take advantage of a weaker, slower animal like Mr. Tortoise. In folktales and fables such as “The Tortoise and the Hare”, the slowest outwits the fastest by dogged persistence or by cooperating with others of its kind to outwit the faster animal.

The Writer’s Journey, Vogler

Stills from Watership Down by Arthur Humberstone, George Jackson, Tony Guy, Philip Duncan, 1978

Tomodachi dekita yo (I Made A Friend)
Tomodachi dekita yo (I Made A Friend)
The Bunny and the Porcupine Vintage Childrens Illustrated Book 1919
The Bunny and the Porcupine Vintage Childrens Illustrated Book 1919
Edwin John Prittie illustration for Bumper The White Rabbit by George Ethelbert Walsh, 1922 They tried to land on his back and claw him.
illustrators Jolos and Soloviev 1950s
Now That Days Are Colder by Aileen Fisher, Designed & Illustrated by Gordon Laite, Lettering by Paul Taylor (1973). Another illustration with both a rabbit and a porcupine
The Whispering Rabbit by Margaret Wise Brown
1944 Famous Rabbit Stories Illustrated Mary & Wallace Stover

About Bunnies by Gladys Nelson Muter; illustrated by F. Y. Cory; published by Algonquin Publishing Company, 1924
About Bunnies by Gladys Nelson Muter; illustrated by F. Y. Cory; published by Algonquin Publishing Company, 1924
About Bunnies by Gladys Nelson Muter; illustrated by F. Y. Cory; published by Algonquin Publishing Company, 1924
About Bunnies by Gladys Nelson Muter; illustrated by F. Y. Cory; published by Algonquin Publishing Company, 1924
From “The Living Forest – A World Of Animals” By Rien Poortvliet Published in 1973 in The Netherlands, 1979
‘Nicholas Bunny in Autumn’ I am a Bunny Illustrated by Richard Scarry (1919-1994)
Zdzisław Witwicki, (1921-2019)
The Rabbit’s Wedding by Garth Williams
Fritz Baumgarten
Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail
Shirley Barber (23 June 1935) The Fairies’ Cook Martha B Rabbit
Zdzisław Witwicki
Alice meets the White rabbit by Margaret Winifred Tarrant 1916
I never saw… by Jerome Judson, illustrated by Helga Aichinger, 1974
The Midsummer Tomte and the Little Rabbites by Ulf Stark and Eva Eriksson
The Story of the Rabbit Children illustrator Sybille von Olfers 1906
Mirko Hanák (Czech painter, graphic artist, and illustrator) 1921-1971
Robert Lawson
Robert Lawson
Robert Lawson
From Rabbit Hill by Robert Lawson
From the book Petter Rabbit, by Ruth Newton (1884-1972)
Mapje and Papje in the Rabbit Forest
KINDERPARADIES (1960) Ota Janecek
Rosachok 1971 Yaroslava
Lev Tokmakov. 1988
Wayne Anderson, 1976
Leonard Weisgard; 1916-2000 rabbit fox
The bobcat is about to eat the rabbit?
Everett Shinn, Jumping the Hole in the Ice (illustration for Peter Rabbit) (c. 1910)
from a school book published in1892 Feet & Wings by Harrison Weir rabbit
John Burningham, British (1936-2019)
Garth Williams (1912-1996) American cartoonist known for his children’s book illustration work. Home for a bunny, 1961
Garth Williams (1912-1996 Home For Bunny 1961
1950 Stevan Dohanos
Rabbits Head Into The Forest (1868), illustration for La Fontaine's Fables by Gustave Doré (1832-1883)
Rabbits Head Into The Forest (1868), illustration for La Fontaine’s Fables by Gustave Doré (1832-1883)
The Butterfly Ball and the Grasshoppers Feast, illustrations by Alan Aldridge, Jonathan Cape and Times Newspaper LTD, 1973
Illustration from Beatrix Potter’s first published work, written by Frederick Weatherly. A Happy Pair. Illustrated by H. B. P. London Hildesheimer & Faulkner, New York George C. Whitney, [1890]
Illustration from Beatrix Potter’s first published work, written by Frederick Weatherly. A Happy Pair. Illustrated by H. B. P. London Hildesheimer & Faulkner, New York George C. Whitney, [1890]

SEE ALSO

The Book Of Bunny Suicides by Andy Riley, Hodder And Stoughton, 2003

Willy Schermelé (Wilhelmina Schermelé), 1904-1995, author and illustrator of Dutch children’s books. Bunnikins, 1950
Lemon girl young adult novella

READ AT MY OTHER BLOG

Header illustration: Millicent Sowerby (English, 1878-1967) Alice in Wonderland

Those who tell the stories rule the world.

Native American Proverb