Simanaitis Says

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TO THE HARE, WITH LOVE

THE JULY 2, 2020, ISSUE of London Review of Books offers Katherine Rundell’s ”Consider the Hare.” This essay is something of a love letter to Lepus europaeus: “In their long-limbed quivering beauty,” Rundell says, “they were believed to be walking, breathing love potions.”

Here are tidbits about the hare gleaned from Rundell’s LRB article, together with my usual Internet sleuthing.

Hare or Rabbit? Hares and rabbits are of the same family, Leporidae. The hare genus, Lepus, comes from the Latin levipes, most appropriately, “light foot.”

As described in Encyclopædia Britannica, “In general, hares have longer ears and longer hind feet than rabbits. While the tail is relatively short, it is longer than that of rabbits.”

A Scrub Hare (Lepus saxatilis). Image by Bernard DUPONT.

However, there’s plenty of vernacular misnaming: North American jackrabbits are actually hares. The Asian hispid hare is a rabbit. The mouse hare indigenous to North America and much of Asia is actually a pika, a third member of the Lagomorpha order; the other two being hares and rabbits.

Bugs Bunny: Hare or Rabbit? Though Elmer Fudd mistakenly calls his adversary a “wabbit,” Bugs Bunny was identified in his 1940 debut as A Wild Hare. Subsequently, among other film references have been The Old Gray Hare, 1944; A Hare Grows in Brooklyn, 1947; and Knight-mare Hare, 1955.

Bugs Bunny. Note the long ears and large hind feet, suggesting that he’s a hare, not a “wabbit.”

An exception to this is Super-Rabbit, 1943, in which Bugs dons a U.S. Marine Corps dress blue uniform. This one earned him the rank of honorary Marine Master Sergeant.

Hare Peculiarities. Young hares, “leverets,” are able to fend for themselves shortly after birth. By contrast, rabbits are born hairless, sightless, and helpless.

Hares live above ground in simple nests. Most rabbits (the cottontail, an exception) live in underground burrows or “warrens.”

Hare Agility. Rundell writes, “Brown hares can run at fifty miles an hour and jump ten feet: five times their own length in a single bound. To see a hare outrun a fox, zig-zagging to disrupt its momentum, is to know you are in the presence of the marvellous.”

“ ‘To kiss the hare’s foot,’ ” Rundell continues, “is to be too late for dinner, according to Brewer’s Dictionary: ‘The hare has run away, and you are only in time to kiss the print of his foot.’ ”

Image from London Review of Books, July 2, 2020.

Hares and Love. Rundell cites Pliny: “The people think that if you eat a hare, your body acquires sexual attractiveness for nine days, a vulgar expression, which, however, must have some truth in it since the belief in it is so widespread.”

So much for Pliny’s logic, though I suspect there are plenty of people today who follow equally odd widespread “beliefs.”

“The hare,” Rundell observes, “was sacred to Aphrodite, goddess of love, and Eros can be found on droves of Greek vases, pursuing the hare in circles, or cradling one in his arms.”

By the way, the appropriate collective noun is a “drove” of hares.

Hares and Fertility. Rundell says, “This sense of a hare as belonging to the arena of sex and desire stems in part from a belief of its astonishing fertility.”

And, indeed, notes, Rundell, “A male hare [a ‘jack’] can fertilise a female [a ‘jill’] during the latter part of her pregnancy: The embryos will begin to develop while they wait in the oviduct until the delivery of the first pregnancy, and then, as soon as the uterus is freed up, move in.”

“The time saved,” Rundell says, “means they’re able to deliver around 30 percent more offspring during a breeding season.”

Brown Hares (Lepus capensis), boxing in a field. Image from “The Magic Mythology of Mad March Hares.”

Other Hare Magic. Rundell cites, “A book on folklore from 1875 told that the hare moved in close association with calamity—it was recommended that, passing a hare, you should recite: ‘Hare before, Trouble behind. Change ye, Cross, and free me.’ ”

In the children’s tale The Little White Horse,1946, by Elizabeth Goudge, a boy explains, “A hare, now, that is a different thing altogether. A hare is not a pet but a person. Hares are clever and brave and loving, and they have fairy blood in them.”

Rundell concludes, “So if you are reading this, my love, I don’t need flowers, or jewels. Please bring me a hare.” ds

© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2020

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