The stories of Br'er Rabbit and his adventures were
popularized by Joel Chandler Harris in his Uncle Remus
series of books, but the genesis of his stories trace back
to both the Cherokee Native Americans and to oral tales from
Africa retold by the black slaves in the American South.
Before Joel Chandler Harris was born, the Cherokee had and
published stories about a fox and a wolf throwing a rabbit
into a briar patch from which it quickly escapes. The rabbit
was a common character in Native American tales along the
Atlantic Coast of America, and as the most helpless animal
in the environment, it was usually portrayed as a trickster
forced by its physical weakness to survive by its wits.
Africans also have many stories of "tricksters" who use
their wits to overcome their adversaries and pay them back
for their offenses, and many such stories were adapted for
the telling here in America, incorporating the similar
Native American tales.
The stories of "Br'er Rabbit" no doubt appealed to slaves,
since they are tales of an apparently defenseless rabbit
outsmarting, fooling and winning out over powerful
predators, and the stories were adapted and well told by
southern black slaves in Harris' day. Those storytellers did
not consider Br'er Rabbit as necessarily a "good" character.
Instead he is a representation of a desperate person in
desperate circumstances doing what is required to survive.
The southern slave stories about "Br'er Rabbit" had been
written down by several whites, primarily by Robert
Roosevelt, the uncle of Theodore Roosevelt (President of the
United States), and even published in "Harpers" magazine.
Similar stories were recorded in French in Louisiana about
the same time and retold for children by a British writer.
But Joel Chandler Harris made them known in every American
home in the late 19th century with his "Uncle Remus"
In the stories, the rabbit was always at odds with the bear,
the wolf and the fox. One or all of the three were always
trying to outsmart, humiliate or even kill Br'er Rabbit. In
return, Br'er rabbit uses intelligence and cunning to win
out over his stronger foes.
Br'er Rabbit, or Brer Rabbit, got his name from the Southern
tradition (from Africa originally) of calling other men
"brother." The actual pronunciation of brother among the
African slaves at that time would have been something like
"Buh," but because of the way the name was spelled in the
"Uncle Remus" books, the character and the books have come
to be called "Brer Rabbit."
In 1946 the Disney Studios produced Song of the South," a
"frame story" containing three Brer Rabbit tales: "The Tar
Baby," "The Laughing Place", and "The Briar Patch." The 1975
movie "Coonskin" told the same three stories for an adult
audience. And Br'er Rabbit is featured in rides and displays
at Disney's Magic Kingdom and Disneyland.
List of Fictional Rabbits
Adorably Cute Stuffed Plush Rabbits