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Pipkin's Progress

Thought shall be greater, heart the keener,
courage the greater, as our might lessens.
(Anon., The Battle of Maldon)

Page numbers vary by editions - I'm using the 1974 Penguin edition here, which is probably the best known - so I'll also include chapter references.

Pipkin - Hlao-roo in Lapine, the "-roo" being a diminutive suffix here used affectionately - is a rather overlooked character, it seems to me. He's not the only rabbit to develop and change, of course, but the very fact that he does so largely in the background is what makes it most interesting. We first meet Pipkin in ch. 4 (p. 29), where he is introduced as "a friend of Fiver ... small, and inclined to be timid". Hazel and Fiver had spent some time persuading him to leave (which in itself suggests that they thought he would be worth having), and felt "extremely nervous", deciding to "keep close to Hazel and do exactly what he said". His next important appearance is at the river crossing (ch. 8), where he is clearly almost tharn and has to be "bullied" onto the makeshift raft by Blackberry. In ch. 9 he is clearly limping from the thorn in his foot, yet does not complain and bears it as best he can until Hazel removes it. (Echoes of the mouse and the lion here.)

So far, so ordinary, but in ch. 14 (p. 91), it is Pipkin who comments that Cowslip and his fellow rabbits are "like trees in November", and who offers the opinion that, despite their size and shining coats, "I don't believe they can fight". "You notice a lot, don't you Hlao-roo?" responds Hazel, but nothing more is made of it. This is a piece of wild speculation, but I sometimes wonder whether Pipkin might just have a very faint version of Fiver's intuition. And - another vague clue? - they are the only two rabbits who are given the "-roo" suffix.

Bravery in adversity is first noticeable in the following chapter, where he sheds blood in the - ultimately successful - rescue effort for Bigwig. He is also starting to risk the occasional lone foray outside, as when he comes to find Hazel and Bigwig in the ditch where Holly and Bluebell are found (ch. 18, p. 149). "You stood by me at the river, so I thought I'd come and look for you, Hazel", says Pipkin with the loyalty that is second-nature to him. (Note that even Pipkin is not yet using "Hazel-rah" - Strawberry, in ch. 20, seems to be the first to do so as a matter of course.) Pipkin seems to have a lot of pride in being a useful member of the warren, and would surely have been pleased to hear Dandelion praise him as "first-rate" (ch. 20, p.154) in keeping the recovering Holly talking to avoid his going to sleep and suffering nightmares. Indeed, once the Warren of Shining Wires has been escaped, the party "had become closer together, relying on and valuing each other's capacities" - there's no question now of anyone merely making up the numbers.

Of course, Pipkin is still timid in other ways - Holly's story of the Sandleford Warren's destruction in ch. 21 causes him to shudder, cry and tremble piteously (p. 161), though other rabbits are equally deeply affected. Later on, during the story of El-Ahrairah and the Black Rabbit of Inlé (ch. 31, p. 278), he confesses to Hazel that "I don't like this story. I know I'm not brave", just in time to go out (with Fiver - see above for the significance of this) and save the rabbits from the fox which does for Efrafa's Captain Mallow. Actually, I think Pipkin is putting himself down rather in the latter case, as by this time he has already participated in a dangerous, and nearly disastrous, adventure - the raid on Nuthanger Farm. The film of Watership Down rather overdoes Pipkin's terror if you ask me - in the book (ch. 24) he's very nervous, but by no means a gibbering wreck. And by the time of Bigwig's mission to Efrafa, Pipkin has clearly found new reserves of courage: when Hazel says (ch. 37, p. 347) "if he [Bigwig] doesn't come tomorrow, I'm going into Efrafa myself", Pipkin's immediate response is "I'll come with you, Hazel-rah". It might be that his terror of losing Hazel exceeds even that of going into Efrafa, but I don't think so - I think it's real bravery.

Finally, we come to ch. 46, in the midst of the Efrafans' final assault on the Honeycomb. Fiver is lying inert and cold in the middle of the floor, and Pipkin is desperate to rescue him. "Oh Bigwig," cries Pipkin (p. 446), "let me stay out there with him! you'll never miss me, and I can go on trying-". Although Bigwig and Silver refuse to contenance this plan on the grounds, as Holly says, that "if we lose no one but Fiver ... the Lord Frith himself will be fighting for us", it illustrates just how much courage Pipkin does have - it is quite clear that he is prepared to die a horrible death at the claws of Woundwort and his cronies on the off-chance that he might be able to rescue a friend. Hlao-roo, we honour your name.