by Richard Adams
Watership Down is like one of those war movies in which a team of people get put together for a dangerous mission, like The Dirty Dozen or Inglourious Basterds. (In fact, in our mind we often call this book The Dirty Dozen Rabbits or Inglourious Rabbets.) Like those films, Watership Down has a bunch of characters on the team who kind of fade into the background. Still, they all play some important (or important-ish role) and they almost all get a quick, straightforward line of description, which helps keep the "Tough-O-Meter" low. So let's take this time to celebrate them, whether they were with Hazel from the beginning (like Pipkin) or join the team later (like Strawberry).
Pipkin is a small rabbit whose most notable feature is his loyalty to Hazel. Pipkin starts out incredibly nervous about the whole leaving home thing, but there's always one point of comfort: "He still felt extremely nervous about what might happen once they left the warren, and had decided that the best way to avoid trouble would be to keep close to Hazel and do exactly what he said" (4.2). So Pipkin isn't super-brave or super-smart, but he is super-loyal. If we were going to give him a title like we gave the other rabbits, we'd call him "The Follower (in a good way, sort of)."
Captain Holly is one of the team-switchers, like Strawberry: he's a rabbit who is on the wrong side, but who is generally not a jerk, and who switches to support Hazel. Holly's courageous and conscientious—he's "the born second-in-command" (20.1). That is, he follows orders and does what needs doing, even if it's scary, like tracking foxes or doing taxes (or other things with an X).
The only problem? He's a second-in-command to the Threarah back in Sandleford Warren, which is why he is (briefly) an enemy to Hazel and Bigwig. So when he leads a team to arrest Bigwig and the others before they leave, he was just following orders, not trying to be a jerk. (Note: "I was just following orders" is never not a terrible defense.) But after Sandleford gets an extreme makeover (that is, poisoned and torn up), Holly makes his way to Watership Down for the all-important job of telling Bigwig that he was right to leave (21.46). And from that point on, Holly is a loyal supporter of Hazel's warren.
Bluebell is a joker who would fit in pretty well at Shmoop. Like Holly, he's a refugee from Sandleford who just barely escaped from the destruction of the warren. (His story about what happened underground is pretty nightmarish (21).) Like Kehaar, Bluebell plays the role of comic relief, saying silly things and coming up with jokey rhymes.
But Bluebell's jokes are actually useful: Holly explains to Hazel that without Bluebell's jokes to lift their spirits and distract them from the horror, they would never have made it to Watership Down. In fact, Holly makes this point twice (20.22, 21.45). Even we see Bluebell's humor helping, as when Blackberry gets the idea of using the boat to escape Efrafa when Bluebell jokes about being "a water rabbit" (33.73). If there's a lesson here, it seems to be that humor has a role to play.
Strawberry is originally from Cowslip's warren, sometimes called the Warren of the Shining Wires. And like those rabbits, he is Weird with a capital W. But even if he's weird, Hazel recognizes that he's an okay bunny: "Strawberry was really a harmless, decent sort of fellow" (14.37). He's also devoted to his mate Nildro-hain. So why doesn't Nildro-hain get her own entry here? Because she gets caught by the farmer, and after that, Strawberry no longer wants to stay with Cowslip.
Now, you might sneer a bit at Strawberry here—after all, if he was more active (read: more like Hazel) and left Cowslip's warren, his mate wouldn't have died in the first place. But we could also sympathize with him. Here he is, just a normal rabbit, trying to make a terrible situation work for him and his mate. And when he sees that this situation really isn't going to work out, he makes a change. When you compare Strawberry (finally makes a change) to Cowslip (never going to change), Strawberry starts to look pretty good, which is why we put him in the category of "Good Rabbits on the Wrong Side", like Campion and Holly.
Blackavar is an Efrafan officer who no longer likes Efrafa for obvious reasons. If we met him earlier in his career, we might put him in the "Good Rabbits on the Wrong Side" category. But by the time we meet him, he's already left the wrong side and become a rebel. Well, actually, when we first meet him, Blackavar is a tortured and abused prisoner.
What made Blackavar rebel? In almost every other case of "Good Rabbit, Wrong Side," there's been some shocking event that made the rabbit see that he was wrong. Holly has the destruction of Sandleford, Strawberry has the death of his mate Nildro-hain, and Campion has Woundwort's failed war.
But in Blackavar's case, there is no real shock that wakes him up. He just doesn't entirely fit in at Efrafa because his mother was from Nutley Copse, the warren that Woundwort went to war against. (It's kind of Woundwort's hobby to go to war against other warrens.) And so the narrator notes that Blackavar got "from his mother a certain resentment against Efrafa and a feeling that they should have no more of him than he cared to give them" (40.24).
We don't really hear how he got that resentment, whether it was something dear old mom said or just in his genetics to be resentful. But judging from that, Blackavar doesn't fit into the category of "Good Rabbits on the Wrong Side" because he was never really on the wrong side. As the quote says, he always kept a little something back and only gave to Efrafa what "he cared to give." Unfortunately, since Efrafa is a hellish totalitarian state, Blackavar gets nearly killed for this freedom.
If Katniss from The Hunger Games were a rabbit, she'd be Hyzenthlay—bravely fighting against the system and willing to die rather than live in a terrible situation. If we wanted to compare her to another rabbit (which would make a lot more sense), well, she's like a lot of other rabbits in little ways.
Like Blackavar, Hyzenthlay is one of the Efrafan rebels—she's a good rabbit who was never on the wrong side. Like Fiver, she's a bit psychic, being able to see a little bit of the future and how the book will end. Like the other Efrafan does, Hyzenthlay is majorly unhappy with her majorly unnatural life.
Hyzenthlay's role in the book is pretty clear: she helps Bigwig organize the big escape. After that, she gets less time in the spotlight, though we do see her here and there—here, she's pregnant, there, she's calming the other does during the war with Woundwort. So if you're looking for female rabbits as role models, Hyzenthlay is really all we've got and even she doesn't get a lot of attention.
And why is Hyzenthlay a rebel? Is it because she's psychic? Or because she's a doe and she's being kept from doing what comes naturally to does? Is it because her mother told her about life before Woundwort, so she knows there's another way to live (27.34)? Honestly, we don't know why she rebels because she doesn't really get enough time in the spotlight.
(Note: If you think that female rabbits here don't get enough attention, check out the sequel, Tales of Watership Down, in which Hyzenthlay becomes Co-Chief Rabbit of Watership Down.)
Silver and Buckthorn
Silver and Buckthorn are big rabbits; and their usual job is to help Bigwig fight. (For example, they help fight off the rats we hear about [18.2].) They both get the typical short description in chapter 4 when they're introduced: Silver is "a quiet, straightforward fellow" (4.14), and Buckthorn is "a tough, sturdy fellow" (4.9). In other words, they're just like regular guys—they'll do the job, but don't expect any inventing or story telling from them. They're just typical fellows, which is British for "dudes."
Hawkbit, Speedwell, and Acorn
We remember Hawkbit, Speedwell, and Acorn mostly because they question Hazel when he's leading them in chapter 10: they're tired and they've had enough. If we had to make a Biblical comparison (and we do), these three remind us of that part in the book of Exodus where the Israelites plumb tired of wandering through the desert without so much as a slurpee. And, as in Exodus, the people (read: rabbits) who complain that they want to go back are proven incorrect because, pretty soon, things start to get better.
Other than that, Speedwell and Acorn are both described as "typical outskirters" (4.11)—that is, the young rabbits who aren't strong or otherwise important. Hawkbit gets it a bit worse—he would love to be typical. Instead he's described as "a rather slow, stupid rabbit whose company for five snowbound days underground had been distinctly tedious" (4.6). Ouch.
But we think Hawkbit, Speedwell, and Acorn are important to the story because Hazel is able to take even ordinary and dumb rabbits and make a successful warren. In other words, we don't all have to be geniuses like Blackberry or psychics like Fiver. We can be just ordinary rabbits and work together to make a home.
At the end of the book we hear about some other young rabbits, like Fiver's psychic kid Threar and Clover's non-psychic kid Scabious. We don't hear much else about these rabbits, but we know that the warren will continue because of the kids (and not just because a sequel would make beaucoup money).