The rabbits have gone about half a mile—farther than any rabbit from their warren has ever gone—when they enter a small wood. Though rabbits usually avoid close woodlands, Hazel urges them onward, wanting to put as much distance between them and their warren as possible before stopping to rest. As the rabbits enter the woods they become nervous and frightened—to them, “everything unknown is dangerous.”
The rabbits, in the early stages of their journey, are almost like newborns: everything frightens them, because everything is new. At the same time, with every step they take, they are learning more about the world than any of them has ever known before and travelling farther than any of them had dared to dream.
As the rabbits approach a bend in the path, Hazel decides to go ahead alone while the others wait behind, in case of any danger. After determining that the coast is clear, Hazel thumps his foot to signal to the others that it’s safe, and they follow him deeper into the woods. Dandelion cheers Hazel for being brave and intrepid as El-ahrairah—the rabbits’ trickster folk hero. Hazel is happy—this comparison is high praise.
Hazel has been the de facto leader of the mission the whole time, but to be recognized by one of his peers as having the strength and smarts of their folk hero El-ahrairah makes him feel worthy of his position for the first time.
Bigwig suggests they stop for the night, pointing out that Fiver and Pipkin, the smallest of the bunch, are exhausted. Hazel agrees that they all deserve a rest. It will be safer in the long run if everyone is at their best. As they settle in among some ferns, Hazel urges Dandelion to tell them all a story.
The rabbits seek comfort in one another and in tales from their people’s past in a time of fear and uncertainty. In the midst of one epic journey, they stop to draw strength from tales about another rabbit’s epic quests.