The author of Watership Down, Richard Adams passed on Christmas Eve. He was 96 years old. His daughter, Juliet Johnson, had said that her father had been ill for some time, but that he passed away peacefully.
Born on May 9, 1920 in near Newbury, Berkshire, England. He attended Worcester College in Oxford in 1938 to study Modern History. He was called into service in 1940, serving in the Royal Army Service Corp, and was selected for the Airborne Company, serving as a brigade liason. After serving in the military, he returned to Worcester College to complete his studies, receiving his Bachelor’s Degree in 1948, and then the Master Of Arts in 1953. In 1948, he joined the British Civil Service.
He had also served as Writer-In-Residence at the University of Florida and at Hollins University in Virginia. He was the recipient of the inaugural Whitchurch Arts Award for inspiration in January 2010, presented at the Watership Down pub in Freefolk, Hampshire. In 2015, he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Winchester.
His life as an author began during long car trip with his family. With his children bored, he began to tell them a story of a group of rabbits who began searching for a new home after their current home was threatened. Persuaded to write the story down, Adams began to do so, taking him two years to complete. However, he was unable to find a publisher at first, with one rejection letter complaining that the book was too long and the characters did not fit the perception of “cuddly bunnies”.
After several rejections, publisher Rex Collings agreed to publish the manuscript and, in 1972, Watership Down was in bookstores, gaining international acclaim almost immediately. Over the next few years, Watership Down sold over a million copies. Adams would go on to receive two of the most prestigious British children’s book awards, the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, being only one of six authors to have done so.
Adams drew on drew on classical heroic and quest themes from Homer and Virgil in creating his story, which has been described as an allegory with the labors of Hazel, Fiver, and Bigwig mirroring the timeless struggle between tyranny and freedom.
The novel was adapted into a feature film in 1978, with John Hurt voicing Hazel and featuring the song Bright Eyes performed by Art Garfunkel. It was also adapted into a television series, airing in the UK and Canada from 1999 to 2001. Two radio adaptations were presented on BBC Radio 4, one in 2002, one in 2016. In 2017, the BBC and Netflix will present a new adaptation of the novel, featuring the voices of Ben Kingsley and John Boyega, and we should note that this upcoming adaption, according to his daughter, gave Adams great comfort and composure.
Adams wrote several novels, including the fantasy novel Shardik, Plague Dogs, The Girl In A Swing, Maia, Traveller, and the short story collection Tales From Watership Down. It is Watership Down that many of us will fondly remember Adams being the author of. Perhaps it’s because we find a bit of ourselves in each of those rabbits.
It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.
“You needn’t worry about them,” said his companion. “They’ll be alright – and thousands like them.”
Farewell, Richard Adams. May your ongoing adventure with The Black Rabbit of Inlé be worthy of El-ahrairah himself.