2016 saw the departure of many artists of note.
One of them was the British novelist, Richard George Adams, who died on Christmas Eve 2016, aged 96. He wrote a number of books and stories, but will be primarily remembered as the author of Watership Down.
The story of Mr. Adams’ development as an author and how he came to write Watership Down is as compelling as his most famous book itself.
While working as an Assistant Secretary in the British Ministry of Housing and Local Government, Adams kept his young daughters entertained on a long driving trip by inventing a story about rabbits. At his daughters’ insistence, he began writing it down. He was 46 when he began in 1966, and he worked at it for two years.
The narrative grew into a full-length book. Initially rejected by multiple publishers and agencies, Adams’ story not only found a publisher, but achieved worldwide success.
Watership Down is generally classified as a children’s book.The protagonist, Hazel, and the other principal characters are rabbits, although a few other talking creatures appear (the human world is present and impinges on the rabbits’ milieu in some dramatic ways, but there are no human characters per se).
Of more than a million copies of the book that have been sold, I question how many were bought to be read by or to children. Those intrepid, indomitable lagomorphs, speaking a language — Lapine — Mr. Adams invented, are remarkable characters, and their tale resonates at levels beyond any mere childhood animal story. There are heroes, villains, buffoons, mythic beings and a host of other notable individuals. Each has not only a well-defined presence, but a clearly recognizable personality, as well as a voice.
I was aware of Watership Down (one could scarcely not be, given its reception), but didn’t read it until a few years ago. Now I’m another grown-up admirer of a tale about the adventures of talking rabbits. Mr. Adams created memorable characters who face constantly multiplying challenges and obstacles during an epic journey. He invented a language and even a mythology — in itself full of memorable stories.
There’s something reassuring about the fact that not all the world’s outstanding literature has been created by people named Tolstoy, Proust, Marquez and Morrison. Characters, plot, setting, conflict and drama, expressed in memorable language, are the building blocks of all great works. The families, armies, heroes and villains that inhabit their pages may be princes, urchins of the street, slaves or, as Mr Adams taught us, even talking animals. The artistry required for all of them is just as great.
We’ll remember 2016 as a year in which many voices were stilled, but we can return to Watership Down whenever we wish.
Thank you, Mr. Adams.
© Brad Nixon 2017