Richard Adams died

The Guardian reports the announcement given on Richard Adams’s website: the author of Watership Down died on Christmas Eve. He was 96.

While Adams wrote other books, it was Watership Down (published in 1972, and initially rejected by four publishers) for which he’ll be remembered. I read it as soon as it came out, and although I was already 21, I still teared up at the ending, which I’ll never forget—and which was the quote given with the short notice on Adams’s site.

“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.”’

Well, that of course implies an afterlife, but it doesn’t matter: the oblique description of Hazel’s death, which still makes my eyes misty, was a way of at once letting younger folk know that animals died but also soothing them at the same time. It has extra resonance because my dear friend Kenny King died on a walk near the Down.

I loved that book.  Here’s the first edition:


And Adams reading from it:


h/t: Nicole Reggia



  1. darrelle
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    I too remember the book fondly. At first glance the cover art on the edition I decided to pick up and read looked like a ship at night viewed from a low angle, looking up at it, with two squarish lights high above the prow. I’m sure the title helped my mind interpret the cover art in that way.

    So I picked up the book thinking it was a story about a ship that meets with tragedy and sinks. Not till I got it home and sat down to start reading did I look more closely and realize that the picture was of a rabbit, viewed from a low angle, looking up at it from below, at night, and that the two windows were actually the rabbits two front teeth.

    I was disappointed but decided to give it a try anyway. I was very glad I did. Farewell Richard Adams and thank you for the fine story and memories.

  2. Ken Kukec
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 9:03 am | Permalink

    Finally, someone this year who made it well past their biblically allotted threescore and ten.

  3. Jonathan Smith
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    It seems that 2016 has been a year of celebrity losses, or perhaps it’s me getting older?

    • Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:30 am | Permalink

      And now, it almost seems as though others (just found out about Debbie Reynolds) are hurrying to join, before the new year is upon us.

  4. Redlivingblue
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 9:29 am | Permalink

    Loved his book as a child. When I found the cartoon movie later, my mom freaked out when she heard me watching it as a youngster. Thinking back, it was full of violence and rather morbid. I have a niece aged 8 who loves to read. I think I will give her a copy as a belated xmas gift.

  5. GBJames
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    An excellent book.

  6. Richard Bond
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    I really enjoyed Watership Down, but I thought that Shardik, “purple passages” apart, was even better. I have often wondered if it was actually written first, but only accepted for publication after the success of Watership Down. I thought that The Plague Dogs was maudlin rubbish.

    • ploubere
      Posted December 28, 2016 at 10:33 am | Permalink

      I liked Shardik too. Adams himself considered Plague Dogs to be a failed attempt. He was never able to come up with a satisfactory ending.

      • Richard Bond
        Posted December 28, 2016 at 10:46 am | Permalink

        Interesting comment about The Plague Dogs; thank you. However, I think that its problems were far deeper than just the ending. It was a polemical work that never seemed to achieve a satisfactory combination of talking animals and the real world.

        • Posted December 28, 2016 at 11:03 am | Permalink

          But it was an elecent way to introduce someone into thinking about testing on animals, who might not read the non-fiction.

          • Richard Bond
            Posted December 28, 2016 at 11:29 am | Permalink

            I am quite happy to see people thinking about the ethics of testing on non-human animals; I just think that The Plague Dogs was poor literature, and therefore crappy advocacy.

            • Posted December 28, 2016 at 11:34 am | Permalink

              Don’t disagree necessarily. But it made me think.

              • Wayne Robinson
                Posted December 28, 2016 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

                I didn’t like ‘Plague Dogs’ the first time I read it, but I loved it when I reread it years later after I’d forgotten the plot. It’s a book that improves with time and rereading.

  7. John Dentinger
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Back in the day, the male high-schoolers I taught were pretty blasé about this novel–until the hunt for the girls kicked in. Then they were hooked, and we could discuss all sorts of metaphor, symbolism & allegory. I really liked The Plague Dogs, also, so I certainly don’t consider Adams a one-hit wonder. His writing always reminded me of John Knowles. RIP.

  8. ploubere
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    I’ve read most of his books simply because of his brilliant and evocative writing, without which his plots would be trite and immature. But that was his genius, to be able to turn a cutesy story about talking rabbits into a literary gem.
    I’m glad he had a full and long life, but he will be missed.

    • Richard Bond
      Posted December 28, 2016 at 11:36 am | Permalink

      But it was not just cutesy: the two warrens encountered by the travellers in Watership Down, for example, were subtle but damning condemnations of respectively a religious state and a totalitarian one.

      • ploubere
        Posted December 28, 2016 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

        True enough, but that’s my point. A lesser writer would have made either a saccharine story about talking bunnies or a heavy-handed political metaphor. Adams was able to take these themes and create a piece of fine literature. He was a gifted author.

        • Richard Bond
          Posted December 28, 2016 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

          I Now see what you mean, and I quite agree.

        • Richard Bond
          Posted December 28, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

          And, on reflection,my dislike of The Plague Dogs, is because Adams did not do in that book what you have described.

  9. Marilee Lovit
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    I still sometimes use the word hrududu for motor vehicle.

  10. Billy Bl.
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

    Watership Down was cool amongst the hippy crowd. My friend Ernie read it.

  11. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted December 28, 2016 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Adams wrote also a little known horror thriller entitled “The Girl in a Swing” which is hugely under-rated.

    • grasshopper
      Posted December 28, 2016 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

      I read “Girl On A Swing” when I was into everything that Richard Adams had written. I remember sort of being stunned as the love story morphed into a tale of horror.

      Obliquely apropos, the look of horror on the face of Deborah Kerr in the final scene of “The Innocents” when she realizes that nobody is ever going to believe her explanation of what happened to her employers children burnt itself into my brain. Echoes there, of “The horror .. the horror.”

      Two stories that start airy and light (I know, “The Innocents” was set in Edwardian England, but at least it wasn’t Victorian England) and turn toward darkness.

      • grasshopper
        Posted December 28, 2016 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

        Dang! An apostrophe catastrophe. I left it out of “employers”. Can posts be edited?

        • Posted December 29, 2016 at 12:35 am | Permalink

          Unfortunately, no. I just hope, when I leave typos behind, that others understand and kindly make the mental correction for me.

  12. bobkillian
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 5:55 am | Permalink

    Watership Down became a have-you-read-this epidemic that tore through my family and through my wife’s family. But then …

    I made the mistake of lending my copy to my employer, who overheard me mentioning it to a co-worker. The next day he came into my office, gripping the book. With barely controlled fury, he thumped it on my desk, said “This. Book. Was. About … Rabbits!” and stalked out of the room.

  13. Mike
    Posted December 29, 2016 at 6:33 am | Permalink

    I only came to it through the Film, which I enjoyed very much, I too get misty eyed with the quote above, but earlier he mentions the shiny ears of the Visitor and knew instantly who he was, beats a Halo anyday.

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