Richard Adams, Author of the Disturbing and Poignant ‘Watership Down,’ Dies at 96


Richard Adams, author of the best and most disturbing children’s book involving psychic rabbits, died yesterday at 96, The Guardian reports, and is survived by three generations of family members. A statement was posted to Watership Down‘s website:

Richard’s much-loved family announce with sadness that their dear father, grandfather, and great-grandfather passed away peacefully at 10pm on Christmas Eve.

The mention of so many generations of loved ones around him also speaks to the nature of his writing: he didn’t begin until he was 46, after he told his daughters a story in the car on the way to school, and they convinced him to turn it into a book because it was “too good to waste.” Ultimately, that story would become one of the best, and bestselling, books of its genre. (Children’s lit, not Rabbit War Epic, though surely it’s the best/bestseller in that genre as well.) Adams generally liked to tell scary stories to his kids, and that translates to how deeply disturbing parts of Watership Down can be. He told The Guardian:

I do not believe in talking down to children. Readers like to be upset, excited and bowled over. I can remember weeping when I was little at upsetting things that were read to me, but fortunately my mother and father were wise enough to keep going.

Adams, born in 1920, was a student of modern history at Worcester College, Oxford, until he joined the British army in 1940, and continued his studies following the end of WWII, whereafter he worked for the British Civil Service, which he left following the publication of his second novel, Shardik, to write full time. He published numerous novels, but Watership Down was his greatest success — and the author said that that gave him momentum rather than held him back:

I try to look at it in a positive way, to say to myself, ‘Look at Watership Down – if you can do that, you can do any ruddy thing.’ Of course you can’t expect to have another success like that, but it does give you the confidence and the enjoyment to go on writing.

Watership Down was turned into an animated film, which Flavorwire’s own Jason Bailey called “involving, frequently harrowing storytelling, a journey film of undeniable tension (the sequence in a seemingly abandoned warren is brilliant) and surprising pathos.” The book is currently being adapted as a CGI miniseries for BBC and Netflix.

The statement about Adams’ death on the Watership Down website mostly consists of Adams’ own words from the book:

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.”

News of Adams’ death came yesterday around the same time as that of actress/writer/icon Carrie Fisher. Author Gary Shteyngart summed up the sentiment of yesterday’s cultural news quite well: