It’s a sorry spectacle, the greed with which 2016 is grabbing people to take with it, the latest the 96 year old writer, Richard Adams, the creator of Watership Down.
I heard about it late, in 1975, bought it, read it and, like almost everybody else, loved it. Like the best of stories, it began as a story for Adams’ own children, to be told on car trips and at bedtimes, and, like The Hobbit, generations earlier, when written down it was quickly sold.
And he changed the course of fantasy fiction as well. After Watership Down, there was a pronounced towards beast-fable, stories focusing on animals of every kind, the most notable example perhaps being William Horwood’s Duncton Wood, and its many sequels, of Brian Jacques’ Redwall series. But it was Adams who opened that door for them to follow.
And I remember going halfway across Nottingham, to its only suburban cinema, in 1978, to watch the animated film, from which Art Garfunkel’s ethereal ‘Bright Eyes’ had already spent several weeks at No. 1 (six of them eventually).
Adams went on to a long and successful career as a writer, though I only read two more of his books, his first two sequels. Shardik was set in a fantasy world, full of made up names and places, none of which felt or sounded real, and was about a bear that was worshiped as a god. I was disappointed and didn’t keep the book long.
His third, The Plague Dogs, I was sensible enough to borrow from the Library rather than buy, sitting up late on a Friday night to finish it, at about 3.00am. It was a good book, and it was full of route-maps of the dogs’ progress, drawn by Wainwright, but I wanted to finish it and take it back as soon as possible, because it was impossibly flawed.
It needed a strong editor to tell Adams to cut it back by about 100 pages, and to knock back his obsession with animal testing. That was an essential part of the book from Adams’ point of view, but his constant attacks unbalanced the book, came over as a bee in the bonnet rather than any well-reasoned protest.
I never read anything else by Adams.
But he wrote Watership Down. And we honour him for that.