While everyone is mourning Carrie Fisher and George Michael, we lost another (mostly) overlooked icon over Christmas, Richard Adams. His influence on me cannot be overstated.
WATERSHIP DOWN was published in 1972 and I read it the next year when I was thirteen. THIS was the book that jumpstarted my love for imaginative fiction and epic fantasy. It was also (and still is) one of the most emotional experiences of my life. The last page of the novel was one of the most heartbreaking moments I have ever encountered while reading fiction, yet, at the same time, it opened up an avenue of hope and paved the path for an expanding view of death and afterlife.
If you have not read Watership Down, I can think of no better way to close out 2016 by introducing yourself to Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, Dandelion, Blackberry, Pipkin and Silver. Don’t wait for the BBC mini-series next year. Read it NOW!
A simple story about rabbits looking for a new place to live and defending their way of life doesn’t sound like the foundation of an epic that rivals any of the more splashy epic fantasies that I read due to Watership Down. (Lord of the Rings, Narnia, Thomas Covenant, Dragonriders, Mistborn, etc … ). However, in the gentle hands of Richard Adams, this simple story has so many political overtones and spiritual undercurrents that even my 13-year old mind and soul understood I was reading something more than “just a story.”
Through the years, Adams has written several other notable novels, The Plague Dogs and Traveller, an ingenious story about Robert E. Lee during the Civil War, written from the perspective of his faithful horse, Traveller. As much as I enjoyed those books, and highly recommend them to any reader, it is Watership Down which is what Adams will forever be known.
SPOILER ALERT!!! SPOILER ALERT!!! The following quote from the last page of Watership Down may still be one of the powerful sentences I have ever read and serves as a fitting eulogy of Mr. Adams.
It seemed to Hazel that he would not need his body anymore, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch the rabbits and tried 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. –from Watership Down
Thank you, Mr. Adams. Hope you and Hazel are walking the fields among the primroses.