In this year of the seemingly relentless loss of creative types it should not really be a shock that a 96 year old man has died but I feel a tinge of sadness that someone like Richard Adams who has been in the cultural background for all my life is finally longer here.
I still remember buying Watershed Down the month is come out and being entranced by it. The best children books like this one or the Moomins are the ones that have so much depth and melancholy and longing and sadness and joy that they somehow step out of that genre and go beyond, saying things that, somehow, the guarded word of adult literature never seems to say.
Watership Down may have been made into a family film but the book is still a dense tale full of magic and wonder and is so brilliantly written that you wonder why Richard Adams took so long to write a book in the first place – writing Watershed Down in 1972 when he was 52!
He had told the story to his two daughters on a journey back by car and then expanded it into a book that has become a timeless classic that may be full of metaphors for the human condition or may just be great tale that somehow makes the rabbits seem fleshed out and real but not like mini furry people. It remains gripping and full of the dank atmosphere of the fast disappearing British countryside of hedgerows and owls and manic seabirds and lost rabbits and adventures just beyond the bottom of your back garden and has become one of the great British books.
I used to also love the follow up, Shardik, as well and still have battered versions of both books lying around full of ripped pages and added notes written in crap biros. Shardik was a tale of religion and icons and possibly the great mother Russia and maybe of a christ like soul wandering around patchwork collapsing empire with the bear being a god like creature. It was also, yet again, another complex and beautiful piece of writing crammed with detail and great descriptive power that entranced you making you read it over and over finding more and more detail in the twisting and turning narrative.
The last book I read by Richard Adam was Plague Dogs – about two dogs escaping from an animal testing laboratory. It was a book about the horrors of animal testing and it was tougher subject matter and a powerful read and must have played a spark of animal lib in my pre punk rock mind. It underlined his own strong views on animals as well. I would have carried on readings Adam’s books but I was waylaid at this point by punk rock but always retained the books and an affection for this matter story teller.
A couple of years ago I looked him up on wiki and was pleased to know he was still with us and still writing books – what a wild and fervent mind that wrote millions of words and a master story teller that entranced generations!
Richard Adams RIP