December 2016 | Rebecca Rego Barry

Remembering Richard Adams

Richard_Adams_WatershipDown.jpgEnglish author Richard Adams has died at the age of 96. He was best known for Watership Down, a novel about a band of rabbits seeking a new warren that was originally published by Rex Collins in London in 1972, and then by Macmillan in New York. It was a runaway bestseller in both countries, launching the writing career of a civil servant who was already in his fifties. Watership Down also won the prestigious Carnegie Medal.

The news of his passing called to mind a passage from editor Michael Korda's memoir, Another Life. Korda wrote of Adams, "He was at once a serious adult, carrying a heavy load of religious and moral baggage, and a wondering child, able to imagine a whole rich world in a country hedgerow full of rabbits."

Korda acquired Adams' second book, Shardik (1974), about a bear, for Simon & Schuster. Although he felt the novel lacked the magic of Watership, it was his pitch to the publisher's sales force that really sunk the book when one of the reps offered this opinion to a conference room of colleagues: "Comme ci, comme ça." It was the kiss of death--or perhaps just a classic case of 'Second Book Syndrome.'  

Adams did go on to write many more books. And his legacy will not go gently: A remake of the (notoriously violent) 1978 Watership Down film is in production via Netflix and the BBC and is slated to premiere in 2017.

Image: First edition (UK) of Watership Down via Wikipedia