Sunday, November 08, 2020

Fortnightly Book, November 8

 Whenever our family had to make a long journey in the car, I used to tell stories to my two little girls. Some of these were stories that everybody knows, such as Cinderella and Jack the Giant Killer; but a lot of them were stories that I made up myself, and my daughters particularly liked these, because they felt that they were their own stories and no one else's, made up for their own enjoyment.

One day, when we had to make a journey of over one hundred miles, they asked for a long story "which we have never heard before." (p. xii)

Thus began the first draft of Watership Down, by Richard Adams; it would undergo about two years of revision from there. It was rejected seven times before finally being published by Rex Collings in 1972 (it was Collins who settled on the title); it was a considered an immensely risky gamble, because it was a novel about rabbits, some of whom are psychic. While the work is often described as an allegory, Adams always denied this: it was just a story about rabbits that began to entertain children during a car ride. But it is inevitable, of course, that Adams's own experience with the world would show through in various ways; Adams was in the British Army during World War II, and while he never saw any direct action, his experiences would inform many of the characters in this, his most famous tale.

Set in Hampshire in southeastern England, the young rabbit Fiver has a terrifying vision of doom to come; he, his brother Hazel, and a small band of other rabbits set out to try to find a new home....

[Richard Adams, Watership Down: A Novel, Scribner (New York: 2005).]