I still credit Watership Down as the book that made me realise I wanted to write. I was young when I first read it – probably too young to properly appreciate the depth of the story, all the layers and the complexity of the world. It was an exciting story about rabbits. It still is, even viewed with an adult’s eyes.
The first real story I ever wrote as a kid – outside of school assignments – was a thinly veiled Watership Down ripoff featuring squirrels. Many years later, I wrote ‘Red Rabbit’, which was inspired by the Black Rabbit of Inle (seen above) whose ghostly face still scares me a little today.
I loved Richard Adams’ other stories, too: The Plague Dogs broke my heart and continues to do so every time I re-read, even though I know how it will end. But Watership Down holds an uncanny power for me.
My favourite passage from the book is from El-Ahrairah’s journey into an allegorical Hades to meet the Black Rabbit – the personification of Death:
“The Black Rabbit spoke with the voice of water that falls into pools in echoing places in the dark.
‘El-ahrairah, why have you come here?’
‘I have come for my people,’ whispered El-ahrairah.
The Black Rabbit smelled as clean as last year’s bones and in the dark El-ahrairah could see his eyes, for they were red with a light that gave no light.
‘You are a stranger here, El-ahrairah,’ said the Black Rabbit. ‘You are alive.’
‘My lord,’ replied El-ahrairah, ‘I have come to give you my life. My life for my people.’
The Black Rabbit drew his claws along the floor.
‘Bargains, bargains, El-ahrairah,’ he said. There is not a day or a night but a doe offers her life for her kittens, or some honest captain of Owsla his life for his Chief Rabbit’s. Sometimes it is taken, sometimes it is not. But there is no bargain, for here what is is what must be.’”
Rest in peace, Richard Adams, and thank you.