Richard Adams Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Richard Adams emerged suddenly and memorably as a writer of imaginative fiction and children’s books in the early 1970’s. He was born to Evelyn George Beadon Adams, a surgeon, and his wife, Lilian Rosa (Button) Adams. The youngest of three children, Richard Adams spent his time reading and roaming the family’s spacious gardens or the nearby rolling hills of Berkshire, and he filled his solitary hours with fanciful games about ruling an imaginary country. After attending boarding and preparatory schools in Berkshire, Adams entered Oxford University.

His education was interrupted by service with the British Airborne Forces during World War II. In 1946, he returned to Oxford and took his master’s degree in modern history at Worcester College two years later. In 1949, he married Barbara Elizabeth Acland; they had two daughters, Juliet and Rosamond, in 1957 and 1958. Immediately after leaving Oxford, Adams went into public service. He was employed by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government for twenty years in a variety of posts. When the ministry was incorporated into the Ministry of the Environment, Adams was appointed assistant secretary. For twenty-five years, he lived and worked in London. He read voraciously in the classic works of English and Continental literature but had no literary ambitions.

Adams’s daughters Juliet and Rosamond precipitated his literary career. Seeking to amuse them on long drives, Adams invented a story about a warren of Berkshire rabbits forced to flee by a housing development. After dodging automobiles and trains, fighting other rabbits, a small band succeeds in establishing a new home. Juliet and Rosamond suggested additional characters and adventures until the story’s length and complexity demanded that it be written down. Wanting to give his daughters the story in published form, Adams sent the manuscript, to which he had now added chapter titles and epilogues, to several publishers and agents, but all refused to consider it. When he heard that a small publisher, Rex Collings, was reprinting novels about animals, Adams submitted his tale to them, and they accepted Watership Down for a small printing of two thousand copies. After brisk sales attracted a major publisher, Watership Down became a best-seller in both England and the United States. Adams’s novel followed the path of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (1883), Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (1865), A. A. Milne’s...

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

The youngest of three children, Richard George Adams spent an idyllic childhood (“the happiest [days] of my life”) growing up on the outskirts of Newbury, England. His father, a local doctor, transmitted his knowledge of and love for the flora and fauna of the region to his son, whose later devotion to animal welfare was additionally inspired by Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Dolittle books. Adams’s father also instilled in his son a lifelong interest in storytelling, which Adams later honed in bedtime tales told to roommates at prep school. Other important influences included the Uncle Remus stories of Joel Chandler Harris, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) by Harriet Beecher Stowe, The Three Mulla-Mulgars (1910) by Walter de la Mare, and the silent Rin-Tin-Tin films. All would later echo in his fiction.

Although his time at prep school was often unpleasant, Adams thoroughly enjoyed his public school experience at Bradfield. The school put on a yearly play in its open-air theater, often a classical Greek drama, and Adams called the theater the place where he was “more consistently happy than anywhere else.” Bradfield also encouraged his love of literature, the Greek and Roman classics, and history, the subject in which Adams won a scholarship to Worcester College, Oxford, in 1938. Adams was grateful to Oxford for its acceptance of what he calls one’s “fantasy potential.”

Adams’s Oxford years were interrupted, as were those of so many others, by World War II. Adams chose to serve in the Royal Army Service Corps (RASC), which is mainly concerned with transport and communication duties, but later he volunteered for the airborne arm of the RASC and served in the Middle East and in Singapore. On his return to England, Adams was shocked to learn how many of his Oxford companions had died during the war.

After demobilization, Adams soon met Elizabeth Acland, whom he would later marry and with whom he would have two daughters. In 1948 he joined the British civil service, but he never abandoned his love for storytelling. Watership Down began, like many other “children’s” classics, as a story initially told by the author to his children (in this case to entertain them on a long car trip); two years after its publication, Adams was able to retire from the civil service and write full time at his various homes in the south of England.