Richard Adams Adams, Richard (Vol. 4)

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Adams, Richard (Vol. 4)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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Adams, Richard 1920–

Adams, an Englishman, is the author of the successful novel Watership Down. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 49-52.)

Watership Down is a very grand book, but a simple outline of what happens in it makes it sound strictly for kids and/or idiotic. (Why is it, by the way, that idiot entertainment is thought okay for children?)…

There are a lot of things that make this book work, including the traditional and here expertly employed device of cliff-hanging chapter endings. But mainly it is Richard Adams's wonderfully rich imagination, together with an extraordinary and totally disarming respect for his material. Tone is all-important in a tale like this, and Adams's is straight, confidently controlled, never maudlin, never cute. Occasionally the author steps aside to tell us something about rabbits (he seems to know everything), but for all the necessary anthropomorphism, including just enough of a fine invented language—hrududu, for example, means motorcar or tractor—and separate character delineation, he keeps the rabbits convincingly rabbity, true to themselves and to their nature. One is drawn into their world, and once in, everything—from their constant fears and skittishness to the great rabbit folk-tales they tell each other—is perfectly believable. There is, of course, a considerable allegorical element (rabbit politics plus a stern defense of nature, with man seen as its destroyer—the one sentimental note in the book), but it is not pressed or made too heavy. In sum, a marvel, a wise and sunny book, a suspenseful epic that readers twelve and up are going to enjoy for a long time to come.

Eliot Fremont-Smith, in New York Magazine (© 1974 by NYM Corp.; reprinted by permission of New York Magazine and Eliot Fremont-Smith), March 4, 1974, p. 60.

All the praises and prizes that Watership Down has received have gone to it as the kind of nature-loving and highly literate juvenile that British children can read much younger than their American counterparts….

As for mystical profundities, there are references to a death symbol known as the Black Rabbit and stories-within-the-story concerning a rabbit folk hero called El-ahrairah. There is a brief glossary of rabbit terms. The quotations at the head of each chapter derive from Aeschylus, Xenophon, Pilgrim's Progress, Morte d'Arthur. But otherwise Watership Down offers little to build a literary cult upon. On the American-whimsy exchange, one Tolkien hobbit should still be worth a dozen talking rabbits.

Melvin Maddocks, "Rabbit Redux," in Time (reprinted by permission from Time, The Weekly Newsmagazine; copyright Time Inc.), March 18, 1974, pp. 92-3.

Because indiscriminate hostility toward modern animal fiction is generally sound critical practice, we must marvel that so fresh a twig can sprout from such a battered branch of literature. "Watership Down" is an adventure story of an epic scope that takes place within a few months and a few square miles of English soil. It is a story of exile and survival, of heroism and political responsibility, of the making of a leader and of a community. And it is more: through a remarkably sustained thrust of the imagination, Richard Adams has constructed a complete civilization, with its own governments, language and mythology….

Adams handles his suspenseful narrative more dexterously than most authors who claim to write adventure novels, but his true achievement lies in the consistent, comprehensible and altogether enchanting civilization that he has created. His fantasy is firmly rooted in the world we know….

Peter S. Prescott, "Rabbit, Read," in Newsweek (copyright Newsweek, Inc., 1974; reprinted by permission), March 18, 1974, p. 114.

The relations of rabbit to man and warren to warren are sometimes invested with horror and have chillingly suggestive political overtones, but [Watership Down] is not parable because its naturalism is too technically detailed. They transcend rabbitdom by talking and can make alliances with other...

(The entire section is 3,442 words.)