Richard Adams Analysis

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(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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Richard Adams has written two collections of short fiction, one of which, Tales from Watership Down (1996), is in part a sequel to his most famous novel. His other works include several illustrated children’s books in verse; an illustrated series of nature guides; an account of a journey to Antarctica, Voyage Through the Antarctic (1982), cowritten with Ronald M. Lockley, the author of the factual work that became the basis for Watership Down; and an autobiography covering the first part of his life through his demobilization after World War II, The Day Gone By (1990).


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Called by English writer A. N. Wilson “the best adventure-story-writer alive,” Richard Adams is most famous for taking the talking-animal story out of the genre of children’s literature and informing it with mature concerns and interests, as in his first great success, Watership Down, which won the Carnegie Award and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. He continued this transformation in The Plague Dogs and Traveller. Adams also made his mark in fantasy literature; his imaginary kingdom of Bekla is the backdrop for Shardik and Maia, novels whose main concerns, slavery and warfare, definitely remove them from the realm of children’s literature. He also wrote a less successful full-length ghost story, The Girl in the Swing, and later two historical novels, The Outlandish Knight and Daniel, the latter of which returns to his concern with the subject of slavery.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Adams, Richard. The Day Gone By. London: Hutchinson, 1990. Provides information on Adams’s childhood, his service in World War II, and how he developed both a love of nature and a skill for storytelling that would lead to his becoming a writer.

Adams, Richard. “Richard Adams: Some Ingredients of Watership Down.” In The Thorny Paradise: Writers on Writing for Children, edited by Edward Blishen. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1975. Adams is one of more than twenty authors who contributed essays to this collection about why and how they write. His chapter focuses on Watership Down.

Bridgman, Joan. “Richard Adams at Eighty.” Contemporary Review 277, no. 1615 (August, 2000): 108. Overview of Adams’s personal and professional life, placed within the broader context of children’s literature published in the United Kingdom and featuring an evaluation of Watership Down.

Harris-Fain, Darren. British Fantasy and Science-Fiction Writers Since 1960. Vol. 261 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit, Mich.: Gale Group, 2002. A brief biography of Adams and analysis of his books, along with a list of his works and a bibliography, are included in this standard reference book.

Kitchell, Kenneth F., Jr. “The Shrinking of the Epic Hero: From Homer to Richard Adams’s Watership Down.” Classical and Modern Literature 7 (Fall, 1986): 13-30. Detailed analysis of Watership Down makes a convincing argument that the novel is a twentieth century epic that treats its rabbit protagonist as a classical hero.

Meyer, Charles. “The Power of Myth and Rabbit Survival in Richard Adams’ Watership Down.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 3, no. 4 (1994): 139-150. Examines the novel’s treatment of reason and intuition and shows the connections between Watership Down and R. M. Lockley’s The Private Life of the Rabbit.

Perrin, Noel. “An Animal Epic: Richard Adams, Watership Down.” In A Child’s Delight. Hanover, N.H.: University Press of New England, 1997. Collection of essays about thirty children’s books that Perrin describes as “neglected,” “ignored,” or “underappreciated” includes a brief discussion of Watership Down.

Watkins, Tony. “Reconstructing the Homeland: Loss and Hope in the English Landscape.” In Aspects and Issues in the History of Children’s Literature, edited by Maria Nikolajeva. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. Assesses the treatment of the landscape in several works of English children’s literature. Focuses on Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, comparing it with Watership Down and J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy.