2016 really has been a terrible year for notable deaths. David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, Abe Vigoda, Edgar Mitchell, Umberto Eco, Harper Lee, George Kennedy, Nancy Reagan, George Martin, Garry Shandling, Patty Duke, Merle Haggard, Prince, Guy Clark, Muhammad Ali, Anton Yelchin, Michael Cimino, Garry Marshall, Kenny Baker, Fyvush Finkel, Bobby Hutcherson, Gene Wilder, Edward Albee, Curtis Hanson, Arnold Palmer, Leonard Cohen, Janet Reno, Leon Russell, Florence Henderson, Fidel Castro, Ron Glass, John Glenn, Alan Thicke, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Liz Smith, George Michael, and today, Carrie Fisher.
But today I learned that author Richard Adams died on Christmas Eve, and it really hit me hard.
I was always a reader. My mom read to me every night and taught me to read along. I became a fixture in the school library, checking out Encyclopedia Browns, Lloyd Alexanders, and Madeleine L’Engles. One day, a thick brown book about rabbits caught my attention. The school librarian tried to dissuade me. At more than 400 pages, Watership Down probably was beyond my second or third grade reading level. But her lack of faith in my abilities, and my contrary nature, spurred me on. I was determined to read this book. While some aspects of the story went over my head, I loved the story of Hazel, Fiver, Bigwig, and the rest of the runaway rabbits seeking a better life.
I’ve read Watership Down again and again, maybe ten or twelve times over the course of my life, and each time I take away some new understanding. At first I thought it was just an epic adventure. Later I thought it was a political allegory. On my most recent read, I was dismayed by the book’s gender politics.
I’ve never read another book by Richard Adams, but Watership Down remains a favorite. The most important book of my reading life. The book that cemented in me a love of reading. Thank you Richard Adams.
“It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.
‘You needn’t worry about them,’ said his companion. ‘They’ll be alright – and thousands like them.'”