Watership Down by Richard Adams is quite likely the most popular of all books about rabbits. Published in 1972, it was awarded the Carnegie Medal in Literature and several other honors. In 1978 it was adapted into an animated feature film voiced by such luminaries as John Hurt and Ralph Richardson. In 1999 it was made into a television series which ran for 39 episodes in the U.K. and Canada.
What many people do not know is that many of the locations in the book are real places that exist near where Richard Adams lived in Hampshire, in the South of England. What even fewer people know is that Adams did not intend to write a book, but what evolved into Watership Down started out as stories told to his daughters during long car rides.
Young Juliet Adams and her sister, Rosamund, cajoled their father into telling them a long and original story to pass the hours as he drove them through the countryside. What he came up with, out of thin air, began: “Once upon a time there were two rabbits called Hazel and Fiver.”
He completed telling them the tale after about three weeks, and that might have been the end of it, except for one more thing. The girls wanted to keep the story to remember, so they insisted their father write it all down. It took two years, but Adams persevered until the heroic adventures of a warren of rabbits searching for and eventually finding a better place to live were finally preserved.
More than a dozen publishing companies turned the book down, but finally a small publishing company took a chance and said yes. Watership Down became a bestseller almost instantly. It once held the record for the highest amount of money ever paid to an author for the rights to publish a paperback.
In a report by the BBC, Richard Adams was quoted as saying, “It was the greatest surprise of my life, when the story was publicised and it became an international bestseller. It went to New Zealand, Australia and so on – and it was just a story that I’d told my little girls!”
Many rabbit lovers who visit England make pilgrimages to Watership Down, searching for such locations as Nuthanger Farm, the Roman road, the river Test, the railway bridge and other places that were immortalized in the book.
If you would like to read more about walking tours of Watership Down as well as the BBC interview of Richard Adams, please visit this link.