English novelist Richard Adams, who wrote the classic children’s novel Watership Down, has died at 96. That best-seller began as a story Adams first improvised for his bored children during a long car ride: In it, a group of rabbits led by Hazel seeks out a new home upon learning that their warren is on the brink of destruction. Adams was persuaded to write his tale down, and after a few years and over a dozen rejection letters—as the BBC points out, Watership Down’s violent and copulating rabbits went against the typically “cuddly” literary persona—the book was finally published by Rex Collings in 1972.
It eventually won the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and was turned into an animated feature starring John Hurt as Hazel. Adams would go on to write many other books, including the animal-themed Shardik, about a man’s pursuit of a bear-god, and The Plague Dogs, about abused canines that escape from a government research center, though none would ever have the same impact of Watership Down.
A site dedicated to Watership Down announced Adams’ death with a passage taken from the landmark book:
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.”