In 1972, Richard Adams’ novel, Watership Down, was published by Rex Collings. A small publisher specialising in African subjects, Collings liked the book enough to take a chance on it, despite its previously having been turned down by some thirty other publishers.
The hesitation of those earlier publishers is easy to understand. At almost 500 pages, Adams’ story of a group of rabbits seeking, and then establishing, a new warren was a long novel, whether viewed as a book for adults or for children. The author was already in his fifties, with no track record as a novelist: the book had come out of stories told to his daughters on long car journeys. And, although animal stories had been a children’s-book staple for a century, this book owed as much to the Aeneid as to Peter Rabbit: its stylistic complexity and its mythological and linguistic invention placed it far from what, in 1972, was considered commercially viable children’s fiction.
Nevertheless, Collings’ gamble paid off richly. Watership Down became an immediate critical success, winning both the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Prize. Since then, several million copies have been sold worldwide, and the book has been translated into well over 20 languages. In 1978 it was adapted as a feature-length animated film, itself a landmark in animation history, and has since been adapted more than once for television; the latest, award-winning version was the BBC/Netflix series broadcast in December 2018. The powerful influence of Watership Down on later animal fiction, such as William Horwood’s Duncton Wood, Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, Colin Dann’s The Animals of Farthing Wood, and S. F. Said’s Varjak Paw is evident. And, in the present day, the prescient concern of Adams’ novel with environmental issues, courage and survival means that its relevance has never been greater or more urgent.
To celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of this seminal work, we are holding a 3-day conference at the University of Glasgow, 2-4 September 2022. It is hoped that a collection of essays, primarily based on papers given at the conference, will follow.
Our keynote speakers include Richard Adams’ daughter Rosamond Mahony, as well S. F. Said and Briony Wickes.
We invite 20-minutes papers on any aspect of Watership Down, its influences and legacy. An indicative list of possible topics includes:
- Adams’s other works
- Animal-human relations
- Crossover fiction
- Ecology and the environment
- Influence on later children’s literature
- Invented languages
- Real and fictional geographies
- Richard Adams’s biography
- The animal story tradition
Please email abstracts (up to 200 words) to Dimitra Fimi (Dimitra.Fimi@glasgow.ac.uk), University of Glasgow, and Catherine Butler (ButlerC6@cardiff.ac.uk), Cardiff University, by 31 August 2021.