Thank You, Richard Adams

It's a hard day. Two shocking deaths in one day, in a year full of shocking deaths.
Today we lost Carrie Fisher, who I loved for her amazingly funny and insightful writing, and of course for being Princess Leia, and such a big part of my early childhood. 60 years old is far too young, especially from my own newly-50-year-old point of view. She had made it through some very hard times, and it seemed like her life was starting all over again. I feel terribly for her mother Debbie Reynolds, they were very close. I have Carrie's biography "Wishful Drinking", it is SO funny, she really was a rare wit. And a really good actress - do yourself a favor and re-watch "When Harry Met Sally" - Carrie plays Meg Ryan's best friend and she is fantastic. So gorgeous, and so funny!!!

The other death is a shock for a different reason. Richard Adams died. :( The author of one of my most influential books of all time - "Watership Down". And two others almost as influential to me - "The Plague Dogs" and "Traveler". I have read all of these books so many times, since I was about twelve years old, way back in 1978. Two years or so after the first book was published. His way of understanding the animals, of portraying them with respect - not as cute little cuddle bunnies or adorable puppies, but of animals haunted by human's cruelty, and by their own inner demons. He also describes the pure and simple joys of nature with all the enjoyment an animal might feel, so that you really feel you are one of them. Which, of course in my opinion, we are. Why would animals feel, think, or sense anything differently from us?

The powerful first-person perspective really drives the "humanity" of animals home. In "Traveler" - which is none other than Confederate General Robert E. Lee's favorite horse - we go to war. We go to war as horses go to war, and it is terrifying. His insight into the animals' experience is unique, and haunting. "Horses are forever saying goodbye." laments Traveler at one point. And you can see that this is most certainly true.

I have Richard Adams to thank for my love of American History. It was from reading "Traveler" that I fell in love with Robert E. Lee, and read more about him which caused me to discover an even greater love in Abraham Lincoln, and then I became a bit of a Civil War buff, which lead to a decade-long fascination with American History. Thank you Richard Adams!!!!

Adam's writing about animals goes way beyond fairy tales or fantasy. Reading his work puts you behind the animal's eyes, into their spirits, and it opens the mind to our own culpability in their everyday suffering, and might cause you to question some of your own assumptions about them, and what they do and do not "know". He makes us face some uncomfortable truths as he reveals to us the complexity and sensitivity of these creatures, and how we tragically take them for granted.

Richard Adams was 96 years old. His death shouldn't really be a shock, after all. The sad surprise for me is that he was still alive, and I didn't know it. I missed the chance to write him a thank you letter, telling him what his books meant and will always mean to me.

"Watership Down" was everything to me as a young adult - the importance and beauty and terror in nature, the complex personalities of individual animals, the spirituality of animals, and the blind cruelty of men. It inspired me as a child, to look beyond the surface of things, to trust your instincts, and to write detailed, fantastic stories about animals. Which I tried to do in my book "Bridge of the Gods". My book is directly influenced by Richard Adams' work. He is like Tolkein to me. A godlike spirit that has revealed an alternate reality to me - a reality full of the magic of nature and animals. It also takes much of its power from the reality of this would-be fantastic tale - his topography of the book is all very real, real places, real streams and fields, there really is a hill called Watership Down. In my book there is a very real Bridge of the Gods, and the story is set in the real Oregon woods that I lived in as a child.

Another similarity is his animal activism. Richard Adams was president of the RSPCA for several years and wrote "The Plague Dogs" as an expression of his disgust over vivisection and animal experiments in laboratories. I have been a vegan for 15 years, and have protested for decades the exploitation of animals, in all forms. And it's another theme in my own book.

Richard Adams also taught me something about death. He has helped me deal with the idea of death, and he did so when I was so young, I'll always have him to thank for that. When Hazel the rabbit dies he is greeted by "The Black Rabbit of Inle" which is basically, the rabbit grim reaper. Instead of fearing him and resisting death Hazel greets the Black Rabbit as a friend, and they go off together. I always remembered that, and wanted that to be the way I die.

I saw the animated movie three days in a row, when I was twelve. That was a big deal back then - it meant you had to ride your bike to the theater, or take a bus, and come up with the ticket money three days in a row. But I could not get enough of it, it was such a scary movie, such a powerful movie, and it was a movie cartoon! A rare thing back then.

So I really regret missing that chance to write to him. It's so sad to think that he has been here, all along, even while I read and re-read his books, and then took four whole years to write my own. But, I might send his family a copy of my book when its done, with him included in the acknowledgements.
Rest in peace, dear Richard Adams.You were beloved by people you've never even heard of, and I'm sure all the animals in the world are in mourning today. They've lost a dear, dear friend.  xoxoxo DR