Watership Down is an epic tale of anthropomorphized rabbits that loosely follows the story of the founding of Rome. It’s most celebrated for its immersive details: Adams’s rabbits never blur themselves into humans with fur and long ears, but are always recognizably rabbits, with specifically rabbit-like ideas about food and sex and land.
The book’s legions of fans can only hope that Adams’s death was as peaceful as the one he granted its hero, Hazel.
In the book’s final pages, Hazel, after spending the duration of the novel saving his beloved brother Fiver and establishing a new, safe warren where he and his friends can live in peace, has grown old. As the story concludes, he is visited in his burrow by the rabbit folk hero El-ahrairah, who offers to take Hazel with him to join his group of Owsla, the rabbits’ ruling caste:
“You’ve been feeling tired,” said the stranger, “but I can do something about that. I’ve come to ask whether you’d care to join my Owsla. We shall be glad to have you and you’ll enjoy it. If you’re ready, we might go along now.”
They went out past the young sentry, who paid the visitor no attention. The sun was shining and in spite of the cold there were a few bucks and does at silflay [feeding above ground], keeping out of the wind as they nibbled the shoots of spring grass. 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 the 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 all right — and thousands like them. If you’ll come along, I’ll show you what I mean.”
He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.
The passage is sprinkled with words from Adams’s invented language, Lapine, but it doesn’t feel alien or unfamiliar. Instead, in its sweetness and easiness, it feels as familiar as a half-forgotten fairy-tale.
We’ll see you where the primroses bloom, Richard Adams.