Richard Adams who is best known for his first novel, Watership Down, has died at the age of 96. The book is about rabbits and was derived from stories he had told his children, but it was also based on his own experience in WWII. Daniel Hannan writing in the International Business Times described it as a book about WWII in which the war itself does not appear, in much the same way that Waugh’s Vile Bodies was about WWI in which that war makes no appearance. A reviewer, writing in the Orlando Sentinel about Adams’ 1992 autobiography, The Day Gone By, compared Adams’ wartime experience with that of Evelyn Waugh:
”I am about to write about the bravest men who ever lived,” Adams says of the comrades with whom he served in the 1st British Airborne Division beginning in 1943. His admiration is unbounded and unabashed. In their company, ”I have never felt more proud, fulfilled or happy before or since.”Among those valiant men are the brave and self-effacing Maj. John Gifford and the swashbuckling Capt. Paddy Kavanagh – the models for Hazel and Bigwig in Watership Down…In the war years, the pace quickens, where action replaces introspection. Adams recalls those six years of cataclysmic upheaval with intense emotion – and some humor. In particular, his first encounters with the rough-tough Army regulars make for some amusing incidents. At the British equivalent of boot camp, life is very similar to Guy Crouchback’s in Evelyn Waugh’s Men at Arms, Adams notes – all barracks, ”square bashing” (drilling) and ”bumping” (polishing).
According to Adams’ obituary in the New York Times:
He told The Times of London in 1974 that he disliked modern novels “dominated by the problems of their heroes or heroines, who are constantly questioning their values.”
Although Adams’ fiction appears to bear little resemblance to that of Evelyn Waugh, when asked by the Daily Telegraph in 2014 who were his favorite writers, Adams pleaded a failing memory but did provide an answer:
I ask him his favourite contemporary author. “Mary Renault,” he offers. She died in 1983. The greatest English novelist? “Evelyn Waugh has had a long and successful career, hasn’t he? This blithering Catholicism is a bit annoying.”