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Watership Down At 50

27 May 2021

Celebration as early crossover book hits half century

It was a book that nearly didn’t get published.

Now after multi-million sales and landmark film and television adaptations, Watership Down will celebrate its 50th anniversary in a series of events, including a conference organised by children’s literature experts from Cardiff University and the University of Glasgow.

Submitted to more than 30 publishers, Watership Down finally hit bookshelves  in November 1972 thanks to the foresight of the small, independent Rex Collings.

Nearly 50 golden years on, the story of intrepid rabbits escaping the destruction of their warren has become a children’s classic novel.

The story of Watership Down began on long car journeys, in the tales of Hazel and Fiver created for Adams’ young daughters, Juliet and Rosamond.

Today 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, with a BBC/Netflix series its latest incarnation in 2018.

Academics are to examine the enduring appeal of Richard Adams’ debut novel over five decades at the three-day conference.

Anniversary celebrations will also see the first faithful adaption of the entire novel into the graphic novel format.

Organisers of the conference are looking forward to a conference packed with a wealth of perspectives on the beloved classic.

Specialist in children’s literature based at Cardiff University’s School of English, Communication and Philosophy Dr Catherine Butler said:

Watership Down stands at the intersection of so many concerns: as the progenitor of a whole genre of animal stories; as the inspiration for groundbreaking work in animation; as one of the earliest ‘crossover’ books enjoyed equally by children and adults; and as a substantial contribution to environmental literature. It’s as much a book of today as of 1972.”

Dr Dimitra Fimi of Glasgow’s Centre for Fantasy and the Fantastic added:

Watership Down is a classic of children’s fantasy, somewhere in-between animal stories and ancient epics like the Aeneid, complete with an invented language and allusions to a folkloric and a learned tradition. I am so looking forward to new perspectives and debates on this much-loved book!”

Academics are invited to submit 20-minute papers on any aspect of Watership Down, its influences and legacy. Abstracts of a maximum of 200 words should be emailed to the organisers by 31 August.

Keynote speakers will be Adams’ daughter Rosamond Mahony, British children’s writer SF Said and specialist in literary animal studies Dr Briony Wickes (University College Dublin).

Rosamond Mahony said: “As custodians of this most beloved novel, our family are delighted that my father’s Watership Down is to be the subject of this academic conference.

“People of all ages continue to connect with the story of Watership Down and its key messages about the environment, leadership and friendship are as important today as they were a half century ago.”

Watership Down at Fifty takes place at the University of Glasgow in September 2022.


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