Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Richard Adams' Watership Down: Book n Song

The Writer

Richard George Adams, born 9 May 1920, was an English novelist who is best known as the author of Watership Down, Shardik, The Plague Dogs, The Girl In A Swing.

He studied modern history at university before serving in the British Army during World War II. Afterwards, he completed his studies, and then joined the British Civil Service. 

In 1974, two years after Watership Down was published, Adams became a full-time author.  He was awarded with a Carnegie Medal in 1972 and a Guardian Medal in 1973.

He passed away on 24 December, 2016 at 96.

The Book

Personally, the book exudes a troubling, eerie calm that excites:

"Oh, Hazel! This is where it comes from! I know now - something very bad! Some terrible thing - coming closer and closer." 

He began to whimper with fear. "What sort of thing - what do you mean? I thought you said there was no danger?"

"I don't know what it is," answered Fiver wretchedly. "Oh, Hazel, look! The field! It's covered with blood!" (Watership Down - Puffin Books 1973 - P 19)

The animated movie was made as a result of the modern classic, heroic fantasy novel by British writer Richard Adams. It is the odyssey of a group of rabbits escaping the destruction of their warren (home) as they struggle to seek another. Evoking epic themes, Watership Down (1971), takes its name from the rabbit's destination, a hill in the north of Hampshire, England.

The Song by Art Garfunkel

The lyrics suggest similar feelings of the fear within:

Is it a kind of a dream
Floating out on the tide
Following the river of death downstream
Oh, is it a dream?

There's a fog along the horizon
A strange glow in the sky
And nobody seems to know where it goes
And what does it mean?
Oh, is it a dream?

Bright eyes, burning like fire
Bright eyes, how can you close and fail?
How can the light that burned so brightly
Suddenly burn so pale?
Bright eyes

Is it a kind of a shadow
Reaching into the night
Wandering over the hills unseen
Or is it a dream?

There's a high wind in the trees
A cold sound in the air
And nobody ever knows when you go
And where do you start?
Oh, into the dark

Bright eyes, burning like fire
Bright eyes, how can you close and fail?
How can the light that burned so brightly
Suddenly burn so pale?
Bright eyes


Published by
Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC
Song Discussions is protected by U.S. Patent 9401941. Other patents pending.

Bright Eyes (image/record cover) was used in the soundtrack of the movie and considered the theme song of the film. The track also appears on Garfunkel's fourth studio album, Fate for Breakfast from 1979. 

Although it did poorly in the US, the song sold a million copies in the UK that year, making it the biggest selling single.

One interpretation of the lyrics, when book and song combine, discusses the transition into death highlighted by Rabbit Hazel's close shave when he is shot and then years later when he departs and his body enters the spirit world. The journey of life punctuated by trouble and fear?

The book's been read time and again. It's recommended script-fare for all, including the older children. The song? Wonder why it didn't do too well in the US? Definitely not for the kids. I love both the book and the song, haven't seen the movie though. 

Comments about the song

1. A beautiful song - it is probably the saddest song of all time - its about death and trying to understand it because none of us know anything about life or death, or why we are here and where we go or if we go anywhere.

2. 'Bright Eyes' was not written for 'Watership Down'. Mike Batt composed it about his father dying of cancer. 'Bright Eyes' refers to the strange look in his father's eyes brought on by pain killers. I suppose that the 'suddenly burn so pale' must be when he finally died. The song itself is one of my favorites. Very emotional.

3. Great song. Great movie. Great book. There's really not much you can say about a song like this one. When I was little, I used to cry at the part of the movie when they played it.

Much for discussion here. Anyone?

This posting is for Perry Nodelman.

Book/Song Information: Wikipedia.
Original article: Andy Lim.


Roger said...

Now, I have the book and it has been assiduously collecting dust for years. But as they say, so many books to read, so little time! Perhaps,it is time I read it.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Succintly expressed Roger. And for a book lover, this is a treat for breakfast, lunch and dinner; all three meals in one neat package. You'll probably read it in a day.

And the song? It's yours again for a review. Haunting, melodic, lovely...

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

"succinctly" expressed...

Lam Chun See said...

Hey, I always thot that the song was written for the movie. Thanks for enlightening me.

Bright Eyes is one of my favourite songs. I shared some thots about this song and the movie Watership Down when I blogged about this place not far from my home.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Chun See has part of a posting about the book and song;

"I am also reminded of an animated movie called Watership Down . Anyone of you remember this rather sad movie? It was produced in the late 70’s. The story was about a family of rabbits which were forced to leave their homes because the field they lived in was being developed for a housing project. The movie’s theme song, Bright Eyes, sung by Art Garfuunkel was also one of my favourites."

Thanks Chun See for sharing.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

This posting has been revised because of Mr Adams' death but it focuses more on the song, BRIGHT EYES since this blog is about pop music from the past.


My son loved this song . He had such an infinity with it . He was sad and life was hard for him. I had this played at his funeral 😌😥


Sorry to hear that. I have a daughter - now 25 yrs old. The loss of a child must be the worst thing that a parent ever has to experience. Watership Down means so so much to me as does everything to do with it - including this legendary song.

I was lucky enough to live within 6 or 7 miles of it many years ago. I walked and ran over it and all of its surrounding downland as often as I could - at least once a week for 6 years, weather permitting.

Even now I go up there a couple of times a year and make every excuse to drive past it about 10 times a year on my way from Portsmouth to the north of England. The very next time I walk over that lovely area I promise to take the memory of your son with me. In that way maybe for a few short hours, through me he'll be able to see and feel the inspiration for everything that was in the film and of course the song.

Best Wishes to You.

mythical magpie said...

I've spent all my working life helping sick and injured animals and reading Richard Adams's novels as an impressionable pre-teen was a major influence on that career choice. I'm sure I'm just one of thousands or even millions who have learned empathy and respect for the creatures we share our planet with because of this man.

Rest in Peace, Mr Adams.

RVienna said...

Creating a genuinely engrossing tale for both children and adults is no mean feat and Adams is one of very few authors who managed to get it right with Watership Down, Tolkien being another obvious example. Thankfully the film version was made in the time of hand illustrated animation and is also a classic although a modern CGI remake is surely on the cards. So RIP Richard Adams, thanks for writing such a wonderful novel.