The very first words of Watership Down,
the illustrated edition and the tenth anniversary exhibtion.
In November 1982 the oldest established antiquarian booksellers in the world, Southeran's of Sackville street, London, staged an exhibtion of Adam's work to mark the tenth
anniversary of publication of Watership Down. It included many items never before publicly exhibited, and possibly never since. Many items were for sale, such as the original artwork
for the dust jacket illustration of the first edition of Plague Dogs: yours, or temptingly even mine, for just £518.
The cover of the catalogue for the tenth anniversary
exhibtion. This was taken from the Illustrated Edition
At this time the film was just four years old and had was actually replaying in cinemas all across the UK. It was still to be released on video. The Plague Dogs film
had been released the previous month. The film of Watership Down had not totally established itself as the primary visual imagary of Watership Down instead,
certainly amongst many book readers, the 1976 Illustrated Edition, still on normal sale, was prominent. The illustrations were by John Lawrence, who later gave us the cover
for Tales from Watership Down. He used a delicate pen and watercolour wash style that looked as if it had been drawn, sketched almost, from life in the field. Lawrence managed to
give the illustrations a summery warmth with his lightness of touch and simplicity of line, often merely suggesting backgrounds. For the exhibition he produced copies of
twenty seven of the illustrations which were sold, at prices ranging from £46 to £118. One of the largest being this study of General Woundwort. I particularly like his eyes.
Interestingly they are highlighted with flecks of powder blue - visible in the print but not in here on the web. It might possibly be that this was built on to give the characteristic blue eye colouration for the film.
John Lawrence's copy of his study of
General Woundwort, from the Illustrated Edition.
There were many other items, such as many of the rejection letters from publishers and agents. Including one that declared, "...from length alone, I beleive this book is a non-starter.... It is too solemn
and slow moving... I think you are creating unnecessary difficulties by calling a male rabbit "Hazel" ... the rabbit language is, I feel, another mistake."
The very first page, in all senses, of
"Hazel and Fiver", err sorry, "Watership Down".
By far and away the most important item in the exhibition, at least from our perspective, was the holograph: Adam's original handwritten version of Watership Down. Seeing it, complete with numerous and sometimes illuminating corrections and edits on every page was a real "Wow!" moment for me, and I suspect any
Watership Down fan. This though was not actually Watership Down as such, it was still Hazel and Fiver which was Adams's preferred title. It is not clear
whether this was the first page Adams wrote: it may well not be. Also this is not how the publishers and agents saw it; they saw typewritten copies taken, with much further editing, from this holograph. Adams civil servant mindset meant he kept all the letters
and other "official" material, but didn't bother to archive this remarkable holograph, being as it was "just" the first, rough draft. Indeed he had mislaid it, possibly even lost it altogether, all 230 pages of it, and only found it, tucked away in a battered suitcase in a wood store, just in time for the exhibition.
Bigwig here to return to select another location. It might be best to avoid his ears,
his fleas live there!