Richard Adams: Through The Eyes Of An Animal Essay, Research Paper
THROUGH THE EYES OF AN
Richard Adams was born in Newbury, England in May of 1920. He was the youngest of three children, a sister, Katherine, and a brother, John. (Richard had had another brother but he died at the age of three from influenza.) Richard was his father’s favorite. George Adams (his dad), spent most of his time with young Richard teaching him about all the nature in the area. Richard grew up a few miles from the town of Newbury on a three acre piece of land with a house named “Oakdene.” Richard’s father was a doctor at the local hospital in Newbury and his mother, Lilian Rose Adams, was a nurse. Richard spent most of his childhood at home and out wandering around Newbury, enjoying its beauty. At about the age of 10, he was sent to the Horace Hill boarding school. After a few years, he was sent to another prep school, Bradfield, and at the age of 18, received a history scholarship to Oxford University. At the age of 21 he was enlisted in the British Army.
Adams has produced a variety of different writings. Along with his numerous novels: Watership Down, Shardik, The Plague Dogs, The Girl in a Swing, Maia, and Traveller, Adams has also written books of short stories: The Iron Wolf and Other Stories, and The Unbroken Web. As well, he has done picture books in verse: The Tyger Voyage, and The Ship’s Cat, and books on nature: Nature Through the Seasons, Nature Day and Night, and A Nature Diary.
Adams’ first novel, Watership Down, is about a group of rabbits who leave their home because of disaster, and go out in search of a new home. On the way, they encounter two other groups of rabbits. One group lives life with a constant knowledge that they are just food for the neighboring farmer, neglecting their own culture. The other group lives so as to never be found by man and to protect itself from predators. When, at last, a new home is found, the rabbits have to undertake a journey in order to find some females so that their colony will grow and prosper.
Throughout the novel, Adams puts in various ideas and themes that are meant to make the reader think twice about their relationships with nature and themselves. This novel sets up the themes of freedom and survival, which are also found in two of his other novels, and the theme of the stupidity and cruelty of man to the earth and her creatures.
The Plague Dogs, Adams’ third novel, is about two dogs who escape from an animal research station and try to fend for themselves in the hills of England. Rowf, a large, black, strong mongrel who has a mean temper and who has a deathly fear of water due to the experiments performed on him. Snitter, a fox terrier who has fits and has the power to see the future because of the brain surgery performed on him in the research station. Together, they meet up with a tod (fox). The tod helps them survive while reporters follow the dogs and spread dangerous rumors of the plague, getting politics involved.
The themes in this novel are similar to the ones in Watership Down: survival, freedom, and human cruelty, but added to this list is the theme of rights. In this case, the right of animals, but, in some of his other works the theme extends to those people who are less fortunate and are in awful situations.
The Girl in a Swing, his fourth novel, talks about a young man, Alan Desland, who has devoted his life to the business of fine ceramics and who is completely swept off his feet by a young German woman, K?the. They get married, in Florida, after a very short courtship and return to England, where Alan returns to his business and K?the holds spellbound his friends, family, and even him, with her beauty and charm. Inside K?the, though, is a secret which Alan finds out about too late.
The main theme in this novel is completely different from his other novels. Adams concentrates mostly on guilt – A guilt that K?the held inside her and eventually caused her destruction. He also explains how guilt affects those around the guilty.
Adams’ fifth novel, Maia, is a story about a young, beautiful girl who is thrown into slavery by her jealous mother. She makes friends with an exotic girl, Occula, who is sent on a mission from the gods to avenge her father’s death by murdering the queen. Maia enters slavery, becomes a heroine by saving the Beklan army, falls in love, finds her long lost brother, and helps the rebels conquer Bekla, who then abolish slavery and establish equality throughout the empire.
The themes in this novel are like those in Watership Down, and Plague Dogs. This novel, mostly because of its length (900+ pages), has many more themes than the other two novels. The main ones, though, are slavery and freedom, human dignity and rights, and survival against all odds.
FREEDOM – that consuming goal above doubt or criticism, desired as moths desire the candle or emigrants the distant continent waiting to parch them in its deserts or drive them to madness in its bitter winters!…Unfurl your banner, Freedom, and call upon me with cornet, flute, harp, sackbut…and all kinds of music to fall down and worship you, and I will do so upon the instant,…For we are free–free to suffer every anguish of deliberation, of decisions which must be made upon suspect information and half-knowledge, every anguish of hindsight and regret, of failure, shame and responsibility for all that we have brought upon ourselves and others: free to struggle, to starve, to demand from all one last, supreme effort to reach where we longed to be…
Freedom is one of the strongest themes in three of Adams’ novels. In these novels, his characters are striving for freedom in some way, and, though their struggles end in victory, they see others who have given up their search for freedom, or were never allowed the opportunity to even begin searching for freedom. In Adams’ life, he was continually searching for freedom from society and freedom from himself.
Maia, (Maia) a girl aged only 14, was sold by her mother, Morca, into slavery. Maia was told, when she was bought, that she was going to the main province, Bekla, to model dresses for the wealthy. After a few nights she knew this to be a lie, and was told that she was to be sold to one of the wealthy citizens in Bekla for use as a bed-slave. Her whole life’s goal, after being bought by the leader of the spy ring in Bekla, was to find a way to make herself free again. She watched girls in her same situation buy their freedom, and she watched girls thrown out because they were of no use any longer. She took an offer, with the promise of freedom, to risk her life as a spy and learn inside information by using her master. At his death (when he died, she became property that could be put up for auction), she was given another opportunity to gain her freedom by leaving behind what she knew her life to be and to go live with a man she did not know and report what she found out about him and his people to the Beklan army. After many months (and many deaths), she gained her “freedom” for a while and was considered a heroine of the Beklan army. Her struggles were not over. It took her seven more years to finally gain her complete freedom.
A group of rabbits (Watership Down) set out from their home, or warren, based on a vision that one of the rabbits has. He told the others that their warren would be destroyed. If they do not leave immediately, they never will. Nine male rabbits set off searching for the ideal place to build a new warren. On their, way they encounter two different groups of rabbits. Each group is in a different situation, but both are far from being free.
At the first warren they come across, they find a rather small number of large healthy rabbits living in a huge warren. The rabbits have food provided for them year-round by a farmer a walk-way away. On the outside, these new rabbits appear cheerful and happy, but they have a deep secret. They have adapted their lives and their culture to meet the needs of the farmer close by. The farmer provides food, and kills the rabbit’s enemies to make the rabbits want to stay where they are. In turn, the rabbits have to travel to the place where the farmers puts the food they eat. When they do go eat, usually one or two of them gets caught in a snare. The rabbits get food and protection from their natural enemies. In return, the rabbits sacrifice their lives for the farmer.
The second warren of rabbits that the travelers met were slaves. They were not slaves to man as the previous warren had been, but they were slaves to their fear of man. The rabbits had allowed one strong rabbit to come and take over their warren. He created a dictatorship and set strict standards of living on the rabbits to “protect” them from their foes. The rabbits had no opportunity to eat when they wanted. Their eating was regulated. They could never go outside the confines of the warren, for fear that a predator might follow their trail back to the warren and harm the others. The females were not allowed to mate with whom they chose; they were after all, a prize for the strong military leaders who earned it. The rabbits tolerated all of this and more because their leader had instilled in them a fear of humans–of predators. In all reality, the rabbits were more afraid of him and his power than they actually were of their predators.
Rowf, and Snitter (The Plague Dogs) were at the mercy of the doctors at the Animal Research (Scientific and Experimental), also known as A.R.S.E. Rowf was taken from his mother as a puppy and sold to the research station. Each day he was submerged into a tank of water until he drowned, then was revived. All of this was done to see if he would build up a kind of tolerance to the next drowning.
Snitter, had belonged to a caring master whom he thought he had killed when he had run out into a busy intersection and his master tried to save him and got himself hit instead. Snitter was then sold to the research station by his master’s jealous sister and underwent brain surgery which left him confused and allowed him to see events before they happened.
Even after the dogs escaped from the research center, they were never really free. They were constantly at the whim of nature and her wrath. Even though they had escaped the research station and were on their own, Rowf and Snitter were still under the control of man. They depended on his sheep, chicken, and garbage to eat, and mines and barns to take shelter under.
…[they were] two creatures victimized by society, unable to live by its own rules but also unable to work out and live by their own outlaw code-…
Adams himself knew what it was like not to be free. His life at two boarding schools over a period of eight years, because he was forced to believe ideas he did not follow and to follow adults he did not believe, helped him to understand what it must truly be like to live in a world where one is restricted at all times. Adams began to relate his ideas to his knowledge of animals and nature. He found that animals are not as free as people sometimes believe them to be. Their lives have been restricted due to the growth of human civilization, and the advancement of human technology. Some animals have even grown to depend on people as their only source of food and protection. Many live in fear of humans, which, as many humans already know first-hand, allows the fear to control their lives because they become slave-like to their fear.
Overall, Adam’s work is a glorious paean to man’s (or rabbit’s) resilience, to the instinct for survival against all odds.
Watership Down, The Plague Dogs, and Maia all offer the strong theme of survival to accompany the theme of freedom. In all of these novels, the main characters are fleeing some situation to find their freedom. In doing so, they all enter new and unfamiliar surroundings that are filled with danger, yet, their uncontrollable desire for freedom allows them to continue to struggle against all odds.
Rabbits (says Mr. Lockley) are like human beings in many ways. One of these is certainly their staunch ability to withstand disaster and to let the stream of life carry them along, past reaches of terror and loss. They have a certain quality which it would not be accurate to describe as callousness or indifference. It is, rather, a blessedly circumscribed imagination and an intuitive feeling that Life is Now. A foraging wild creature, intent above all upon survival, is as strong as the grass.
As the rabbits left their warren in search of a new one, they had to overcome many obstacles that were new to them. Their surroundings was one obstacle. They left a home that was next to a field, and close to some woods that had a creek running through it. On their journey, they encountered heather, ground of chalk, man-made forests, a road, and a common of rocks. All of these surroundings were new and unfamiliar, but they pressed on to find their new home; they continued, most times very hungry, against all odds.
Although humans know for a fact that animals have a strong instinct for survival, they tend to neglect the fact that they, also have such instincts. Maia shows that humans do in fact have such instincts and use them more than they realize. Although Maia was sold into slavery, an institution that she so desperately hated, she had to make the most of it. If she hadn’t she would have surely been killed.
Rowf and Snitter, throughout their journey, searching either for a master, or trying to succeed in becoming wild animals, struggled every day to stay alive. They had two fundamental problems to deal with. One, all the humans in the area wanted them dead and were searching for them, and two, finding food was a very difficult task because they had absolutely no experience at doing so. They knew of nothing to live for, yet, their keen instincts encouraged them to go on and they ended up beating man, and nature, by surviving.
Adams enjoys using this theme for both man and animal because he likes to show his readers that they are in fact animals themselves. What humans sometimes punish animals for is simply the fact that they are just following their instincts. Adams shows that, in separate situations, humans too use those very same instincts, which make them like the animals.
Adams also shows that his themes of freedom and survival complement each other. Without freedom, no one is truly surviving. The characters in Watership Down, The Plague Dogs, and Maia all undertake a search for freedom, and survival. Along their quest, they are tested by nature (and sometimes man) to see how strongly they really want to be free. (Those that do not, end up dying, either physically or by giving up hope and returning to their previous situations in a worse condition than when they left.) Those that succeed end up free, although along the way they may have nearly died, but they were striving for their freedom and a better way of life, struggling to survive.
Adams, during WWII saw many people he knew die. They died at the hands of the enemy, but some died because of faulty planning and muffled leadership. Adams describes a certain plan, Operation “Market Garden,” in which thousands of his comrades died, and thousands more were taken prisoner due to the poor planning of upper ranking generals. Adams was, of course, one of those who came through the Operation unharmed. Looking back, though, after the Operation and after he returned home, he had to keep on struggling to survive among all the grief that consumed him at the time. He said that he had never felt any lower at any other time in his life than when he returned home from the service. He was able to write his novels with knowledge of what it was like to have to struggle to free one’s self from whatever is holding him back, and keeping him from surviving in an environment suitable and acceptable to him.
Threat of Man/Human Cruelty
Love the animals. God has given them the rudiments of thought and joy untroubled. Don’t trouble it, don’t harass them, don’t deprive them of their happiness, don’t work against God’s intent.
…Adams’ book is the implication that some of man’s victims are clever enough to keep us from getting away with it, and that we might even learn from them something about escaping the beastliness ourselves.
He shut his eyes then, and scrabbled head-downward at the turf, for he did not want to see the pack close in, did not want to see the tod leaping, snapping and biting, outnumbered thirty to one, the blood spurting, the tearing, thrashing and worrying, the huntsman whipping his way into the turmoil and the tod’s body snatched, lifted high and knife-hacked for brush and mask before being tossed back-oh, so merrily-among the baying foxhounds.
The strongest theme in The Plague Dogs, and Watership Down is the roles that humans play in the lives of the animals. Cruelty, and fear of humans are just two of the main issues that Adams tries to invoke in his books.
In Watership Down, the rabbits live in constant fear of humans, the strongest of their thousand predators. The small group of rabbits are threatened out of their home by humans wanting to build houses in the same place as the warren. The rabbits dodge gun shots, roads, train tracks, and other man-made evils. Adams clearly is showing that humans are evil and dangerous in the eyes of animals. Humans are creatures to be feared and loathed. They are very self-centered, and only think of themselves.
In as much as Mr. Adams has a message for his readers, I’d say it is to make them more sensitive to the complex balance of nature, more aware of the needs and ways of other species (and the effect of human actions on them), more mindful that we are creatures too, and must live in harmony with the others who share our world…
Yea, the coneys are scared by the thud of hooves,
And their white scuts flash at their vanishing heels,
And swallows abandon the hamlet-roofs.
The mole’s tunnelled chambers are crushed by wheels,
The lark’s eggs scattered, their owners fled;
And the hedgehog’s household the sapper unseals…
Humans, in Watership Down, are depicted as enemies. In The Plague Dogs, they are destroyers. At the Animal Research (Scientific and Experimental) Station, animals are treated like paper. Once they are used, they are thrown away. Adams clearly despises animal testing. He depicts all of the scientists at the station to be cold, ruthless, and incapable of feeling any type of emotion. He wants to persuade his readers to hate animal testing too. He gives many examples of what goes on in the Station, what types of experiments are performed, and the attitudes of the scientists performing the experiments.
…was looking over the interim reports on the smoking beagles…Of course it was open to people to give up smoking, but this would plainly be an intolerable demand to make, as long as experiments on living and sentient animals held out a chance for something better…The dogs, trussed and masked, were ingeniously compelled to inhale the smoke from up to thirty cigarettes a day…after about three years they were to be killed for dissection and examination.
…”Well, I mean, how long do we go on using the same guinea pigs?”
“Use them up, of course,” answered Dr. Boycott rather shortly. “They cost money, you know. Apart from that, it’s only humane. The Littlewood Committee report had an entire chapter on wastage. We don’t use two animals where one will do.”
“Well, this lot have all had tar doses on both ears now, and the ears removed in just about every case-every case where there’s a cancerous growth, that’s to say.”
“Well, you can go on and use their limbs for the same thing, you know.”
…”Do we ever use anaesthetics [sic]?”
“Good God, no, said Dr. Boycott. “D’you know what they cost?”…
Adams’ life has been filled with nature. His childhood was spent living in nature and listening to his father teach him about nature. He respected nature as a child and he respects nature now. His job, before he started writing, was that of an air-pollution expert with the British Department of the Environment. So, Adams actually decided to devote his life to the preservation and the continuing study of nature. It is no wonder that Adams would write books that try to make people realize how precious and fragile the balance of nature truly is, and how humans are throwing that balance off.
Dignity (the proper rights and self-respect one has) and rights play a large role in Maia, and a smaller role in The Plague Dogs. Maia deals mostly with the issue of slavery. Slavery does not only destroy one’s freedom, but it also takes away the dignity that a person might have. By being under someone else’s control, a person may lose all the self-worth that they may have felt. Maia was reduced to providing sexual pleasures for her fat, lazy master. She had to do whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted, and as often as he wanted. When one is a slave, their own interests have no worth to their owner; they are simply there to be used, for whatever purposes.
In a specific situation in the book, Adams describes a girl, Milvushina, who was a wealthy baron’s daughter in the province of Chalcon. Maia’s owner, Sencho, (called ‘Piggy’ by his slaves) who was the head of the Secret Intelligence of the Beklan Empire, sent orders to have Milvushina’s family killed, or at least everyone killed but her. Piggy took Milvushina into his household as a slave. He made her do the same types of things as Maia, except he would tease and torment her while she was doing them.
This situation is a very direct, example of Adams’ use of dignity and human rights as a theme. This example shows how one girl, a girl with noble blood, can be reduced at one blow to a sex-slave by someone’s personal greed.
By the same token, The Plague Dogs also talks about dignity and rights, not of humans, but of animals. Once again, Adams uses the Animal Research (Scientific and Experimental) Station as his villain. The Station, quite simply, does not allow animals to live normal lives, therefore stripping them of all of the rights ever given to them–more specifically, the ones that allow them to survive by their own means. Animals are used as pawns for humans at the Station. They have numbers for names. They are seen only as things to be used at the whim of humans rather than as the unique creatures God created them to be.
The shed comprised, in all, forty pens, arranged in two double rows. Most of these contained dogs, though one or two were empty. With the majority of the pens, all four sides consisted of stout wire netting, so that for the occupants of these there were three party walls and three canine neighbors, except where an adjacent cage was empty.
Adams dealt with dignity first hand. His father, George, was, at first, a doctor for the local hospital in Newbury, then he set up his own practice, but still helped at the hospital. George was a generous doctor, allowing patients to pay smaller sums because they could not afford the entire fee. He was a doctor, so he was paid well, but, because of his kindness, the family was not as wealthy as they could have been.
George also enjoyed a drink now and then. While Richard was growing up, so was his father’s taste for liquor. George also had to deal with three children. He had to deal with Katherine, who was in college, John, who was in prep school, and Richard, who just growing up. By the time Richard had reached prep school age his father’s drinking had gotten worse. Not until Richard’s fifth year at school had his father’s drinking actually affected his profession as a doctor. George was forced into early retirement because he had lost many patients and could not continue making a fool of himself. While Richard was at Oxford, George suffered a heart-attack, which made him curb his drinking, but it was already too late. They had to sell Oakdene, and they moved into the gardener’s cottage. George had to sit by and watch many of the old trees get cut down by the new owners.
All of this was a shock to George’s dignity and, after retirement, he simply let it eat him alive. Richard, who was very close to his dad, watched all this and it pulled at his heart-strings. Writing about dignity allowed him to show people how important it really is, and what can happen when that dignity is stripped from someone.
The Girl in a Swing is a study of guilt made manifest-of the far-reaching effects of the past, clattering in upon a fragile porcelain world.
The Girl in a Swing, has many other sub-themes, but none of them represents the work as accurately as does guilt. Guilt is the only true theme of the novel. Guilt leads to the fall of the two main characters, and it also brings them together.
K?the, a beautiful young German girl, and Alan Desland, a young man whose very life is the business of fine porcelain, meet while Alan is visiting friends in Copenhagen. He falls madly in love with her, and she with him. After a few weeks, in which Alan learns nothing of K?the’s past, except that she does not like the church for some reason or another, they jet off to Florida and get married. On their return, K?the fits in beautifully into Alan’s life. Alan finds, though, that he starts seeing and hearing things. He hears the sounds of waves and a girl crying. He sees a young girl walking and crying. All the while, K?the is becoming more and more nervous and frightened. At the end, K?the is killed by a young girl at the beach.
The young girl was K?the’s daughter. Somehow, K?the had killed her, and the ghosts would not leave her be. She was killed by her regarding the past, and by her fear of telling anyone of her deed. She let it consume her, and Alan, for K?the was Alan’s reason for living, although they had only been married for a short period of time. When K?the died, a part of Alan also died.
Everyone experiences guilt at some time in their lives. Adams too must have had some reason for writing a novel about guilt. His autobiography states normal things to be guilty about: not being there for his dad, not living his life to the fullest, etc, but, for the most part, up to WWII he had not experienced any large guilt factor in his life. After WWII, nothing is known since Adams likes to keep his family life private.
Nature and scenery are a minor theme, but they are worth mentioning because they helped to create Watership Down, and Maia. Without the scenery, and Adams’ in-depth knowledge of nature, the atmosphere would not have been so successfully set, and the stories would have come across to the readers as being all wrong.
In Watership Down, the scenery helps to make the rabbits more dignified by showing perspectives. If the novel had been written from a human perspective, everything would have been read at a “taller level” and the reader would never have been able to discern nuances or the feelings that the rabbits displayed. Adams had to write at a level more suitable for rabbits, not humans.
In Maia, Adams weaves an imaginary world. By describing all the details, as seen by a young girl, the images become clear in one’s mind. The reader can see what Maia likes and what she’s afraid of. He can see how splendid or grand the baron’s hallway is, and how dumpy the motel looks. In a world unknown to anyone, the scenery and nature are just as important as the characters are.
Adams’ themes of Freedom, Survival, Threat of Man and Human Cruelty, Dignity and Rights, and Guilt all have some connection to his life. They all also pertain to all people’s lives. Adams was writing novels based not only on his own experiences of his life, but he was writing to try to get a particular point across to the general public. He was trying to create awareness. If the readers of his novels found his straightforward messages and took them to heart, he did create awareness.
Adams, Richard. Watership Down. New York: Avon Books, 1975.
Adams, Richard. The Plague Dogs. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.,1978.
Adams, Richard. The Girl in a Swing. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1980.
Adams, Richard. Maia. ?
“Adams, Richard.” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 5, pp. 6-10.
“Adams, Richard.” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 6, pp. 4-8.
“Adams, Richard.” Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 18, pp. 1-3.