Recent necrology, February 2017

Some well-known people who have died recently

  • Dick Bruna, 1927-2017
    Dutch author, artist, illustrator and graphic designer, best known for his children’s books
  • Nicolai Gedda, 1925-2017
    Swedish operatic tenor who had a long and successful career till the age of 77
  • Al Jarreau, 1940-2017
    American singer and musician best known for his 1981 album Breakin’ Away
  • Alec McCowen, 1925-2017
    English actor whose gallery of roles ranged from St. Mark to the Fool in King Lear, and from Rudyard Kipling to James Bond’s outfitter, Q

Cover of My Favorite Things  Cover of Miffy Is Crying Cover of Inventing God

Recent necrology, January 2017

Some well-known people who have died recently

  • John Berger, 1926-2017
    English art critic, novelist, painter and poet
  • Michael Chamberlain , 1944-2017
    New Zealand-born Australian writer, teacher and pastor best known for the 1980 death of his daughter Azaria
  • Babette Cole, 1950-2017
    English children’s author and illustrator

Cover of Hold Everything Dear Cover of Dimiter Cover of Heart of Stone Cover of Dr Dog

  • John Hurt, 1940-2017
    English actor and voice actor whose career spanned six decades

Cover of Growing Up Again Cover of The First to Land Cover of Snowdon Cover of Confessions of A Sugar Mummy

  • Douglas Reeman, 1924-2017
    British author of many historical fiction books on the Royal Navy, who also wrote under the pseudonym Alexander Kent
  • Emmanuèle Riva, 1927-2017
    French actress best known for her roles in the films Hiroshima Mon Amour, and Amour
  • Bruce Slane, 1931-2017
    New Zealand’s first Privacy Commissioner
  • Emma Tennant, 1937-2017
    British novelist and editor whose fiction is often imbued with fantasy or magic

Recent necrology, December 2016

Some well-known people who have died recently

  • Michele Amas, 1961-2016
    Prominent Wellington actress and poet
  • E. R. Braithwaite, 1912-2016
    Guyanese-born United States novelist, writer, teacher and diplomat

Cover of Watership Down Cover of After The Dance Cover of Billingsly

  • Carrie Fisher, 1956-2016
    American actress, writer, producer and humorist best known for playing Princess Leia in the Star Wars film series
  • Zsa Zsa Gabor, 1917-2016
    Hungarian-American actress and socialite

Cover of The Princess Diarist Cover of The Hiltons Cover of George Michael

  • John Glenn, 1921-2016
    American aviator, engineer, astronaut and senator
  • George Michael, 1963-2016
    English singer, songwriter and record producer who rose to fame as a member of Wham!
  • Russell Oberlin, 1928-2016
    American countertenor who became a leading light in the early music movement

Cover of The Unsinkable Cover of Deception Cover of Triple Concerto

  • Debbie Reynolds, 1932-2016
    American actress, singer, businesswoman, film historian and humanitarian
  • Patricia Robins, 1921-2016
    Romantic novelist and former wartime ‘Filter Room’ girl who also wrote historical fiction under the pseudonym Claire Lorrimer

Old friends, old friends, sat on a bench like bookends…

CoverWhile 2016 was taking its final victims, one smaller obituary caught my eye amidst the many articles on the passing of Carrie Fisher and George Michael. The obituary was for Richard Adams, author of Watership Down. At 96, we certainly could not say that Adam’s rich life was cut short, but to lose him at the same time as Carrie Fisher hit me a little hard.

Why? Because I think I can safely say that if Star Wars was the major film influence of my childhood (why yes, I am of an age that I saw Episode Four at the movies) Watership Down was my literary guiding star.

Like a perhaps-not-surprising number of librarians, I have a literary tattoo. Two rabbits make a small circle on the inside of my right wrist. Those familiar with the beautiful and terrifying movie adaptation of Watership Down might recognise them as the Black Rabbit of Inlé and El-ahrairah, the dominant figures of the amazing mythology Adams created for his rabbits.

I first read Watership Down when I was seven – it was the first “grown-up” novel I read. My Mum was reading it to me chapter by chapter at bedtime and I got impatient, wanting to know what happened next – one chapter each night just wasn’t enough! Therein started a lifelong love affair (and a tendency to read under the blankets by torchlight).

I became passionate about all things rabbit. I suspect this actually began earlier (I had a family of soft-toy rabbits), but this was about real rabbits, with real rabbit behaviours, and sometimes brutal realities.

I soaked up information about rabbits like a sponge, reading every book on the subject my local library had to offer. My poor parents also became the subjects of an intense campaign for pet rabbits. They managed to hold out for five years (pretty impressive as I was using every emotionally manipulative, devious and ceaseless tactic in my young arsenal). I’ve had pet rabbits pretty much ever since, save for a couple of gaps of a few years.

One of my most treasured childhood birthday presents was an illustrated hardcover edition of the book, full of beautiful watercolours and pen-and-ink sketches. It still has pride of place on my bookshelf, not least because I think my parents went to some trouble to acquire it. I also still have a cassette tape of the movie soundtrack – no videos in those days, let alone DVDs – though it’s a little stretched and wobbly now from endless hours of playing.

When I lost count sometime in my early teens, I had read Watership Down well over one hundred times. I could quote large sections by heart. I can still pretty much tell the wonderful rabbit creation story off the top of my head.

All the world will be your enemy, Prince with a Thousand Enemies, and whenever they catch you, they will kill you. But first they must catch you, digger, listener, runner, prince with the swift warning. Be cunning and full of tricks and your people shall never be destroyed.

But when I look back over all the years of reading this book, what really stands out to me is the different things I learned at the various ages I dipped into it.

At seven I learned not only about rabbits, the English countryside, and its flora and fauna; I also gained – at a rather young age – an introduction to some quite complex philosophical ideas about the cyclical, amoral (as opposed to moral or immoral) nature of life and death: that there are no “goodies” and “badies” in the natural world of predators and prey.

In my early teens I became fascinated by the way the warrens represented different political systems, from the complaisant, bloated monarchy of Sandleford and the fatalistic puppet-state of Cowslip’s warren, to the brutal dictatorship of Efrafa and the idealistic Utopian society of the new warren on the Downs. What Adams portrays so well through his rabbits is how the human spirit reacts in each of these situations.

In my late teens I discovered Joseph Campbell and Karl Jung – and the hero-myths of El-ahrairah, scattered though the book, took on new meaning. Adams took Jungian ideas of the hero-myth and turned them on their head to suit his rabbits. El-ahrairah is not the young battling hero so common in human mythology, but is instead the Trickster figure (as is of course Br’er Rabbit) – often distrusted in our myths but who else would a prey animal look to, than a hero who always manages to fool his nemesis and live to run another day?

Since then I have visited Watership Down every year or so like an old friend, each time being drawn in and delighted anew by the sheer level of detail in Adams’ descriptions and his slightly old-fashioned, thoughtful style of conversing with his readers.

And yes, I still can’t listen to Bright Eyes, or read the end of the book, without sniffling a little.

Goodbye Mr Adams. Thank you for lightening a long car journey for your daughters by telling them a story about an adventuring band of rabbits, and going on to discover your writer’s voice at 55. You crafted a story that has shaped my life.

It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses. “You needn’t worry about them,” said his companion. “They’ll be alright – and thousands like them.”

Jo D, Lyttelton Library

Recent necrology, November 2016

Some well-known people who have died recently

  • Mose Allison, 1927-2016
    American jazz and blues pianist, singer, and songwriter
  • Fidel Castro, 1926-2016
    Cuban revolutionary turned dictator
  • Leonard Cohen, 1934-2016
    Canadian singer, songwriter, poet and novelist

Cover of My LifeCover of Leonard Cohen on Leonard CohenCover of The Modfather

Cover of Self-PortraitCover of New Cura RomanaCover of Fawlty Towers Volume 2

Recent necrology, October 2016

Some well-known people who have died recently

Recent necrology, September 2016

Cover of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?Some well-known people who have died recently

  • Johan Botha, 1965-2016
    Tenor with a gloriously large voice and physique

Recent necrology, August 2016

Some well-known people who have died recently

  • Cover of Native Birds of New ZealandDavid Hallett, 1955-2016
    One of New Zealand’s best bird photographers and photographer for The Press
  • Gene Wilder, 1933-2016
    American stage and screen comic actor, screenwriter, film director and author

Recent necrology, July 2016

Some well-known people who have died recently

  • Cover of The VisitorsSally Beauman, 1944-2016
    Author best known for her glamorous and racy romantic novel Destiny
  • Abbas Kiarostami, 1940-2016
    Iranian producer and director, screen writer, photographer
  • Tim LaHaye, 1926-2016
    Christian fundamentalist ‘rapture’ theologian
  • Garry Marshall, 1934-2016
    Writer, producer and director, creator of Happy Days
  • Cover of NightIan McDonald, 1937-2016
    New Zealand composer of avant-garde, electronic and computer music
  • Robert Nye, 1939-2016
    Novelist who wanted to be remembered for his poetry
  • Elie Wiesel, 1928-2016
    Romanian-born American Jewish writer, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate

Recent necrology, June 2016

Some well-known people who have died recently:

  • Cover of Muhammad Ali, A Tribute to the Greatest Muhammad Ali, 1942-2016
    American professional boxer, one of the most significant sporting figures of the 20th century
  • Graham Latimer, 1926-2016
    One of the most influential Māori leaders of the late 20th century
  • Norman Longmate, 1925-2016
    Popular historian best known for his book How We Lived Then
  • Cover of Graham LatimerDavid Sell, 1930-2016
    Christchurch music academic and educator
  • Peter Shaffer, 1926-2016
    Playwright, giant of postwar British theatre
  • R. P. Suggate, 1922-2016
    Cover of the 1940s HouseDistinguished New Zealand geoscientist
  • Alvin Toffler, 1928-2016
    American sociologist who coined the term ‘future shock’
  • Anton Yelchin, 1989-2016
    Actor best known for playing Pavel Chekov in the most recent Star Trek films