Rabbits Silly and Serious

May 9:Shel Silverstein died on this day in 1999. Silverstein said that he neverstudied poetry, and dropped out of any attempt to study art. His quirky styleand worldview are evident in Runny Babbit,the “billy sook” which he worked away on for decades, and which wasfinally published in 2005. Runny and his family—”A sother and twobristers, / A dummy and a mad”—live in the same forest as Toe Jurtle,Polly Dorcupine, Pilly Belican, and Reverend Spooner. There young Runny suffersthrough picken chox and hopes to pe bresident, until he chops down a trerrychee:

Runny wanted to be a king,

So he crot himself a gown.

He then put on a rurplepobe

And strutted up and down.

He shouted to his friends,”Dow bown,

Dow bown and riss myking!”

But everybody laughed andsaid,

“Oh stop, you thillysing.”

* * *

Richard Adams was born onthis day in 1920. Adams has written ten novels, but most know him by his first,Watership Down. Compared toSilverstein, this presents an entirely different view of bunnydom, one whichcomes to Fiver in the first chapter as a vision of man-rabbit Armageddon:”I don’t know what it is…. There isn’t any danger here, at this moment.But it’s coming—it’s coming. Oh, Hazel, look! The field! It’s covered withblood!”

Adams rejects all effortsto read his novel as religious or political allegory, insisting that it is achildren’s book pure and simple. Like a number of other classics for youngreaders—Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, The Hobbit, The Wind in the Willows and others—Watership Down originated as a story made up for young friends orfamily:

Well, one day we weregoing to Stratford-upon-Avon to see Judi Dench in Twelfth Night. Before I said anything in particular my elderdaughter, who was eight at the time, said “Now daddy we’re going on a longcar journey, so we want you to while away the time by telling us a completelynew story, one that we have never heard before and without any delay. Pleasestart now!” …I just began off the top of my head: “Once upon a timethere were two rabbits, called eh, let me see, Hazel and Fiver….”

Daybook is contributed by Steve King, who teaches in the English Department of Memorial University in St. John’s, Newfoundland. His literary daybook began as a radio series syndicated nationally in Canada. He can be found online at todayinliterature.com.