Things we found interesting this week and hope that you will too! We remember Richard Adams; manuscripts rescued from al Qaeda; holidays in speculative fiction; and the Bronte sisters in a new film.
Richard Adams passed away on Christmas Eve: I hesitate to begin on a sad note, but we wanted to mark the passing of Richard Adams, author of Watership Down, who died peacefully on Christmas Eve at the age of 96. Published in 1972, Watership Down follows the adventures of a group of rabbits who journey in search of a new home after their warren is destroyed by real estate developers. I (Sarah) first discovered this book in late elementary school or so and instantly loved it. I read portions of it out loud to my younger brother. It inspired me to dream up my own stories about anthropomorphized rabbits (I was also reading Brian Jacques at this point, so there were a lot of animal stories in my head). Adams' publishing history is an inspiration as well: he started writing Watership Down, his first book, at 46, and it was rejected several times before it was picked up by Rex Collings, a one-man publishing firm. It proved wildly successful. According to Mental Floss, Collings printed a first run of 2,500, which was all that he could afford—and they sold out immediately. That same year, it won the Carnegie Medal and the Guardian Children's Prize. It has become one of the bestselling children's books of all time, the numbers of copies sold now in the tens of millions. Though there was an animated movie produced in 1978, there is a much bigger production in the works: the BBC and Netflix have been producing a four-part TV series of Watership Down featuring the voices of John Boyega, James McAvoy, Ben Kingsley, and others. It must have been quite something to have a book based on stories you told your children become a bestseller and turn into something much bigger than you could have anticipated.
Thank you for everything, Adams. Farewell.
The librarian who rescued 350,000 manuscripts from al Qaeda: This is an older story, but I thought it was too good to pass up. Abdel Kader Haidara, founder of Mamma Haidara Library in Timbuktu, lead a team that smuggled 350,000 ancient manuscripts out of the museum to protect them from militants. al Qaeda had been seeking out and destroying manuscripts considered idolatrous, and Haidara was determined to protect as much of the collection as he could. Haidara's story has now been chronicled in The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer. I've always thought that librarians must have special powers.
The role of holidays in speculative fiction: How does a culture mark special days throughout the year, and how are those days shaped by society? If you write speculative fiction, like I do, this is an interesting question to consider as you build your world and its cultures. (And of course, this doesn't apply solely to speculative fiction: you can find all sorts of story ideas connected to holidays.) This article from Fantasy-Faction discusses how to find inspiration for your world's holidays, how to integrate them into your story, and how to use them as a plot device.
The Bronte sisters in real life: The Brontes again? Yes. To Walk Invisible is a BBC made-for-TV-movie that focuses on the three years in which the sisters wrote their famous novels and, tragically, during which their brother Bramwell's health spiraled downward from alcoholism, ending in his death. It has received good reviews so far: The Guardian calls it "bleak and brilliant." In the Belfast Telegraph, Sally Wainwright, who produced the film, discusses the Brontes, the myths surrounding their lives, and the challenges she faced while producing the film, in particular their accents and dialogue. I'm not usually one for melancholy dramas, but it sounds interesting, so I'll be giving it a try if it becomes available in the U.S.