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Richard Adams








  (with Ronald Lockley)


  (with Max Hooper and David A. Goddard)


  (with Max Hooper and David A. Goddard)


  (illustrated by John Lawrence)


  (illustrated by Nicola Bayley)


  This paperback edition first published in the United States in 2002 by

  The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc.

  Woodstock & New York

  WOODSTOCK: One Overlook Drive

  Woodstock, NY 12498

  [for individual orders, bulk and special sales, contact our Woodstock office]

  NEW YORK: 141 Wooster Street

  New York, NY 10012

  Copyright (c) 1974 by Richard Adams Introduction (c) 2002 by Robert Silverberg All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or

  transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical,

  including photocopy, recording, or any information storage and

  retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in

  writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote

  brief passages in connection with a review written for

  inclusion in a magazine, newspaper, or broadcast.

  ISBN 978-1-46830-202-8



  RICHARD ADAMS, A BRITISH CIVIL SERVANT in his early fifties, made a startling leap into prominence in 1972 with his first novel, Watership Down, which immediately established itself as a classic of fantasy literature. That irresistible tale--which is both the Iliad and the Odyssey of a society of rabbits existing, all unbeknownst to the adjacent human world, on the chalk downs of England--won not only a huge worldwide readership but critical acclaim as well, and remains vastly popular to this day.

  It was the skill with which Adams depicted the individual rabbits, each in his own right but in no way anthropomorphizing them, that gave Watership Down its powerful appeal to readers of all ages and its permanent place on the shelf next to the works of Lewis Carroll, A. A. Milne and Kenneth Grahame. But its specific excellence as a work of fantasy lies in the depth and breadth of Adams's creation of a wholly imaginary society, with laws, customs, mythology, and history all worked out in immense and convincing detail. In its own way the rabbit society portrayed in Watership Down matches, for fullness of imaginative conception, such other imagined civilizations as J. R. R. Tolkien's Middle-earth, E. R. Eddison's Zimiamvia, C. S. Lewis's Narnia, and Austin Tappan Wright's Islandia.

  All of those, and most other fantasy worlds besides, were explored and re-explored by their authors in long series of novels. When, therefore, Adams's second novel, Shardik, was announced for publication two years after Watership Down, it was reasonable to expect that it would turn out to be the mixture as before: another book conceived primarily, or at least originally, for children, although it could and would be read with pleasure by adults; most likely a return to the hills and meadows of the rabbit civilization of England; at the least, a story centered on some other comparable group of animals, cats, badgers or moles, that would offer Adams the opportunity to replay the tour-de-force of Watership Down in a different context.

  Shardik, however, was none of those things. The much-awaited new book, when it appeared, was a fierce, brutal novel of the sort that no one today would regard as appropriate for young readers, even though young readers for generations have responded to the ferocity, overt or covert, of such "children's books" as Pinocchio, Ivanhoe, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Through the Looking-Glass. Its non-English setting showed it to be in no way a sequel or a companion to Watership Down. Nor does it concern itself with animals of any sort as members of some quasi-human civilization. In Watership Down Adams brilliantly showed his readers a parallel society of animals conceived as people of a non-human sort, complex creatures capable of ambition and courage, moral discernment, vanity, cowardice and a host of other traits analogous to those of humans, though set in a context of their own. But although the figure of an animal is central to the story of Shardik and the book is named for that animal, the eponymous Shardik is a colossal, terrifying, savage bear, never anything but alien, a solitary creature, whose actions the human characters of the novel are free to interpret and apply in any way they please, not infrequently with catastrophic results.

  What Shardik does have in common with Watership Down is that it is set in an imaginary world, where all rules and conventions are the creation of its author. Thus it qualifies as fantasy, and epic fantasy at that. Its setting is a non-specific, pre-modern one of warriors, priestesses and kings, altogether free of supernatural trappings. There are no all-powerful magic rings, possession of which confers control of the universe, no wizards, no pantheon of mischievous gods. It is simply by virtue of the invented nature of the world in which Shardik takes place, and that alone, that we must regard the novel as a work of fantasy.

  That world lies somewhere on Earth, in a bygone era in which the use of iron is the summit of technology, although precisely where the city of Bekla might have stood, and when, are matters of which Adams gives us only two sketchy hints. That it lies "hidden in time" (like such other lost realms as Peru's Tiahuanaco and Petra of the Jordanian desert), he tells us explicitly at the outset of Chapter 24. Unlike those great cities, however, lost Bekla still awaits the coming of the archaeologist. And in Chapter 9 there is a significant moment when a priestess of the sanctuary of Quiso asks the protagonist, Kelderek, "Do you know the tale of Inanna?" To which he replies, "Why yes ... she went to the underworld to beg for a life, and as she passed each gate they took from her her clothes, her jewels, and all that she had." Inanna is, in fact, a figure out of Mesopotamian mythology, an important character in the Gilgamesh legend of 4500 B.C.: the Sumerian goddess who is the prototype of Ishtar, Aphrodite and Venus. Since an illiterate hunter like Kelderek is familiar with her story, Bekla and its surrounding hegemony must lie somewhere in the ancient Middle East, close enough to Sumer for the myth of Inanna to have penetrated. But there are no other passages in the book where the world of Shardik impinges on our own, and Adams leaves us free to imagine Bekla as being in some obscure corner of Iran, or Afghanistan, or eastern Anatolia or anywhere else we please. It makes no difference. What matters is not where Bekla might have been--there never was any such realm--but what it looked like, what forces operated on its citizens, and what the operation of those forces reveal to us, the readers of this demanding book, about the nature of our own lives in a later and different civilization.

  Shardik, the gigantic bear, is at the heart of Shardik, the immense novel: yet we glimpse the inward nature of the bear for only a few pages at the novel's outset. Thereafter he exists for us solely as a symbolic entity, remote and unknowable: Shardik the beast-god, Shardik the messianic revenant, Shardik the vessel into which men and women pour their religious longing and fantasies. The book is not about the bear but about his prophet, the simple hunter Kelderek; and about the mysteries of faith, the compromises and betrayals that faith can engender, the consequent disasters wrought by True Believers, the corruption that the exploitation of holy powers can bring, the redemption that can ultimately be attained even by those who have sinned against their own beliefs. Shardik's own tragic fate, though terribly moving, is but one aspect, and not the dominant one, of the story. A powerful prophecy, en
unciated in the ninth chapter, governs the narrative: "I was taught long ago that God will bless all men by revealing a great truth through Shardik and through two chosen vessels, a man and a woman. But those vessels He will first shatter to fragments and then Himself fashion them again to His purpose."

  It is the working out of that prophecy, which Adams shows us in unsparing detail, that drives the story onward toward its culminating revelation. In certain ways it is, in essence, a Christian book told without a shred of Christian apparatus. (But note the capital letters that Adams provides for "God," "He," and "Himself.") The hegemony of Bekla, though perhaps not far from polytheistic Sumer, is a world where one god rules, and He is God. If, however, Kelderek's shattering and eventual redemption is open to interpretation as a Christian event, what are we to make of Shardik the enormous bear, in whom the Power of God resides? What rough beast, indeed, is this, come shambling across the river from the island of Ortelga, leaving overturned communities in its wake?

  Richard Adams leaves that for the reader to determine, and so will I: for it is in the nature of any great fantasy novel to raise as many questions as it answers. And this, make no mistake, is a great fantasy novel. Though the story has no supernatural trappings, nevertheless it provides a most vivid insight into the primordial forces lying at the roots of human nature.

  July, 2001


  By the Same Author





  1 The Fire

  2 The River

  3 The Hunter

  4 The High Baron

  5 To Quiso by Night

  6 The Priestess

  7 The Ledges

  8 The Tuginda

  9 The Tuginda's Story

  10 The Finding of Shardik

  11 Bel-ka-Trazet's Story

  12 The Baron's Departure

  13 The Singing

  14 Lord Kelderek

  15 Ta-Kominion

  16 The Point and the Causeway



  17 The Road to Gelt

  18 Rantzay

  19 Night Messengers

  20 Gel-Ethlin

  21 The Passes of Gelt

  22 The Cage

  23 The Battle of the Foothills



  24 Elleroth

  25 The Green Grove

  26 The King of Bekla

  27 Zelda's Advice

  28 Elleroth Shows His Hand

  29 The Fire Festival

  30 Elleroth Condemned

  31 The Live Coal


  Urtah, and Kabin

  32 The Postern

  33 The Village

  34 The Streels of Urtah

  35 Shardik's Prisoner

  36 Shardik Gone

  37 Lord One-Hand

  38 The Streets of Kabin



  39 Across the Vrako

  40 Ruvit

  41 The Legend of the Streels

  42 The Way to Zeray

  43 The Priestess's Tale

  44 The Heart's Disclosure

  45 In Zeray

  46 The Kynat

  47 Ankray's News



  48 Beyond Lak

  49 The Slave Dealer

  50 Radu

  51 The Gap of Linsho

  52 The Ruined Village

  53 Night Talk

  54 The Cloven Rock


  The Power of God

  55 Tissarn

  56 The Passing of Shardik

  57 Elleroth's Dinner Party

  58 Siristrou

  Behold, I will send my messenger. ... But

  who may abide the day of his coming?

  And who shall stand when he appeareth?

  For he is like a refiner's fire. ...

  MAL. 3:1-2

  Superstition and accident manifest the will

  of God.

  C. G. Jung



  1 The Fire

  EVEN IN THE DRY HEAT of summer's end, the great forest was never silent. Along the ground--soft, bare soil, twigs and fallen branches, decaying leaves black as ashes--there ran a continuous flow of sound. As a fire burns with a murmur of flames, with the intermittent crack of exploding knots in the logs and the falling and settling of coal, so on the forest floor the hours of dusky light consumed away with rustlings, patterings, sighing and dying of breeze, scuttlings of rodents, snakes, lizards and now and then the padding of some larger animal on the move. Above, the green dusk of creepers and branches formed another realm, inhabited by the monkeys and sloths, by hunting spiders and birds innumerable--creatures passing all their lives high above the ground. Here the noises were louder and harsher--chatterings, sudden cacklings and screams, hollow knockings, bell-like calls and the swish of disturbed leaves and branches. Higher still, in the topmost tiers, where the sunlight fell upon the outer surface of the forest as upon the upper side of an expanse of green clouds, the raucous gloom gave place to a silent brightness, the province of great butterflies flitting across the sprays in a solitude where no eye admired nor any ear caught the minute sounds made by those marvelous wings.

  The creatures of the forest floor--like the blind, grotesque fish that dwell in the ocean depths--inhabited, all unaware, the lowest tier of a world extending vertically from shadowless twilight to shadeless, dazzling brilliance. Creeping or scampering upon their furtive ways, they seldom went far and saw little of sun and moon. A thicket of thorn, a maze of burrows among tree trunks, a slope littered with rocks and stones--such places were almost all that their inhabitants ever knew of the earth where they lived and died. Born there, they survived for a while, coming to know every inch within their narrow bounds. From time to time a few might stray farther--when prey or forage failed, or more rarely, through the irruption of some uncomprehended force from beyond their daily lives.

  Between the trees the air seemed scarcely to move. The heat had thickened it, so that the winged insects sat torpid on the very leaves beneath which crouched the mantis and spider, too drowsy to strike. Along the foot of a tilted red rock a porcupine came nosing and grubbing. It broke open a tiny shelter of sticks and some meager, round-eared little creature, all eyes and bony limbs, fled across the stones. The porcupine, ignoring it, was about to devour the beetles scurrying among the sticks when suddenly it paused, raised its head and listened. As it remained motionless a brown, mongoose-like creature broke quickly through the bushes and disappeared down its hole. From farther away came a sound of scolding birds.

  A moment later the porcupine too had vanished. It had felt not only the fear of other creatures nearby, but also something of the cause--a disturbance, a vibration along the forest floor. A little distance away, something unimaginably heavy was moving, and this movement was beating the ground like a drum. The vibration grew until even a human ear could have heard the irregular sounds of ponderous movement in the gloom. A stone rolled downhill through fallen leaves and was followed by a crashing of undergrowth. Then, at the top of the slope beyond the red rock, the thick mass of branches and creepers began to shake. A young tree tilted outward, snapped, splintered and pitched its length to the ground, springing up and down in diminishing bounds on its pliant branches, as though not only the sound but also the movement of the fall had set up echoes in the solitude.

  In the gap, half-concealed by a confused tangle of creepers, leaves and broken flowers, appeared a figure of terror, monstrous beyond the nature even of that dark, savage place. Huge it was--gigantic--standing on its hind legs more than twice as high as a man. Its shaggy feet carried great, curved claws as thick as a man's fingers, from which were hanging fragments of torn fern and strips of bark. The mouth gaped open, a steaming pit set with white stakes. The muzzle was thrust forward, sniffing, while the bloodshot eyes pe
ered shortsightedly over the unfamiliar ground below. For long moments it remained erect, breathing heavily and growling. Then it sank clumsily upon all fours, pushed into the undergrowth, the round claws scraping against the stones--for they could not be retracted--and smashed its way down the slope toward the red rock. It was a bear--such a bear as is not seen in a thousand years--more powerful than a rhinoceros and heavy as eight strong men. It reached the open ground by the rock and paused, throwing its head uneasily to one side and the other. Then once more it reared up on its hind legs, sniffed the air and on the instant gave a deep, coughing bark. It was afraid.

  Afraid--this breaker of trees, whose tread shook the ground--of what could it be afraid? The porcupine, cowering in its shallow burrow beneath the rock, sensed its fear with bewilderment. What had driven it wandering through strange country, through deep forest not its own? Behind it there followed a strange smell--an acrid, powdery smell, a drifting fear.

  A band of yellow gibbons swung overhead, hand over hand, whooping and ululating as they disappeared down their tree-roads. Then a pair of genets came trotting down from the undergrowth, passed close to the bear without a glance and were gone as quickly as they had come. A strange, unnatural wind was moving, stirring the dense mass of foliage at the top of the slope, and out of it the birds came flying--parrots, barbets and colored finches, brilliant blue and green honeycreepers and purple jackdaws, gentuas, and forest kingfishers--all screaming and chattering down the wind. The forest began to be filled with the sounds of hasty, pattering movement. An armadillo, apparently injured, dragged itself past; a peccary and the flash of a long, green snake. The porcupine broke from its hole, almost under the bear's feet, and vanished. Still the bear stood upright, towering over the flat rock, sniffing and hesitating. Then the wind strengthened, bringing a sound that seemed to stretch across the forest from end to end--a sound like a dry waterfall or the breathing of a giant--the sound of the smell of the fear. The bear turned and shambled away between the tree trunks.

  The sound grew to a roaring and the creatures flying before it became innumerable. Many were almost spent, yet still stumbled forward with open mouths set in snarls and staring eyes that saw nothing. Some tripped and were trampled down. Drifts of green smoke appeared through gaps in the undergrowth. Soon the glaucous leaves, big as human hands, began to shine here and there with the reflection of an intermittent, leaping light, brighter than any that had penetrated that forest twilight. The heat increased until no living thing--not a lizard, not a fly--remained in the glade about the rock. And then at last appeared a visitant yet more terrible than the giant bear. A single flame darted through the curtain of creepers, disappeared, returned and flickered in and out like a snake's tongue. A spray of dry, sharp-toothed leaves on a zeltazla bush caught fire and flared brightly, throwing a dismal shine on the smoke that was now filling the glade like fog. Immediately after, the whole wall of foliage at the top of the slope was ripped from the bottom as though by a knife of flame and at once the fire ran forward down the length of the tree that the bear had felled. Within moments the place, with all its features, all that had made a locality of smell, touch and sight, was destroyed forever. A dead tree, which had leaned supported by the undergrowth for half a year, fell burning across the red rock, splintering its cusps and outcrops, barring it with black like a tiger's skin. The glade burned in its turn, as miles of forest had burned to bring the fire so far. And when it had done burning, the foremost flames were already a mile downwind as the fire pursued its way.