Running Easily Down Through the Wood: Ex Libris Richard Adams

I don't meaningfully collect in this area, but I do read early reviews of The Silmarillion when I stumble across them; and having read a fair few of them—many of which are strangely uninteresting—I think it fair to say that reception of the book at publication was mixed. Reviewers in 1977, perhaps expected a novel in the more conventional, narrower sense, were generally critical of plot (lacking), style (biblical), characterisation (too many names), tone (dark), and so on.

Not everyone was critical; Richard Adams (1920–2016) liked it. The author of Watership Down (1972) was exuberant in his praise:

O mighty Tolkien! Prince of fantasists! How shall we find words rightly to praise thy nobility of conception, faultless consistency of narrative, and superb fecundity of invention? I have just been reveling in one of the greatest literary privileges and experiences of my life: to be among the first, outside the departed author's circle, to read The Silmarillion

I read (somewhere online) a comment Adams made, in an interview, wheretalking about Shardik (1974)he said They were expecting Watership Down and they didn’t get it. Similarly, many reviewers of The Silmarillion seemed incapable of getting past the fact that it wasn't The Lord of the Rings (and didn't have Hobbits). I wonder if this resonated with him.

Adams' review appeared in the November/December 1977 issue of QUEST/77 (Vol. 1, No. 5). It covers much of the usual ground, the genesis of Tolkien's mythology, a bit of biography, a synopsis of the separate works that constitute The Silmarillion, prose style, etc. He also (more interestingly) makes a few incredibly bookish commentsa bit digressive for a book review—that caught my eye.

Richard Adams was born near Newbury, Berkshire; he studied at Oxford; latterly, he lived in Whitchurch, Hampshire. (These are all within 50 miles of each other.) QUEST magazine, a bimonthly which ran from July 1977 to September 1981, was published in California, with editorial offices in New York City. I thought his review having appeared in QUEST a bit curious; one might have imagined GEORGE ALLEN & UNWIN (GA&U) having wanted him to review The Silmarillion for a UK publication. I'm not clear where Adams was living in the late 70s, but online biographies (WIKI and obituaries) and interviews reveal that he was a writer-in-residence for two American universities, the UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA in 1975 and HOLLINS UNIVERSITY (Virginia) in 1976. His residence in the US perhaps offers some explanation for the appearance of his review in QUEST at this time.

The review article headersomething Adams may or may not have been responsible forgives the publisher details as HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY (HMCO); and although this detail would be expected for the American readership (in any case), it's also clear that Adams did have a HMCO copy in front of him for review. As well as the usual title, author, publisher details—and price ($10.95)—the article also curiously gives the page count as ‘307 pp.’, and in the review itself Adams refers to ‘The Silmarillion's 290 pages’. (The totality of the first edition is 368 pages.)  

The explanation for this is that Adams didn't have a complete copy of the book in front of him; he complains of being ‘very seriously hindered’ because his ‘proof copy lacks the most important map, the index of names, and the appendix on Quenya and Sindarin.’ Although it's possible Adams could have had a GA&U proof copy, it seems far more likely that he had one of the known proof copies produced by HMCO.

HMCO proof copy (S.156)

It's not clear how many of these proof copies HMCO produced; they're uncommon, but not unheard of, and certainly not as rare as GA&U proofs. The 307 page count and description of contents tallies with what Adams describes; it doesn't match the only known (to me) GA&U proof copy. It's very similar to a typical Advance(d) Reading/Reader Copy (ARC) or modern review copy. Of course, whatever Adams had, and whatever else it might have been called, he was using it as—and it was functioning as—a review copy.

Timelines might also be mentioned here. 

The writer and editor Darrell Schweitzer, who's review appeared in SCIENCE FICTION REVIEW (February, 1978, p. 52) [isfdb], received his copy of The Silmarillion from HMCO in early August; the accompanying letter Schweitzer received with his copy is dated August 10th. 

Schweitzer review copy letter (S.088)

Similarly, in the UK, Charles Noad received his review copy (from GA&U) in August. Pre-publication copies—perhaps as many as 50–60 copies—were also distributed to UK literary editors in late July. In all instances, these were normal HMCO and GA&U trade copies; complete, final copies of the book. While it's possible HMCO proofs were distributed to some reviewers after these dates, it seems unlikely given the availability of normal trade copies by this point.

Even if we take Adams' claim to be ‘among the first’ to read The Silmarillion with a pinch of salt—I'm sure he was one of a small but significant group of pre-publication readers and reviewers—there would still seem to be a fairly long gap between him having received his proof copy and the review being published; undoubtedly the result of the magazine's bimonthly publication schedule. In the UK, reviewers were politely requested—on GA&U review slips—to ensure reviews did not appear in print before publication day; HMCO review slips made no such request, but I'm sure this still applied (cf. Schweitzer letter). On both sides of the Atlantic I think this was largely respected. The previous issue of QUEST would have been for September/October.

While it's clear Adams did not have—in, say, July or August—a standard (or complete) HMCO copy of The Silmarillion for reviewing purposes, at some later point he got his hands on a GA&U copy. One would presume he acquired this in the UK; the copy still in his possession upon his death, in 2016, and included in the sale of his estate, was a standard 1977 BILLING & SONS copy. An unmarked Adams association copy would be of interest in itself. The collector might have preferred him to have signed his books (to mark ownership); Adams, on the other hand, evidently preferred to use personal bookplates. Images of at least two different bookplate designs that he used can be found online.

Adams' BILLING copy (S.155)

In his GA&U copy Adams affixed a two-rabbit version; the bookplate itself, as can be seen, is physically quite large. The scene—the Watership Down quote is a famous one—depicts the final journey (death) of Hazel with El-ahrairah. The quote in full is:

He reached the top of the bank in a single, powerful leap. Hazel followed; and together they slipped away, running easily down through the wood, where the first primroses were beginning to bloom.

Just legible in the top right-hand corner is ‘JENNIFER CAMPBELL '78’. The book and bookplate are, therefore, reasonably contemporary with each other; I would think the bookplate was affixed around 1978–1979. [This particular Adams bookplate can be found very briefly discussed in Lew Jaffe's CONFESSIONS OF A BOOKPLATE JUNKIE blog (2008) here.]

A note on the artist.

I think the bookplate was designed and drawn by the illustrator Jennifer Campbell, who would later provide the interior ‘black and white drawings’ for Adams' short story collection The Iron Wolf and Other Stories (Allen Lane, 1980), published in the US as The Unbroken Web: Stories and Fables [isfdb]. A fairly obvious connection, but I have been unable to find much (if any) biographical information about this illustrator. THE INTERNET SPECULATIVE FICTION DATABASE (ISFDB), linked to above, has, for example, no other works linked to this name [isfdb]. She is not in Dictionary of British Book Illustrators: The Twentieth Century (John Murray, 1983).

Two Jennifer Campbell illustrations from THE IRON WOLF

There is also a FOLIO SOCIETY (FS) illustrator named Jennifer Campbell; credited in Folio 60 (covering publications to 2006) for drawings in three FS publications—Howards End (1973), La Dame aux Camélias (1975), and Twelve Stories (1978)from the 1970s. I believe this Jennifer Campbell to be the same artist. Again, I have unearthed little or no biographical information for this illustrator; FS provides a useful index of artists, but no other information.

Jennifer Campbell FS examples (1973, 1975, 1978)

Some biographical information can be found on a Scottish illustrator named Jennifer Campbell. This Jennifer Campbell (1936–2021) taught art at Dollar Academy (Dollar, Clackmannanshire, Scotland); her father, Ian Campbell (1902–1984), also an artist (notably of portraits), similarly taught art at Dollar. She can be found closely associated with DOLLAR MUSEUM; she was a trustee of the DOLLAR MUSEUM TRUST, chair of THE FRIENDS OF DOLLAR MUSEUM, helped with museum exhibitions, and ‘designed’ items for the museum gift shop.

Examples of the museum's products and promotional material clearly show she contributed more than simple design work though; her artwork adorns many of their items. Again, I suggest this is the same artist.

I know nothing more, beyond this brief sketch, about the connection between Richard Adams and Jennifer Campbell; for example, did Adams personally commission the bookplate from Campbell? I'm also curious to find out if Campbell designed other bookplates. Information on other books she illustrated might also be revealing; I've seen one or two publications that are undoubtedly her work, but I'm still not entirely sure if bookplate-Campbell, FS-Campbell, and Dollar-Campbell are indeed all the same artist.

An interesting association copy of The Silmarillion nonetheless, made more interesting by Adams having not simply signed it; and an argument for bookplate use, surely?

NOTE: Except for the bookplate itself, all of the Jennifer Campbell illustrations used in this post are cut-and-paste screenshot images, as I do not own any of Adams' works or the FS books discussed. They are for comparison purposes only and I'm sure do no justice to the originals or original publications.


  1. At Mythcon, which was the last weekend of August in 1977, I saw the curious artifact of a mockup copy of the book. It was a full-sized hardcover (I recall it as without dj), but its textual content consisted only of the Ainulindale and Valaquenta. The rest of the pages were blank. I've never seen anything like it since, of the Silmarillion or any other book.

    I believe that the person who brought it was Jim Allan, the pioneering Elvish linguist.

    1. It sounds like you're referring to a dummy copy, David. I actually posted about this a few months back: THE SILMARILLION — CLOWES DUMMY (1977). They are indeed curious; uncommon too, but not unheard of in collecting circles.


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