Richard Adams, born in Berkshire, England, in 1920, is best known for his bestselling debut novel, Watership Down, a tale that follows a group of rabbits escaping their doomed warren. However, beyond fiction, Adams had an eye for the rhythms of nature and a knack for capturing the essence of British life, particularly its folklore and traditions. In 1980, eight years after his first book was published, Adams kept a daily diary in which to record the sights and sounds of the Isle of Man, where he lived. On 31st October of that year, a day on which the locals celebrate a tradition named Hop-tu-Naa, he wrote this entry.
The Diary Entry
31st October (Friday)
Well, here’s Hallowe’en, and an end to all the summer the warblers and terns; and the wild flowers – or most of them. It’s a dull, fine morning – bare trees or brown leaves; and a calm, pale-blue sea with a slight mist. An autumnal smell in the soil and trees, wet and leafy. I’ve been carrying in logs for the library fire.
Two Manx folk-rhymes for Hallowe’en. They call it ‘Hop tu naa’ (pronounced ‘nay) here. The children come round – turnip, lanterns, etc.
‘Hop tu naa! Hop tu naa!
Jinny the Witch flew over the house
To get a stick to lather the mouse.
Hop tu naa! Hop tu naa!’
‘Hop tu naa, ringo, ringo!
Hop tu naa, I’ve burnt my fingo!
Ladies and gentlemen sitting by the fire,
And us poor creatures out in the mire!
If you’re going to give us anything, give it us soon,
‘Cos we’re going home by the light of the moon.’
Richard Adams’ diary was published in 1985 by Viking Press, titled A Nature Diary. It’s a calming, charming, and informative book that I recommend highly—especially right now. It also includes many of Adams’ illustrations.
- ‘What’s the difference between Hop-tu-Naa and Halloween?’ (BBC)
- More on the Manx language, spoken on the Isle of Man
- Richard Adams on Desert Island Discs in 1977
Diary entry excerpted from A Nature Diary by Richard Adams. Copyright © Richard Adams, 1985. Viking Press. Reproduced by kind permission of the Estate of Richard Adams, Watership Down Enterprises Ltd.