The author of Watership Down, Richard Adams, has died aged 96, his daughter has said.
The tear-jerking children’s classic about a group of rabbits in search of a new home after the destruction of their warren was first published in 1972.
The tale, first told by Adams on a long car journey with his daughters, turned into a best-seller.
Adams, a civil servant from Newbury in Berkshire, also wrote Shardik, The Plague Dogs and The Girl in a Swing.
Watership Down, which he wrote when he was 52, won the Carnegie Medal for children’s fiction in the year of publication.
Tens of millions of copies have since been sold around the world.
A statement on a website devoted to the book, Watership Down Enterprises, said: “Richard’s much-loved family announce with sadness that their dear father, grandfather, and great-grandfather passed away peacefully at 10pm on Christmas Eve.”
His death was marked with a passage from his best-known work.
“It seemed to Hazel that he would not be needing his body any more, so he left it lying on the edge of the ditch, but stopped for a moment to watch his rabbits and to try to get used to the extraordinary feeling that strength and speed were flowing inexhaustibly out of him into their sleek young bodies and healthy senses.
“You needn’t worry about them,” said his companion. “They’ll be alright – and thousands like them.”‘
Obituary: The man who turned a car story into a best-seller
By Nick Serpell, BBC obituary editor
The event that changed Richard Adams’ life occurred on a car journey with his family to see Twelfth Night at Stratford-upon-Avon.
His bored children asked for a story and he began telling them a tale about a group of rabbits attempting to escape from their threatened warren.
Adams was persuaded to write it all down, a process that took him more than two years, but he was, at first, unable to find a publisher.
Many of his rejection letters complained that the book was too long and his characters did not fit the common perception of cuddly bunnies.
Eventually, in 1972, after 14 rejections, the publisher Rex Collings saw the potential and agreed to take it on with an initial print run of 2,500 copies.
A spokesman for Oneworld publications, which brought out a new edition of Watership Down with illustrations by Aldo Galli, said: “Very saddened to hear that Richard Adams has passed. His books will be cherished for years to come.”
A film of Watership Down, first screened in 1978, was notoriously frightening for young children, with its adored rabbit characters killed in graphic scenes.
A new four-part CGI animated mini-series of the book is due to be aired outside the UK in 2017 on Netflix.
It will feature the vocal talents of Sir Ben Kingsley, Olivia Colman and John Boyega.