Day 2: A Favorite Childhood Book
Full Disclosure: In order to keep from posting at 10pm every night I’m going to work a day ahead on most of these prompts so they can post in the morning of their intended day. Thus I’m writing this on Sunday evening.
Now, let’s get to it:
Most of my favorite books as a kid involve talking animals…but not the cute, round-faced Disney kind.
That’s going to sound kind of laughable when I tell you the book I’m thinking about today: Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten.
You’ve seen the movie, right? Adorable animal hijinks on ice. Bawling your eyes out when Bambi’s mother died. Wise old crotchety owl, Flower the Skunk, Thumper…what if I told you none of that is in the book?
The original novel for Bambi is dark, unsentimental, and awesome for a kid whose other favorite animal book was Watership Down. And while Bambi’s mother does die, and it’s heartbreaking, it’s only one of many deaths in the novel.
For example, in the book, Faline has a twin brother named Gobo who disappears their first Winter. While the deer are all slowly starving to death from the lack of food, Gobo falls prey (literally) to a hunter…only to reappear the next year, grown, and wearing a collar. Instead of killing him, the hunter takes the baby deer home and raised him as a pet, which gives Gobo a very strange view of Men; he isn’t afraid of them, and in fact considers them his friends. He becomes patronizing toward his fearful kin, and is basically an obnoxious pro-human git who never wonders why they let him go once he was big and strong.
So, the next time a hunter comes into the forest, Gobo is all, “Watch, I’ll show you, the humans are good, they won’t hurt me,” and prances out into the meadow to greet his friend…who shoots him. In fact a phrase that stands out clearly 30 years later is the sound of Gobo’s “wailing death shriek.”
Yeah, it’s that kind of book.
Bambi is all about a deer’s life, and while it’s not graphic, it’s certainly unflinching toward humanity and the perils of being a woodland creature. Even the romance between Bambi and Faline is told realistically – they spend every waking moment together until mating season ends, and then kind of forget about each other until Bambi finds his offspring wandering around bleating for their mother.
Did I mention there are sequels?
I haven’t read this one in many years, and I want to get a copy of it again to see if it still holds up; but it had a profound effect on me as a child. It turned me against hunting, even for food, and from then on I secretly cried and had terrible nightmares every time someone in my family would “get a deer” in the Fall. Most children are sensitive to animals and have a natural empathy for them, which is buried under tradition and the enshrinement of meat eating and the whole hypermasculine “food chain” mythos in society.
But lucky me – or maybe very unlucky, I can’t say – I never fully lost the sense that hunting was not okay, probably because I learned at a tender age that deer can scream.
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