Monday, February 28, 2022

The Original Bambi: The Story of a Life in the Forest (Bambi #1), by Felix Salten (author), Jack Zipes (translator), Peter Marinker (narrator), John Chancer (narrator)

Princeton University Press, ISBN 9780691234885, February 2022 (original publication 1923)

This is a new translation of the 1923 novel Bambi, on which the Disney movie was based. Or, more accurately, the movie was based on the 1928 English translation, but Whittaker Chambers. Yes, that Whittaker Chambers, if you recognize the name. If you do, you're most likely a Boomer like me. If you don't, that bit of weird background would probably not be that interesting to you.

What's more relevant is that Felix Salten didn't write a sweet children's story about a deer born in the forest, making friends with all sorts of other forest animals, and growing up to live happily ever after with Faline. It's a darker story, and in part an allegory of the dangers of life for minorities in Europe, particularly the Austro-Hungarian Empire, where Salten, a secular Jew, tried very hard to assimilate and be accepted. In the book, the deer, birds, foxes, hares, and other animals, are trying to peacefully live their lives. Predation happens, but it's always shown as both shocking, and something those not directly involved should stay out of the way of. I don't think this is the strongest aspect of Salten's book, but I don't recall that the movie acknowledges this aspect of forest life at all.

The great danger is He, Man, with the ability to kill at a distance, and hounds--animals who have betrayed their fellow animals--to help Him find and track them. Some of the most pleasant places in the forest, such as the meadow, are also places of great danger, because the animals are more visible there. Bambi's mother teaches him about the dangers and the need to take care, but the Great Prince of the Forest, who may be Bambi's father (the book never says so directly), goes further. He teaches Bambi many useful skills, but also that he must learn to live alone--truly alone.

Bambi and Faline do fall in love, and do mate, but this doesn't become the film's happily ever after. That's not how deer live.

 Missing from the book are some of the film's most popular characters, such as Thumper the rabbit and Flower the skunk. Missing from the movie is Faline's brother, Gobo, whose story is one of great lessons of the dangers of Man. It's differences like this that make Salten's original story so much darker. As a child, I had a copy of the 1928 translation by Whittaker Chambers, and read and reread it till it fell apart. Chambers had done his own toning down, mostly of the political allegory, with more emphasis on the animal rights message--which I should note was also important to Salten. Even as a young child, I noticed the differences between book and movie, although the movie of course was a delight, and quite intentionally more fun. As an adult, my memories have been a bit of a mishmash of the two, such as "remembering" Gobo as part of the movie, which he wasn't. Now, it's fascinating to read a better translation of the original, as well as getting more background on the story, the author, and the circumstances in which he wrote it.


I bought this audiobook. And the ebook, too, because yes, I really loved this book, dark though it is, as a kid.

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