Felix Salten’s novel Bambi: A Life in the Woods a classic children’s story people know from the movie version. The book, however, is nothing like the Disney movie. It’s much richer, much more realistic, a parable about growing up and growing old.
The novel opens with the birth of a fawn in a thicket in the forest. Bambi is a precocious child, full of curiosity and delighted with every new discovery. He adores his mother, trusting her judgment even when he cannot understand her meaning.
Salten shows that Bambi is a child in his thinking. When his mother tells him he’ll see other deer soon, Bambi wonders what soon means.
“He came to the conclusion that ‘soon’ was certainly not ‘now.’ But he wasn’t sure at what time ‘soon’ stopped being ‘soon’ and began to be ‘a long while.’”
As winter approaches, Bambi learns through unhappy experience that the forest is not always a happy place. Something the animals call He comes to the forest. He is worse than cold and snow. He brings death.
Like all children, Bambi must grow up and learn not to cry for his mother.
The old stag advises, “Listen, smell and see for yourself. Find out for yourself.” Bambi determines to bear life’s difficulties and dangers.
When Bambi is grown up and mated, he again meets the stag whom he idolizes. He wishes to speak to the stag, but is afraid. The stag, too, wishes to converse, but is afraid of looking stupid or embarrassing the youthful deer. The incident ends as many such father-son meetings do, with the son bitterly resentful of the father’s aloofness, the father unhappily thinking, “some other time, perhaps.”
Although the novel was not a bestseller when it first appeared in 1928, it has continued to be read by succeeding generations. Copies of the novel are readily available in libraries, bookstores, and online.
The heart and theme of the novel is its eighth chapter, which doesn’t mention deer. In the chapter, two leaves discuss the approaching winter and wonder what happens to them after they fall. No leaves have ever come back to tell about the afterlife. The short passage is a perfectly set gem in a lovely, mellow book for adults. The novel should, however, carry a warning: unsuitable for children without wise parents and a nightlight.Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten Translated by Whittaker Chambers Illustrated by Barbara Cooney [Porter] ©1970 Text copyright © 1928, 1956 191 pages