HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Bambi: A Life in the Woods
Author: Felix Salten
Illustrator: Barbara Cooney
Publisher: Aladdin Paperbacks, republished in 2002
Related website: www.SimonSaysKids.com (publisher)
Language level: 1 (nothing objectionable)
Reading level: Ages 8-12
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Salten, Felix. Bambi: A Life in the Woods (originally published in 1923; republished in English in 1928 by Simon and Schuster Inc., 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York City, NY 10020). Most people are familiar with the story of Bambi the deer from the Walt Disney animated film of 1942. Likely not as many people are aware of the fact that the movie is based on the book Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Austrian author Felix Salten, originally published in Austria in 1923. The standard English translation by Whittaker Chambers was published in North America by Simon and Schuster in 1928. It traces the life of Bambi, a male roe deer, from his birth through childhood, the loss of his mother, the finding of a mate, the lessons he learns from his father, and his experiences with the dangers posed by human hunters in the forest.
Bambi is born in a thicket to a young doe in late spring one year. Over the course of the summer, his mother teaches him about the various inhabitants of the forest and the ways deer live. When she feels he is old enough, she takes him to the meadow which he learns is both a wonderful but also a dangerous place. Bambi meets his Aunt Ena, and her twin fawns Faline and Gobo. While they are playing, they encounter the princes, male deer, for the first time. After the stags leave, the fawns learn that those were their fathers, but that the fathers rarely stay with or speak to the females and young. As Bambi grows older, his mother begins to leave him alone. While searching for her one day, Bambi has his first encounter with “He”the animals’ term for man. During the winter, hunters enter the forest, killing many animals including Bambi’s mother. Gobo also disappears and is presumed dead. The novel then skips ahead a year to the third summer when Bambi is now sporting his second set of antlers. After Bambi battles and defeats first Karus then Ronno, he and Faline express their love for one another. However, as Bambi continues to age, he begins spending most of his time alone. When Bambi is later shot by a hunter, the old Prince rescues him.
The two remain together until Bambi learns that there is “Another” over all creatures, including “Him.” The stag tells him that he has always loved him and calls him “my son” before leaving to die. In the end, Bambi meets with twin fawns. He thinks to himself that the girl fawn reminds him of Faline, and that the male was promising. Later, Salten wrote a sequel, Bambi’s Children, that follows the lives of Bambi’s twin offspring, Geno and Gurri. Disney’s Bambi is less raw than the book. The novel, originally written for an adult audience and considered to be one of the first environmental novels, was thought too “grim” and “somber” for the young audience Disney was targeting, and was work required to adapt the story, severely downplaying the naturalistic elements. Some might object to what they see as the “anti-man” and “animal rights” theme of the book, but if one takes it as it was originally intended, simply a fantasy look at the kind of lives that animals experience in the forest, it is an interesting story. A few of the killing scenes might be a bit too much for small or sensitive children, but we did it as a bed time read aloud and everyone enjoyed it.