Bambi: A Life in the Woods by Felix Salten

Everyone remembers the movie where Bambi’s mother dies. Cute little deer who mumbles ‘Bird’ and hangs out with an adorable rabbit. His mother is his whole world and then Bang!

She never comes back. Poor Bambi wanders around alone for the rest of his life. Leaving every kid slightly traumatized and all us grown-up kids kinda’ uneasy when they re-released this movie recently on DVD. (Do we really like this movie? I mean come on, no, not really.)

But I like the book. Maybe because it is written for a grown-up audience. I particularly love Felix Salten’s name. I don’t know why. Salt-en. Fe-lix. Like salt-lick…and salt-licks attract deer…for hunters to shoot, which, again, is not what this book is really about.

There is that element, of course, as with every book about animals living in the wild, but for the most part, the book is simply a compelling look at life from an animal’s perspective.

There is the overall theme of man vs. nature: man is literally the smoking demon in this book. He reeks of death and terror. The deer smell him and are frozen in horror. Man is portrayed as the enemy, the hunter, the savior, and the master of all.

Until another hunter shoots him, then he is just another victim like everyone else.

That, my friend, is the key to the story. Who is the Grand Master of us all? Salten seems to be indicating that it is Mother Nature and Her Scheme of Things.

Salten is taking a look at the circle of life in this book. He is getting his readers to examine stuff like: growing up, differences, survival, changing seasons, death and isolation. Through his simple portrayal of the woods in cruel winters and gentle springs, in harsh storms, and drowsy summers, Salten is able to successfully create complex moods and emotional response to his animal characters.

I think that my favorite part was always the chattering blue-jay and magpies. I liked the way they scream and fight over nests and trees. Salten’s gift is giving voice and interpretation to the natural habits of birds and animals. Salten gives a human-voiced explanation for whatever the animals do or whatever takes place in the woods; from the way the deer step carefully out onto a meadow only at certain times of the day, to two leaves, turning yellow in the fall and discussing how ugly and old they have grown.

As an educator, I could and will do a lot with this book. I could easily use this in several ways to discuss the environment, differences and prejudice, death, life-cycles, animal life etc etc. The possibilities are endless. Not only that, but its exceptionally well-written with a Hemingway style to it.

Plus, maybe if I use it in the classroom, the new generation being introduced to Disney’s Bambi won’t be quite so traumatized as we were.

Instead, my students will confidently say: Oh, yes, his mother dies, but she has to die, you see, so that Bambi can hang out with his father and become wise and grown up. Also, her death has a larger indication of man versus nature, particularly compelling when looked at from a the view of the animal.

Middle schoolers being so articulate and all.  :/


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