Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Book Review - Bambi

I suspect I'm not terribly unique in never having read Bambi and having my only knowledge of the story being the Disney film. Bambi is a short novel written by Felix Salten in the early 1920s and was widely popular when it was released. It even had a sequel (Bambi's Children).

For those unfamiliar with the concept of the novel, Bambi is a book set in a forest and centered around the character of Bambi. It just happens that Bambi is a deer. We start the novel learning of Bambi's birth and then continue through the various stages of his life. Initially, the only characters are Bambi and his mother. Slowly, Bambi's circle of existence expands and he meets other animals and eventually even meets other deer, including a pair of other fawns born the same season as him.

The story progresses at a leisurely pace, letting us grow slowly with young Bambi. We learn about the way of life in the forest, the way things are balanced, the various small dangers lurking about. We also see Bambi's innate curiosity when he discovers various topics that his mother is unwilling to expound to him. She teaches him that there is danger standing out in the open meadow in the middle of the day, but she isn't willing to go into detail about the threat of Man. She only tells him that they must only go to the meadow at night and that if they are ever in the meadow and she starts to run, that he must run as well and keep running no matter what.

Bambi's natural curiosity continues to grow with each passing month. I really enjoy the way Salten portrays the childlike innocence of Bambi as he explores his world and asks many questions as he tries to understand the motivations and behaviors of the world around him. I also found it interesting the way Salten portrayed some of the instinctual behaviors of the animals and either explained them or didn't explain them but rather commented that they were just the way things were supposed to be.

Naturally I found many points where the story diverged from the version portrayed in the Disney movie. There were many points of similarity and some familiar characters but I found the book more thoughtful and thought provoking than the film. Both had elements of humor and are definitely appropriate for children, especially for generating deeper conversations with kids, but the cartoon movie was naturally a bit more whimsical while the book had a little more seriousness even during playful sequences.

There were two key differences from the movie that I especially appreciated.

I liked the interactions with the additional fawns, in particular the interaction with the little deer named Gobo. I don't want to reveal spoilers, but I found Gobo to be a very interesting character as he shared his opinions and insights on Man. He provided an interesting counterpoint that sets Bambi thinking and creates later tension and intrigue amongst the animals.

The difference that I most enjoyed between the movie and the novel was that the novel went into much more depth about the other bucks and in particular the Old Stag. In the movie, he is presented as a sort of wise, stoic creature who shows up briefly with words of knowledge. While this is certainly true in the book, he has a much larger presence and Bambi makes a distinct effort to learn more about and from the Old Stag. I really liked the way the book portrayed the animal relationship with their elders and the way the older deer, especially the old stag, interacted with the other deer.

On the whole, this was a great read. With my only knowledge of Bambi being the Disney movie, this book was much different than I expected and I rather enjoyed that. Reading was a peaceful commune with nature that led me down thoughtful paths to ponder on later. Salten's other novels also seem to be explorations of the lives of animals and the natural world. He has one direct sequel to this book (Bambi's Children) as well as a number of stories in the same forest as Bambi (it's unclear to me if those stories are just excerpts from Bambi or if they are new tales). Salten's bibliography has a number of books that look interesting and varied. Bambi is an excellent place to start but I am interested in reading more.

4 out of 5 stars

View all of my reviews on

No comments: