Let’s first get that Disney cartoon feature out of the way, which has become such a cliché and a lightning rod in our society, and that differs considerably in some ways from the book supposedly written for adult readers:
I DID see the Disney film, way, way back in 1964, when I was four years old, and not since (largely due to the Disney hoarding-and-holding out on certain classic features to dupe the populace in spending more money than they’re worth — just my opinion there….), so some of my distant memories of the film may be a bit “off.” Yet, I do have rather vivid memories still, which says a lot for the impressions this animated feature is certainly capable of entrenching! I especially remember the infamous scene “RRRrrrun Bambi ” followed by BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! After which of course, little Bambi never sees his mum again!
But a FUNNIER memory I have, which illustrates emphatically how I was either BORN a critter geek, or developed the characteristics of one very early on, was my reaction to being taken to this movie. My parents had told me ahead of time they were taking me to see an ANIMAL movie (knowing that I was a critter geek already), and I was beside myself with excitement! A rare thing, indeed, back in those days!
So there I was, in the darkening theatre, all wiggly and anticipating the upcoming visual treat on the big screen when — WHAT? The moment the film opened and I realized it was JUST A DUMB CARTOON, I was FURIOUS! It wasn’t about REAL animals! I whined and harangued, rather as I still do these days, and my parents had some trouble quieting me down.
I was — at first — incredibly disillusioned! Eventually, I accepted it as an animal FANTASY, and ended up rather enjoying the story, as it was, at least, about my favorite subject, then and now: animals out in the woods. Sorta.
I find it hilarious now that, at 4 years of age, I understood quickly that Bambi was an entertaining “fantasy,” but not to be taken too seriously. But there is no denying it has had, over the years, an enormous impact on a majority of peoples’ views on hunting and animal life in the “wild,” in a rather exaggerated, unrealistic way. Not that I am saying that certain aspects of the film are totally inaccurate, as I myself have experienced the fear and panic that being shot at in the woods (or anywhere!) engenders, and I was also caught in a steel jawed gin trap as a young kid (while trespassing, I might add), so I early on, rather got a very personal critter’s viewpoint of JUST how that stuff feels!
So I do not totally lamblast the movie as the large numbers of “rugged outdoorsmen” tend to — but then, having spent much of my life in the woods and around animals, I know that certain aspects of the film are very misleading and downright inaccurate — but it is a KIDDIE CARTOON film, for Christ’s sake — NOT something to take so seriously!
But amazing what an impact it has had on modern society.
Perhaps — to me, at least — the GREATEST inaccuracy is what a lovely, perfect, peaceful, happy little world life in the forest is all the time, except ONLY when big meanie human hunters show up and disrupt everything! Not to discount the major interruption in one’s daily agenda modern human hunters can create when, rather like an alien presence, they enter the woods (something I have experienced — and continue to — many, many times in my several wolf lifetimes), but which in reality, the struggle for survival is continuous, day and night, with or without human interruptions, and to portray it otherwise is terribly deceitful, and has led to quite a warped view of “Nature” by many who do not get to experience it often enough or long enough to realize that.
Which, in a roundabout way, has finally brought us to the original BOOK — Bambi: A Life In The Woods by Felix Salten.
My first impression, on beginning reading it, as a decades died-in-the-wool critter geek, is “CRAP: the animals talk like people in the book, too!” Which they do throughout, having rather in-depth (to appeal to the “adult”-targeted readers, perhaps?) conversations about all manner of sentimental and sometimes quite dreary subjects! SOME books where critters talk-like-people I can deal with okay. I dearly LOVE the Jungle Books, for example. I can accept Tarzan’s apes having a basic, simple language. I love some such books like Richard Adam’s “Watership Down”, and “The Plague Dogs” — where the critters are still critters, and their conversations revolve around things critters are really going to be concerned with.
Bambi does fine with some realistic critter concerns, but does veer off into distinctly human notions that I doubt any other animal species (besides US) wastes much time with — one reason most other critters are far happier beings than most bipedal primates.
But AT LEAST, Bambi the book DOES NOT make Life In The Woods appear to be one happy, perfect little utopia only interrupted at times by murdering meanie humans. It is about modern European wildlife, so larger predators like bears, wolves, and lynx have all been eradicated by those cruel, evil humans (therefore making life considerably safer and less stressful for the deer in the story, whether they realize that or not), but weasels, polecats (called “ferrets” in my original book’s translation — ferrets are ACTUALLY DOMESTICATED descendants of the wild European Polecat. Just sayin’); fox and owls all regularly kill and dismember and devour other cute little critters throughout the book.
Winter is not portrayed as a happy time for ice-skating and romping in the snow, but the harsh, hungry reality that it really is for wildlife. So in aspects like this, the book really is (somewhat) more realistic than the Disney cartoon. But remember, the Disney cartoon is made LARGELY for kids, who have to also have paying adults accompanying them (ahem!).
As for the story being an “allegory of the Nazis persecution of the Jews” — well, MAYBE. It was certainly written when that horrible period in our history was occurring, and it is hard for ANY writer to not be influenced by their own time in history — even if they deny it, as Tolkien denied his Lord Of The Rings tales being influenced by World War II (YEAH, RIGHT!).
But MY impression was Bambi was more an allegory for ALL human cruelty, and disconnect from Nature, which, in the end, we cannot totally escape — this brought forth strongly in a scene at the end where Bambi and his mentor, an old, old stag, come across a dead poacher. The animals in the book do not distinguish between poachers or legal hunters (and realistically, how could you expect them to?) — they are all just referred to as “HIM” or “HE.”
One hunt scene which might irk most American hunters as “inaccurate” involves what is/was not uncommon in Europe — a large, organized “beat,” where the woods are swept by lines of people, and virtually anything that comes in sight is gunned down. This would be a rather unrealistic portrayal for hunting in the U.S.A., but not uncommon in Europe by any means!
And indeed, if you yourself were caught up in such an organized, massive hunt, it WOULD be rather terrifying, regardless of your species, as experienced by those astronauts in the original “Planet of the Apes” movie!
So I, personally, had no problems with such things being portrayed, and the animals fear and confusion and panic is most assuredly NOT representative of a jolly good time! A HUGE thing that aggravated ME (as a critter geek) was in my early book’s translation (1931 was when mine was published, by the original English translator Whittaker Chambers, and with the original illustrations by Kurt Weise) virtually NO mention of the precise SPECIES of deer Bambi was — in Europe it could have been Roe deer, Red deer, or Fallow deer. I know from other readings Bambi was SUPPOSED to be a Roe deer, but it is totally unclear in the book, and the illustrations even vary from rather Roe Deer-like depictions, to distinctly red deer as the “Bambi-type” deer. No Fallow mentions or depictions, however.
There IS a reference to some “Elk,” which in Europe are what we call “moose,” but it was also rather unclear, and Americanized versions display Bambi as a Whitetail deer, and “elk” as our Wapiti (which are in truth, very like Europe’s Red Deer).
No Thumper the cutesy bunny (although there was a Hare character in the book, but not nearly so major a character), or Flower the skunk — those were Americanized Disney inventions. Overall, I’D consider Bambi the BOOK an okay book for KIDS — even as a critter geek kid I would have begged-to-differ with various depictions in it, however — or for anyone interested in reading it for historical perspective’s sake, as it certainly HAS had an impact on modern societies’ views, if only by spawning the Disney animated film.
I AM glad, I read it, at long last. I would say now and as a kid, that Ernest Thompson Seton’s tales of animals from AN ANIMAL’S point-of-view are FAR better and more realistic (like his classics Wild Animals I Have Known, and Biography of a Grizzly), despite that Teddy Roosevelt and other pro-hunters referred to such writers as “Nature Fakers”! One of those “Nature Fakers” replied to the then ongoing debate, that such sport hunters never saw such animal behavior themselves, because they never saw an animal they weren’t trying to KILL!