Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Bambi by Felix Salten (1923)

I had this:

And this:

So I read (and listened to) Bambi quite a bit as a kid.  I also have a used copy of Bambi's Children that looks like this:

It was a discard from the Wilson Elementary School Library - that's also how I got my copy of The Adventures of a Brownie and The Little Lame Prince which I plan on re-reading sometime in the future.

As I read Bambi, I started to remember bits and pieces of the book, only I mixed some of it up with Bambi's Children.  The story of Gobo, for example, I thought was in the sequel (it's not).  After a few chapters in, I got this faint memory that kept getting stronger and stronger of two leaves talking to one another about autumn, until one falls and winter comes.  It's Chapter VIII, and when I got to it, I was impressed by its beauty and power.  I also loved the scene about the mayflies talking about time and the contrast of creatures who only live 24-48 hours talking about a beetle who can live months, and how time is relative.

Bambi is incredibly violent.  It's full of blood and guts.  Deer die.  Pheasants die.  A fox kills a squirrel. A fox kills a mother duck.  A fox dies.    Ravens or crows (I don't remember which) pick at a sick baby hare until it dies.  Bambi's mother dies.  Gobo dies.  And then a man dies at the end.  I don't know exactly know what the hell Bambi is about, but I think it must be at least partly about death.

It's sort of sexy too, but in a very muted way.  I mean, it's deer sex after all.  And who wants to really read in depth descriptions of deer sex.  In a children's book.

Bambi was translated by Whittaker Chambers.  Yes, THAT Whittaker Chambers. McCarthy, Cohn, the fabulous fifties, commies and pinkos, HUAC.  I had absolutely no idea.

One of the most famous and infamous pieces of early erotica was called The Memoirs of Josephine Mutzenbacher.  For many years, it was an anonymous work, and no one knew who wrote it.  Scholars finally figured out it that the author was none other than Felix Salten.

Felix Salten was a Viennese Jew; and lived in Austria until the Anschluss.  He was fortunate enough to be able to move to Zurich, Switzerland and escaped the Holocaust.  Bambi was banned and burned by the Nazis in 1936 because it was an "political allegory of the treatment of Jews in Europe."  I can definitely see this as a diatribe against hunting, particularly European hunting of the royal kind, but I guess this the allegory must run pretty deep because I don't get it.  Are the Jews the deer?  Is He the Germans?  Is the hummingbird the neutral countries who won't help the Jews?  That seems a bit convoluted.  As we know, the Nazis were nutsacks, so I guess I should take this definition with a grain of salt.

Felix Salten also wrote the story that ultimately became The Shaggy Dog.  Who knew?

BambiBambi by Felix Salten
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In Bambi, many things die. Many, many, many things.  Pheasants die.  A ferret kills a squirrel.  Deer die.  A fox kills a pheasant.  A fox kills a duck.  Some ravens peck a baby hare to death.  A man kills a fox.  Bambi's mother dies.  A deer named Gobo dies.  A man dies.  Even some leaves die, and they talk to one another about it before they do so.  It's a gruesome book.  It's like a slasher movie about deer.    There is also some muted sex scenes too, although it's deer sex, and who really wants to read in depth descriptions of deer having sex?  In a children's book?

All snark aside, Bambi is really a quite compelling book.  It's not for people who like to hunt.  It's not for the squeamish. It's not really for kids.  But it does have a lyrical, majestic quality.  It reminded me quite a bit of   Watership Down; if you liked that book you'll like Bambi.  Don't let the Disney movie (which is beautiful in its own way) throw you off of this really great book.

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