The Original Bambi: The Story of a Life in the Forest

Princeton Univ. Feb. 2022. 192p. tr. from German by Jack Zipes. ISBN 9780691197746. $24.95. F
A century after its first appearance, Salten’s coming-of-age story of a young deer and his distant but loving older mentor has lost none of its charm or emotional force. Lucid, unsentimental prose flows along with the seasons, from sylvan springs that rival the saccharine idyll in Disney’s animated Bambi, to harsh winter scenes where “something horrible happened every day,” as woodland creatures prey upon each other, red in tooth and claw. Absolute terror is reserved for the dreaded humans, reverenced with a capitalized pronoun, as in “He hurled fire from His hands.” The effects of that mysterious fire are devastating for all who come within range—most stirringly for Bambi’s domesticated cousin Gobo who has lost his fear of Man, in a heartbreaking subplot that invites parallels to Salten’s own status as an assimilated Jew eventually forced to flee Austria under the Nazis. More than a veiled critique of abusive power or cruelty to animals, this is a touching minor-key meditation on the lot of all mortal things, epitomized by a brief colloquy between two autumn leaves trembling on a branch, like a tiny Waiting for Godot.
VERDICT While it isn’t clear that Zipes’s fine translation improves upon the prior one, this handsomely illustrated unabridged edition of an enchanting and moving fable for adults (and older children) belongs in every library.
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