by Felix Salten
4 out of 5 stars
Bambi is born in a peaceful thicket, and he explores the meadow with his mother. He makes friends with the woodland creatures, and meets two other fawns, Feline and Gobo.
As Bambi grows up, he learns that there is danger in the forest, and the human hunters are a constant terror. Bambi witnesses a young buck killed by a mysterious thunder, and hears the buck’s screams as the humans deliver the final death blow with a knife.
Bambi’s own family is threatened, and Bambi sees other creatures meet death when a duck is eaten by a fox, and later that same fox is killed by hunting dogs.
Bambi meets his own father, the Prince of the forest, and learns wisdom from him. Bambi learns how to elude the human hunters. Bambi grows up and falls in love and has children of his own. There is always the danger of the hunt like a shadow over Bambi’s life, but somehow life goes on.
The writing style is excellent. You can really feel the terror, the grief, the joy, and delight in each scene. Bambi has moments of pure happiness when he feels the warmth of the sunlight, and he feels the strength running through his young limbs; and there are moments of shock and grief when death comes to one of his friends. The writing is just so extremely powerful!
There is a lot of death in this book. It is not a book for children, unless you wanted to use this to talk with your children about death and life and having courage in the face of danger and grief. At times the violence is graphic, and there are descriptions of wounds and entrails and blood. There is a crushing atmosphere of terror when the deer scent a human and run away.
At one point Bambi is so overwhelmed with grief that he wants to hide himself in the thickest part of the forest and never come out, but he is infused with courage from his father, the old stag. “Bambi felt himself thrill with pride, felt inspired with a deep earnestness. Yes, life was difficult and full of danger. But come what might he would learn to bear it all.”
There are several tender scenes with the old Prince, and the beautiful lessons that he teaches Bambi. There is a real love and trust between father and son that was wonderful to read about.
There is a scene where Bambi’s mother teaches him to play, and they chase each other playfully around the meadow. What a delight! You can really feel the deep felicity and safety in their relationship.
We meet a Mr. Hare, but there is no young Thumper like in the Disney movie. There is no skunk friend named Flower, and there is no forest fire in the book.
There is one chapter that is a dialogue between two leaves. It is autumn in the forest and all the other leaves on their branch have fallen to the ground, and these last two leaves talk about grief and dying and their fears about the afterlife. It actually made me cry because it was so touching! It is a beautiful counterpoint to Bambi’s own experiences with death.
There is also a vague mention of Christ and the verse in the Bible that talks about there being no death in heaven. (Isaiah 65:25 “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox… They will neither harm nor destroy…”) One of the deer says, “They say that sometime He’ll [human] come to live with us and be as gentle as we are. He’ll play with us then and the whole forest will be happy and we’ll be friends with Him.”… “Love is no nonsense,” she said. “It has to come.” I found it very interesting that even in this animal culture, they are aware of the prophecies of the Bible and have hope for a time filled with Love and safety. In another place, Bambi says, “There is Another [God] who is over us all, over us and over Him [humans].”
The part of the story where Bambi falls in love with Faline is adorable. They are completely wrapped up in each other, and they don’t even notice anyone else. I wish that Faline’s character was more fleshed out. There is so much potential there, especially in her relationships with Bambi and with her brother, Gobo, but we don’t get to hear much dialogue from her.
Gobo’s storyline is especially tragic and interesting. His life is entirely different from any other deer, and some of the deer admire him, but Bambi pities him. I thought it was such a fascinating addition to the story, and it makes Bambi more prudent to see how poor Gobo’s fate unravels.
At one point, Bambi is injured and I thought the way he rests and heals was so beautifully described with a lot of wisdom that we could apply to our own self-care. “He was cured, but he didn’t leave the hollow yet. He… lay quietly on his bed… Sometimes he was full of despair, at others of joy. The old stag was always with him.”
It shows that Bambi takes the time to rest until he has his strength back, and he goes through the ups and downs of emotional growth, until… “Bambi crept out of the hollow. Life was beautiful.”
There are so many beautiful nuggets of wisdom in this book! So many deep themes about love and loss, and finding your purpose in life, and having courage to face grief.