Blade after blade of grass covered every inch of the ground. It tossed and waved luxuriantly. It bent softly aside under every footstep, only to rise up unharmed again. The broad green meadow was starred with white daisies, with the thick, round red and purple clover blossoms and bright, golden dandelion heads.
“Look, look, Mother!” Bambi exclaimed. “There’s a flower flying.”
“That’s not a flower,” said his mother, “that’s a butterfly.”
Bambi stared at the butterfly, entranced. It had darted lightly from a blade of grass and was fluttering about in its giddy way. Then Bambi saw that there were many butterflies flying in the air above the meadow. They seemed to be in a hurry and yet moved slowly, fluttering up and down in a sort of game that delighted him. They really did look like gay flying flowers that would not stay on their stems but had unfastened themselves in order to dance a little. They looked, too, like flowers that come to rest at sundown but have no fixed places and have to hunt for them, dropping down and vanishing as if they really had settled somewhere, yet always flying up again, a little way at first, then higher and higher, and always searching farther and farther because all the good places have already been taken.Bambi, Felix Salten
The above passage was not easily selected. Page after page, chapter after chapter, Felix Salten bequeaths to his readers no mere trinkets in poetry, narrative, nature study, and philosophy. Once upon reading the first chapter, my soul was enraptured in Disney-like charm. However, the effect was fleeting. Stark as the changing of the seasons, the bare and brutal realities of forest life were slowly unveiled before our eyes. Suffice it to say, Felix Salten’s classic novel is definitely not Disney.
Bambi by Felix Salten
🦉🦉🦉🦉🦉 (5/5 owls)
*Age we recommend to read aloud: 9 to 99 (if experienced with literary violence and death)
*Read by Mama to the Captain (age 8) and Goldilocks (age 4)
Bambi is a rite of passage. A thousand life lessons bound from the pages of Felix Salten’s four-season novel as reckless and wild as the fauns he describes, each one in soul-stirring, even painful clarity.
I must come clean and admit that I was the only student in our homeschool who was ready for this book. I had assumed that it’s content couldn’t be much more severe than the Disney movie depiction of the death of Bambi’s mother. Spoilers alert: I was wrong. Little did I know that Walt Disney had decidedly tamed Salten’s brutally realistic and breathtaking forest tale of the survival of the smartest. While Disney mercifully pans out when a pheasant thumps to the ground dead, Salten zooms in without so much as a soft focus.
According to Kathryn Schulz of The New Yorker, “Salten insisted that he wrote “Bambi” to educate naïve readers about nature as it really is: a place where life is always contingent on death, where starvation, competition, and predation are the norm.” He prevailed in his purpose of properly horrifying each of us.
The Captain was moved and provoked to tears by our read-alouds almost daily. Some chapters were particularly painful for him, but I believe he is the better and stronger for it, even if it came maybe a year prematurely. Goldilocks, however, was entirely too young to handle this novel, especially as the head-over-heels animal lover that she is. But we learned this important fact too late and felt we just had to find our way out of the dreaded woods we’d gotten ourselves hopelessly lost in.
Upon closing the binding on Bambi, Goldilocks fiercely declared: “let’s never read that book again and scratch it every day!” For emphasis she proceeded to literally scratch the cover, not so hard as to actually damage it (heresy!) but deliberately just the same. I took this as the four-year-old equivalent of Joey Tribbiani (Friends) wanting to deposit Little Women in the freezer for a timeout when Beth gets sick.
All in all, my selection of Bambi for this year was a bit of a mom fail. That being said, I’m also so glad we struggled through and finished it. Death is a concept to consider, wrestle with, fear (at least initially), and hopefully overcome through Christ during the course of our lives. Children will be confronted with death, it’s just a matter of when. Literary deaths are an important step, I believe, in conditioning our children’s emotional strength and resilience in dealing with the harsh realities of a mortal first life. Although they swallowed the thought, the death of Bambi’s mother (among others) lingered in our children’s eyes as they asked themselves hard questions such as “how might I react if my mother was to die?” We humans are shunners of pain and unpleasantness. But Bambi strips from us any such escape.
None of us are the same since we emerged from Felix Salten’s woodland dissertation on life, love, mortality, fear, hope, beauty, delight, and despair. Each of us is a little stronger, wiser, braver. Beyond even that, I believe we each came away with a strange, even unrecognized conviction that life should be deep, dreadful, and delicious, all in its own time.
Oftentimes, we prefer to be carted around in a cushioned, veiled palanquin that makes every attempt to rush us over and through the rugged, dirty, desolate streets of life. In parenting especially, we often filter in extreme (which certainly can have its merits). Yet with books like Bambi, we are strengthened, sometimes ruthlessly, by the relentless elements and facts of life. The drapes of our palanquin are flung open to the sights, sounds, and smells of whatever street we happen upon.
Since moving up into the mountains of Montana, our children are having to come to terms with the realities of nature. Owls eat mice, rats, birds, and baby bunnies. Yeti will kill a wild turkey if he gets the chance. And deer die, even when you’re not hunting them.
It’s hard for me as a mama to allow admittance to these realities, to let the difficult questions surface, to welcome the flow of mournful tears. My instinct is to prevent, protect, and postpone. But dealing with death is necessary. In fact, living and dying with a family of deer through the pages of a nearly allegorical account of a lifetime is even holistic education.
In Bambi, we feel the true pulse of a passionate, life-or-death existence. We gasp for breath with the thrill of outwitting danger. We know what it is to become giddy with the beauty of a sun-warmed meadow, to become drunk with the delight of a virgin snow. We see what it is to grow numb to suffering, to take flight amid senseless killing. We know what it is to succumb all at once to loss; to be deadened by despair. And then we awaken again to hope, healing, and the joyful dawn of spring.
Q & A for Bambi by Felix Salten
1.) Do you recommend this novel as a read-aloud?
I give this novel my highest recommendation as an adult read and an exquisite read-aloud for a child of nine and up (younger if he or she has encountered some literary deaths before). In full transparency, I’ve fallen quite in love with Felix Salten’s self-taught writing style. I’m quite anxious to read another of his novels, even though my better judgement tells me it will only contribute to the Ecclesiastes proverb:
“In much wisdom there is much grief and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.”Ecclesiastes 1:18
2.) How much death is there in Bambi?
While there are too many deaths to count in Bambi (the forest is regularly combed by hunters leaving dozens dead in their wake), there are perhaps eight notable deaths, half of which are fairly devastating to the reader.
3.) How violent is Bambi?
The novel Bambi is consistently gruesome. Deaths are described in excruciating detail, including words like “writhing” and “gurgling.” Admittedly, I skipped many paragraphs detailing the horrific ends to beloved characters saying something to the tune of “ok, so . . . let’s just say he died, ok?” Our children, wide-eyed and horrified enough without the grizzly details, would nod solemnly and gratefully, understanding the additional pain I was shielding them from. If I am being perfectly transparent with myself, I believe I would skip these passages again even if reading Bambi independently.
Here’s one such horrific example:
“Can you help me a little?” she said. Bambi looked at her and shuddered. Her hind leg dangled lifelessly in the snow, dyeing it red and melting it with warm, oozing blood. “Can you help me a little?” she repeated. She spoke as if she were well and whole, almost as if she were happy. “I don’t know what can have happened to me,” she went on. “There’s really no sense to it, but I just can’t seem to walk. . . .”
In the middle of her words she rolled over on her side and died.-Bambi, Felix Salten
4.) Is Bambi anti-hunting?
In case you think this is a no-duh question at this point, it’s not! The morality of hunting is certainly a subject to be discussed in the wake of reading Bambi. The hunter, called throughout the novel as simply “He” is a large, archetypal, even symbolic presence at every season in the story. (Some have speculated “He” to represent the Nazi’s oppression of the Jews but Felix Salten’s claims were more straightforward.) And yet, the portrayed integrity (or lack thereof) of the hunter was much more ambiguous than I had imagined. Still, before researching the matter, I did indeed hypothesize that Felix Salten was certainly anti-hunting and even wondered if he might have been one of those very early vegans like Leonardo da Vinci or Albert Einstein. I was surprised to learn, contrary to my assumptions, that Felix Salten was actually an avid hunter. At the same time, however, Salten was appalled with poachers and trophy hunters; hunting without need.
In retrospect, I can see traces of these convictions in his novel -the delicate fingerprint of a hunter hovering thoughtfully over a trigger, taking life only when deemed necessary and sustainable, never falling prey to the miraged allure of a breathless, steely-eyed trophy.
5.) FUN STUFF/TEXT COMPANIONS FOR BAMBI:
- I do not often say this, but I would recommend watching the Disney movie Bambi with your kids prior to reading the novel, if you haven’t already. If your children struggle with the cartoon version of the tale, I would postpone this read. Or you might consider listening to this lovely recording narrated by Shirley Temple:
Of course, if you “don’t do Disney” (more power to you), then you will have to go with your gut. Just know many are spilled . . . guts, that is.
- Consider a unit-study of Austria while celebrating the most famous work of author Felix Salten.
- If possible, take a field trip to a forest habitat, hiking shoes on and nature journal in hand.
- Enjoy the music of Austrian composer Johann Straus II. And/or listen to these 5 famous compositions inspired by the forest. Consider listening to each with your child(ren) and discussing which movements in the music inspire woodland imaginings. Daydreaming, sketching, or painting while listening is extra credit.
- Consider watching the documentary Perri on DisneyPlus which was inspired by another of Felix Salten’s novel.
- Or watch The Shaggy Dog (also inspired by the writing of Felix Salten) on DisneyPlus just for fun.
- Finally, for Christian families, Psalm 19: 1-6 is a lovely way to open a Biblical dialogue about how we can witness our creator in nature in conjunction with the woodland descriptions in Bambi.
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Love, ~Our Holistic Homeschool~