Book Review: Bambi

Rating: ★★★★☆

Most of my generation, when they think of Bambi, think of the sentimental Disney movie.  But the original book was a serious work.  Its one-of-a-kind conception and spectacular writing have earned it classic status as the story of a young deer growing to adulthood in his woodland home.  Salten’s writing is compelling, and scenes from the story will stay in the mind long after reading, to be often recalled and savored.  This Bambi lives a grim and dangerous life, his world filled with blood and fear — and most of his troubles emanate from the dreaded Man.

Bambi’s response to his pitiless world is to emulate his distant father, exiling himself from the company of others — even Faline, his mate.  In abandoning these relationships, he chooses a solitary life in which he accepts loneliness (his own and Faline’s) as the price of his safety.

There is a clear sense that Bambi’s coming-of-age is defined by no longer needing to rely on others.  His relationship with his father begins when the old stag rebukes him for calling his mother: “Your mother has no time for you.  Can’t you stay by yourself?”  Later in life, his father befriends him and teaches him to move through the forest so that he is never seen.  The relationship ends when his father leaves him to die alone.  Bambi then passes on the heritage of solitude by rebuking two fawns for crying after their mother.

In contrast to this message of isolationism, the Bible teaches that a solitary existence falls short of God’s plan (Genesis 2:18).  Rather than affirming interdependence as a sign of weakness, Scripture teaches that people are meant to live in community (Ecclesiastes 4:12; 1 Corinthians 12:12; and Hebrews 10:24-25).  Rather than becoming stronger when we withdraw from others, being alone actually makes us more vulnerable to attack.

The romantic appeal of Bambi’s self-chosen exile has an especial attraction in our individualistic culture.  Adults will need to use discernment about when a child is ready for this book.  The reader ought to be mature enough to critically engage Salten’s perspective without being drawn into his isolationist impulse.  Since the message is embedded in a masterfully written story, parents should be cautious about introducing it too early, but at the right time it ought to provide excellent material for discussion.

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Publication Information: Salten, Felix. Bambi: A Life in the Woods. Cooney, Barbara (Illustrator). Aladdin. 1928. ISBN: 067166607X.
Categories: 4 Stars, Age 12-16, Amblesideonline, Book Tree, Honey For a Child's Heart, Read-Aloud Handbook
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Posted on July 9, 2010


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