The first widely acclaimed work by the Austrian novelist Felix Salten (born Sigmund Salzmann), Bambi not only has remained a classic of children’s literature but also has earned the discriminating approval of writers such as John Chamberlain, Alfred Werner, and John Galsworthy. It has been reprinted often, even before Walt Disney’s sentimentalized film version extended its popularity, and has been translated into most modern languages, including Hebrew and Chinese. However, unlike many other children’s favorites adapted by Disney, Bambi is a story of neither comfortable sentimentality nor whimsical humor. Instead, it is a touching, lyrical, sometimes gently melancholy romance of growth and developing awareness.
Possibly the melancholy of the novel springs in part from the writer’s own childhood experiences. Salten suffered early in life from rootlessness and poverty. Until a relative discovered him destitute, friendless, and nearly famished and offered him employment, he despaired ever of surviving in a world of cruel indifference. To repay his benefactor, Salten, whose formal education was meager, began to write sketches at first, then longer pieces influenced by Guy de Maupassant and Gottfried Keller. The success of Bambi established for Salten a demand for more children’s nature books that were to include, among his best, Fifteen Rabbits (1929) and Perri (1938). In addition to juvenile fiction, Salten wrote excellent criticism and travel literature, mostly revealing his appreciation for the United States (his adopted home after 1939) and Israel.
To the child’s imagination, Bambi treats human experiences in the form of an animal fable. Young readers learn from the book the lessons of growing up, attaining independence, enduring the sorrows of loss, and meeting the challenges of change, from youth to maturity. Although many children’s fairy tales resolve conflicts in the plot through wonderful interference, in Bambi life experiences are treated as natural, without the interference of magic or chance. On the contrary, the book deals honestly with two of the most terrible...
(The entire section is 510 words.)