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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 694

Tarka the Otter

Tarka the Otter, whose name means “Little Water Wanderer” or “Wandering as Water.” He is presented as both a heroic and a pathetic figure. His short lifetime is filled with threats and enemies, from the owl that almost catches him as a cub, to the trap set...

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Tarka the Otter

Tarka the Otter, whose name means “Little Water Wanderer” or “Wandering as Water.” He is presented as both a heroic and a pathetic figure. His short lifetime is filled with threats and enemies, from the owl that almost catches him as a cub, to the trap set for him by the farmer, to the famine winter, to the wild and domestic animals that continually threaten him. His greatest enemies, however, are the otter-hounds and the men and women who hunt him and his family for sport. Tarka’s courage in the face of all these adversities is stressed continually, if without open emphasis. He dies like a hero, biting, holding, and drowning the hound who has pursued him all his life and who has worried him to his death. Tarka’s second main characteristic is not a traditionally heroic one: his playfulness. He frolics with his sisters, with his mates, and with his children, and he finds a game in every strange object, from empty tins to piers and bridges. The question never asked in the book, but continually implied, is “How can people derive sport from hunting such gallant and charming animals?” Otters are now, in Britain, a protected species.

Deadlock

Deadlock, the pied hound, Tarka’s nemesis. He finds Tarka as a cub and might have killed him if the huntsman had not called him off: Hunters allow cubs and pregnant females to live, to give more sport later. Deadlock hunts Tarka through a long day later on and chases him into the sea, where Tarka turns and drags him under in a foreshadowing of the book’s final scene. In the end, Deadlock, who gets his name from the remorseless certainty of his pursuits, catches Tarka once more after he seems to have escaped. This time, Tarka gets the “dead lock” on his throat and takes the hound down with him.

Graymuzzle

Graymuzzle, Tarka’s first mate. An old otter with broken teeth, she shows love and forbearance toward the young one and self-sacrificingly stays with him when he is caught in a trap. She gnaws off part of his foot to let him escape, ignoring the bites he gives her in his pain, but is herself caught by the farmer’s dog, to be finished off with an iron bar. If Tarka is a defiant hero, Graymuzzle is the book’s loving heroine.

Tarka’s mother

Tarka’s mother, who is never named. She shows the strongest resistance in the book to anthropomorphism. There is no doubt about her emotions, the human ones of love and fear, but she also shows an animal lack of memory. She grieves for, but soon forgets, the daughter she loses in a trap, the mate caught by hounds, and even Tarka himself when her new mate drives the male cub away.

Marland Jimmy

Marland Jimmy, another old otter, a male who has survived many trials to live a life of solitary amusement. He hides in the funnel of an engine sunk in a pond, sports with the young otters without competing for a mate, and shares a salmon caught in the famine winter. He dies alone, frozen into an icy pond.

White-tip

White-tip, Tarka’s second mate, who also demonstrates the hard life of the hunted animal. Her first litter of cubs is eaten by a passing badger, and her second is drowned by accident in the course of a hunt. She survives and has a happy relationship with Tarka until this too is destroyed by human cruelty.

Bloody Bill Brock

Bloody Bill Brock, a badger, one of a gallery of named animals who form the background of the otters’ life. Just as the otters collectively create an image of the joint character of the species, rather than having developed individual characters of their own, so Brock the badger, Jarrk the seal, Old Nog the heron, and Garbargee the conger eel give a collective picture of natural life. In it, Brock is the ultimate survivor. Too clever to be caught in traps, too thick-skinned to be deterred by otter bite or shotgun pellet, Brock pads through the world unharmed, if unattractive.

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