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Tarka the Otter

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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, 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, 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...

(The entire section contains 694 words.)

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