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Bambi, a Life in the Woods
Bambi book cover.jpg
First edition cover of the original publication
Author Felix Salten
Original title Bambi: Eine Lebens­geschichte aus dem Walde
Translator Whittaker Chambers
Illustrator Kurt Wiese
Country Austria
Language German
Genre Fiction
Publisher Ullstein Verlag
Publication date
1923
Published in English
1928
Media type Print (hardcover)
OCLC 2866578
Followed by Bambi's Children 

Bambi, a Life in the Woods (German title: Bambi: Eine Lebensgeschichte aus dem Walde) is a 1923 Austrian coming-of-age novel written by Felix Salten and originally published in Berlin by Ullstein Verlag. The novel traces the life of Bambi, a male roe deer, from his birth through childhood, the loss of his mother, the finding of a mate, the lessons he learns from his father, and the experience he gains about the dangers posed by human hunters in the forest.

An English translation by Whittaker Chambers was published in North America by Simon & Schuster in 1928, and the novel has since been translated and published in over 30 languages around the world. Salten published a sequel, Bambi's Children, in 1939.

The novel was well received by critics and is considered a classic, as well as one of the first environmental novels. It was adapted into a theatrical animated film, Bambi, by Walt Disney Productions in 1942, two Russian live-action adaptations in 1985 and 1986, a ballet in 1987, and a stage production in 1998. Another ballet adaptation was created by an Oregon troupe, but never premiered. Janet Schulman published a children's picture book adaptation in 2000 that featured realistic oil paintings and many of Salten's original words.

Plot

Bambi is a roe deer fawn born in a thicket in late spring one year. Over the course of the summer, his mother teaches him about the various inhabitants of the forest and the ways deer live. When she feels he is old enough, she takes him to the meadow which he learns is both a wonderful but also dangerous place as it leaves the deer exposed and in the open. After some initial fear over his mother's caution, Bambi enjoys the experience. On a subsequent trip, Bambi meets his Aunt Ena, and her twin fawns Faline and Gobo. They quickly become friends and share what they have learned about the forest. While they are playing, they encounter princes, male deer, for the first time. After the stags leave, the fawns learn that those were their fathers, but that the fathers rarely stay with or speak to the females and young.

As Bambi grows older, his mother begins to leave him alone. While searching for her one day, Bambi has his first encounter with "He" - the animals' term for humans - which terrifies him. The man raises a firearm and aims at him; Bambi flees at top speed, joined by his mother. After he is scolded by a stag for crying for his mother, Bambi gets used to being alone at times. He later learns the stag is called the "Old Prince", the oldest and largest stag in the forest who is known for his cunning and aloof nature. During the winter, Bambi meets Marena, a young doe, Nettla, an old doe who no longer bears young, and two princes, Ronno and Karus. Mid-winter, hunters enter the forest, killing many animals including Bambi's mother. Gobo also disappears and is presumed dead.

After this, the novel skips ahead a year, noting that Bambi, now a young adult, was cared for by Nettla and that when he got his first set of antlers he was abused and harassed by the other males. It is summer and Bambi is now sporting his second set of antlers. He is reunited with his cousin Faline. After he battles and defeats first Karus then Ronno, Bambi and Faline fall in love with each other. They spend a great deal of time together. During this time, the old Prince saves Bambi's life when he nearly runs towards a hunter imitating a doe's call. This teaches the young buck to be cautious about blindly rushing toward any deer's call. During the summer, Gobo returns to the forest having been raised by a man who found him collapsed in the snow during the hunt where Bambi's mother was killed. While his mother and Marena welcome him and celebrate him as a "friend" of man, the old Prince and Bambi pity him. Marena becomes his mate, but several weeks later Gobo is killed when he approaches a hunter in the meadow, falsely believing the halter he wore would keep him safe from all men.

As Bambi continues to age, he begins spending most of his time alone, including avoiding Faline though he still loves her in a melancholic way. Several times he meets with the old Prince who teaches him about snares, shows him how to free another animal from one, and encourages him not to use trails, to avoid the traps of men. When Bambi is later shot by a hunter, the Prince shows him how to walk in circles to confuse the man and his dogs until the bleeding stops, then takes him to a safe place to recover. They remain together until Bambi is strong enough to leave the safe haven again. When Bambi has grown gray and is "old", the old Prince shows him that man is not all-powerful by showing him the dead body of a man who was shot and killed by another man. When Bambi confirms that he now understands that "He" is not all-powerful, and that there is "Another" over all creatures, the stag tells him that he has always loved him and calls him "my son" before leaving.

At the end of the novel, Bambi meets with twin fawns who are calling for their mother and he scolds them for not being able to stay alone. After leaving them, he thinks to himself that the girl fawn reminded him of Faline, and that the male was promising and that Bambi hoped to meet him again when he was grown.

Impact

Liberal critics have argued Bambi to be one of the first environmental novels.

Adaptations

Film

Walt Disney animated film

With World War II looming, Max Schuster aided the Jewish Salten's flight from Nazi controlled Austria and Nazi Germany and helped introduce him, and Bambi, to Walt Disney Productions. Sidney Franklin, a producer and director at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, purchased the film rights in 1933, initially desiring to make a live-action adaptation of the work. Deciding such a film would be too difficult to make, he sold the rights to Walt Disney in April 1937 in hopes of it being adapted into an animated film instead. Disney began working on the film immediately, intending it to be the company's second feature-length animated film and his first to be based on a specific, recent work.

The original novel, written for an adult audience, was considered too "grim" and "somber" for the young audience Disney was targeting, and with the work required to adapt the novel, Disney put production on hold while it worked on several other projects. In 1938, Disney assigned Perce Pearce and Carl Fallberg to develop the film's storyboards, but attention was soon drawn away as the studio began working on Fantasia. Finally, on 17 August 1939, production on Bambi began in earnest, although it progressed slowly due to changes in the studio personnel, location and the methodology of handling animation at the time. The writing was completed in July 1940, by which time the film's budget had swelled to $858,000. Disney was later forced to slash 12 minutes from the film before final animation, to save costs on production.

Heavily modified from the original novel, Bambi was released to theaters in the United States on 8 August 1942. Disney's version severely downplays the naturalistic and environmental elements found in the novel, giving it a lighter, friendlier feeling. The addition of two new characters, Thumper the Rabbit and Flower the Skunk, two sweet and gentle forest creatures, contributed to giving the film the desired friendlier and lighter feeling. Considered a classic, the film has been called "the crowning achievement of Walt Disney's animation studio" and was named as the third best film in the animation genre of the AFI's 10 Top 10 "classic" American film genres.

Russian live-action films

In 1985, a Russian-language live-action adaptation, Russian: Детство Бемби (Detstvo Bembi, lit. Bambi's Childhood), was produced and released in VHS format in the Soviet Union by Gorky Film Studios. It was directed by Natalya Bondarchuk, who also co-wrote the script with Yuri Nagibin, and featured music by Boris Petrov. Natalya 's son Ivan Burlyayev and her husband Nikolay Burlyaev starred as the young and adolescent Bambi, respectively, while Faline (renamed Falina) was portrayed by Yekaterina Lychyova as a child and Galina Belyayeva as an adult. In this adaptation, the film starts using animals, changes to using human actors, then returns to using animals for the ending.

A sequel, Russian: Юность Бемби (Yunost Bembi), lit. Bambi's Youth, followed in 1986 with Nikolay and Galina reprising their voice roles as Bambi and Falina. Featuring over 100 species of live animals and filmed in various locations in Crimea, Mount Elbrus, Latvia and Czechoslovakia, the film follows new lovers Bambi and Felina as they go on a journey in search of a life-giving flower. Both films were released to Region 2 DVD with Russian and English subtitle options by the Russian Cinema Council in 2000. The first film's DVD also included a French audio soundtrack, while the second contained French subtitles instead.

Ballet

The Estonian composer Lydia Auster composed the ballet Bambi in 1986 which was premièred in Tartu, Vanemuine theater, in 1987.

The Oregon Ballet Theatre adapted Bambi into an evening-length ballet entitled Bambi: Lord of the Forest. It was slated to premiere in March 2000 as the main production for the company's 2000–2001 season. A collaboration between artistic director James Canfield and composer Thomas Lauderdale, the ballet's production was to be an interpretation of the novel rather than the Disney film. In discussing the adaptation, Canfield stated that he was given a copy of the novel as a Christmas present and found it to be a "classic story about coming of age and a life cycle." He went on to note that the play was inspired solely by the novel and not the Disney film. After the initial announcements, the pair began calling the work The Collaboration, as Disney owns the licensing rights for the name Bambi and they did not wish to fight for usage rights. The local press began calling the ballet alternative titles, including Not-Bambi which Canfield noted to be his favorite, out of derision at Disney. Its premiere was delayed for unexplained reasons, and it has yet to be performed.

Theater

Playwright James DeVita, of the First Stage Children's Theater, created a stage adaptation of the novel. The script was published by Anchorage Press Plays on 1 June 1997. Crafted for young adults and teenagers and retaining the title Bambi—A Life in the Woods, it has been produced around the United States at various venues. The script calls for an open-stage setup, and utilizes at least nine actors: five male and four female, to cover the thirteen roles. The American Alliance Theatre and Education awarded the work its "Distinguished Play Award" for an adaptation.

Book

In 1999, the novel was adapted into an illustrated hardback children's book by Janet Schulman, illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher, and published by Simon & Schuster as part of its "Atheneum Books for Young Readers" imprint. In the adaptation, Schulman attempted to retain some of the lyrical feel of the original novel. She notes that rather than rewrite the novel, she "replicated Salten's language almost completely. I reread the novel a number of times and then I went through and highlighted the dialogue and poignant sentences Salten had written." Doing so retained much of the novel's original lyrical feel, though the book's brevity did result in a sacrifice of some of the "majesty and mystery" found in the novel. The illustrations were created to appear as realistic as possible, using painted images rather than sketches. In 2002, the Schulman adaptation was released in audiobook format by Audio Bookshelf, with Frank Dolan as the reader.

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