The 1942 Disney film Bambi revised the story of a 1923 novel by Austro-Hungarian author Felix Salten. This much darker book about the fight to survive in the wilderness now has a new translation by German professor Jack Zipes accompanied by the illustrations of Alenka Sottler.
It is...firmly lodged in the boomer brain as a child’s tale, which is precisely why this new translation from Princeton University Press is so welcome. Because it turns out that Bambi is quite remarkable: a meditation on powerlessness and survival told with great economy and sophistication ... Salten’s wit, usually expressed through sidekicks like the garrulous magpie, makes it clear why the story was a natural for Disney to adapt ... It’s a pretty brutal meditation on existence, serving as a kind of wild counterpart to Orwell’s domesticated animals on the Farm ... There are plenty of compensations along the way, though: the love of mother and mate, and the beauty of the place.
... almost unremittingly dark and pessimistic ... If [earlier translater and Soviet spy Whittaker] Chambers was engaged in...political legerdemain, given that his translation informed the Disney movie that became, in time, all that most people know of Bambi, this new edition by Mr. Zipes is doubly welcome. Bambi: The Story of a Life in the Forest is a bleak book, occasionally stilted in its language but also bracingly free of the encrustation of sugar that the tale has accumulated over the past 100 years. It’s a funny thing, though: Both Felix Salten and Jack Zipes owe a debt of gratitude to Walt Disney. Had Bambi not been Disneyfied, we probably wouldn’t be talking about him at all.
... the book is even darker than Bambi the movie...translated by Jack Zipes, with wonderful black-and-white illustrations by Alenka Sottler ... [Salten's] his depiction of our impact on nature is considerably more specific and violent than the one in the film, not to mention sadder ... Does all this make Bambi a parable about Jewish persecution? The fact that the Nazis thought so is hardly dispositive—fascist regimes are not known for their sophisticated literary criticism—and, for every passage that supports such a reading, numerous others complicate or contradict it ... Yet the most striking and consistent message of the book is neither obliquely political nor urgently ecological; it is simply, grimly existential. Whatever else Bambi may be, it is, at heart, a coming-of-age story ... the book is at its best when it revels in rather than pretends to resolve the mystery of existence ... What are we to make of this muddy, many-minded story? Zipes, in his introduction, blames some of the confusion on Chambers, contending that he mistranslated Salten ... Zipes is knowledgeable about his subject matter, but he is not a lucid thinker or a gifted writer ... the Chambers translation...is much the better ... In both versions, the Bambi that emerges is a complex work, part nature writing, part allegory, part autobiography.