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The Gruesome Origins of Classic Fairytales: Bambi

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

In today's installment of The Gruesome Origins of Classic Fairytales we are covering Bambi. We all know the Disney version of this story. A doe gives birth to a fawn named Bambi, who will one day take over the position of Great Prince of the Forest, a title currently held by Bambi's father, who guards the woodland creatures against the dangers of hunters. The fawn is quickly befriended by an eager, energetic rabbit named Thumper, who helps to teach him to walk and speak. Bambi grows up very attached to his mother, with whom he spends most of his time. He soon makes other friends, including a young skunk named Flower and a female fawn named Faline. Curious and inquisitive, Bambi frequently asks about the world around him and is cautioned about the dangers of life as a forest creature by his loving mother. One day out in a meadow, Bambi briefly sees The Great Prince but does not realize that he is his father. As the Great Prince wanders uphill, he discovers the human hunter named "Man" by all the animals is coming and rushes down to the meadow to get everyone to safety. Bambi is briefly separated from his mother during that time but is escorted to her by the Great Prince as the three of them make it back in the forest just as Man fires his gun.


During Bambi's first winter, he and Thumper play in the snow while Flower hibernates. One day his mother takes him along to find food when Man shows up again. As they escape, his mother is shot and killed by the hunter, leaving the little fawn mournful and alone. Taking pity on his abandoned son, the Great Prince leads Bambi home as he reveals to him that he is his father. Next year, Bambi has matured into a young stag, and his childhood friends have also entered young adulthood. They are warned of "twitterpation" by Friend Owl and that they will eventually fall in love, although the trio views the concept of romance with scorn. However, Thumper and Flower soon encounter their beautiful romantic counterparts and abandon their former thoughts on love. Bambi himself encounters Faline as a beautiful doe. However, their courtship is quickly interrupted and challenged by a belligerent older stag named Ronno, who attempts to force Faline away from Bambi. Bambi successfully manages to defeat Ronno in battle and earn the rights to the doe's affections.


Bambi is awakened afterward by the smell of smoke; he follows it and discovers it leads to a hunter camp. His father warns Bambi that Man has returned with more hunters. Although Bambi is separated from Faline in the turmoil and searches for her along the way, the two flee to safety. He soon finds her cornered by Man's vicious hunting dogs, which he manages to ward off. Bambi escapes them and is shot by a hunter. Meanwhile, at the "Man's" camp, their campfire suddenly spreads into the forest, resulting in a wildfire from which the forest residents flee in fear. Bambi, his father, Faline, and the forest animals manage to reach shelter on a riverbank. The following spring, Faline gives birth to twins under Bambi's watchful eye as the new Great Prince of the Forest.


This movie is based on a book by Felix Salten.

 

Felix Salten Version


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.


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.

 
 

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