I never thought that a book about a deer in the woods could be such a page-turner.
One of my friends described the book as beautiful. Another told me it was "quite good." And I first came across it referenced in a YA book when I was in middle school, in which the narrator claimed it was much better than the Disney version.
I agree with all of the above.
I first quickly flipped through to make sure that the animals actually talked, since I have a hard time making it through books without any dialog. They do, and their discussion characterizes their individual species well. I loved the kindness and respect with which the animals seemed to treat one another by default, humoring one another's weaknesses and foibles. At the same time, there is an undercurrent of the danger and harshness of the natural world, as birds and smaller rodents are occasionally killed by fox and ferrets.
But the main point of tension comes between those who live in the forest and the humans who encroach upon their very lives. The human threat looms much larger in this book than it does in the movie; the scene in which Bambi's mother is shot is a virtual blood bath, harrowing in its sense of entrapment. Indeed, it reminded me of a war story in which the enemy's soldiers had discovered and surrounded your hideout. Perhaps it is because of this harsh reality that Bambi's father instills in him the ideal that the only way to remain safe is to be alone:
"But of all his teachings this had been the most important; you must live alone, if you wanted to preserve yourself, if you understood existence, if you wanted to attain wisdom, you had to live alone."
Which is quite different from the overall feeling one takes away from the Disney movie, which is filled with cheerful sidekicks and the theme that "love is a song that never ends."
This sense of aloneness permeates the book and is perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of it. We see Faline's pain and confusion when Bambi decides, after a heady courtship, that he's "not sure" if he loves her anymore. We see Gobo's naivete when he returns from the human world believing that he has nothing to fear from it -- and the way this sets him apart from the other deer, so that he is no longer really one of them or truly domestic. One of the most poignant scenes in the book is one in which a fox tries to convince a hunting dog that he has become a traitor by allying himself with the humans; the dog's insistence that the human is the bringer of all good things, and that he is not alone in his decision to cross over to his side.
There's also a quiet spirituality about the piece, as Bambi's father tells him that there is "another" who is higher than both humans and the forest creatures.
I found this book at a library booksale and probably paid a quarter for it. I didn't know until I read it this weekend what a treasure I had on my bookshelf.