Sunday 6 February 2022

Bambi, Felix Salten, Walt Disney

Most people over a certain age do not need to be reminded of what happens in Bambi, Walt Disney's film of 1942, voted 20 in the list of all-time horrors. The death of Bambi's mother. The hunter hunted. Blood in woodland glades. 'We were all there bawling, me and my mum and brothers and sisters.'

I haven't seen the film but the book by Felix Salten was given to me on my seventh birthday, along with Wind in the Willows and Fairy Tales From the Balkans; seven was the start of books with more words than pictures. Felix Salten was a strange name, I thought, even then. Something uncomfortable. The stopped leap of a deer in a meadow.

Bambi in its English translation has come out of a difficult copyright history and been re-translated. I read a New Yorker story about the Bambi complex and Walt Disney's film, who Felix Salten was and what his story meant. 

Bambi was banned in Nazi Germany. Was it a the tale of precious deer and woodland glades He stalked with his third arm? Or a tale of Jews and fascism in the early twentieth century? 

Felix Salten was born Siegfried Satzmann, a new Viennese jew out of Austro-Hungary. He is now most famous for a porn novel he wrote, Josefine Mutzenbacher; or, The Story of Viennese Whore, as Told by Herself, which has never been out of print. It occupies 'much the same place in the Salten oeuvre as his homage to carpets: the one that lies at the intersection of ambition, graphomania, and penury', says the New Yorker.

All this was new to me. Felix Salten came down from the bedroom bookshelf, his strange name intact. He will go back altered. I read it in two days, the thick soft pages interspersed with Colour Plates. There are no chapters in Bambi, only line drawings and Colour Plates, with titles such as ' The sweet smell of the meadow made Bambi wildly happy', and, 'For a while Bambi and old stag walked together in silence'. A rhythm of its own. Ecstasy and companionship. 

Phrases like 'Can't you stay by yourself' became the entire bent of my early youth. Images of nature and seasons I plundered for an essay competition organised by Maldon Town Council when I was fourteen: seed pods perched innumerable on the fine tips of the branches, tender and firm and resolute. I learned the intimacy of a woodland glade, the crackle of dead leaves and twigs, the brushing of grasses, dappled light, myriad voices, buds stretched like fists into the sky.

I won a book token for fourteen and six for my essay on A Walk in Maldon.

Why would I be interested in someone else's story? said Johan, his own unsaid story bristling out of him. We bumped into him and Ellie outside Atkins' Farm Shop. We were buying hen food and Ellie was going back to Holland, after ten years in Ireland.

Because in someone else's story you can find whatever Bono was looking for. You can recognise yourself.

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