Wednesday, December 08, 2010

The Animals of Farthing Wood

Pic courtesy flipkart 
Written by Colin Dann
Illustrated by Jaqueline Tettmar
Published by Egmont books UK
Ages: 9+

Farthing Wood is home to a menagerie of animals for a long time now, and they have been here for generations. Now, however, their home is being endangered by encroachments by humans. The whole heath is being dug up to build new buildings, the pond in filled up to reclaim the land, and it is no longer safe. At the end of their tether, they decide to move to White Deer Park, a nature reserve found by Toad quite unexpectedly. He had been taken away by some human children out on a nature expedition,  but had escaped and returned by the homing instinct.

The motley group, led by Fox and Badger, and including Toad ( he alone knows the way), Mole (who has to depend upon the faster animals to carry him), Hare and his mate, Pheasant, rabbits, voles, mice, hedgehogs, Adder ( who, along with Weasel, is looked upon by suspicion by the herbivores), Weasel, and Tawny Owl and Kestrel, who lead from the air, scouting out the territory ahead in case of a doubt as to safety.

The group takes an Oath of Mutual Protection, wherein all stronger animals are to protect the weaker ones, with some leading and some bringing up the rear, so that no animal is left behing or attacked by any outsiders. Adder and Weasel are most likely to break this Oath, or so it is supposed, so everyone is a bit more vigilant about their presence. But even they rise to the occasion when required.

It is a quest, an adventure, with obtacles like marshy land, a wildfire (triggered by the cigarette stub of a human being), a farmer out to vindicate the animal who has been stealing his chickens for many weeks now (obviously not our gang!), a river in torrential flow, babies being born to the mice and voles enroute, so that they have to leave the party, only to be butchered by a 'Butcher bird' (a Red-backed Shrike, a migratory visitor to Britain, considered extinct there since 1970, but found again on Dartmoor in 2010), a fox hunt, a pesticide laced field, a busy six-lane motorway and a town, before they can reach their destination. As is expected, there are a few deaths along the way, with the leaders doing their best to protect the rest.

At one point, while saving the rabbits while crossing the river, Fox is carried away, and, after a long hunt for him, considered dead. Leaderless for the while, the animals rally around Badger and Tawny Owl, in an uneasy joint leadership, and continue on their way. Joyfully, they are joined by Fox after many days, with an addition to their group, a Vixen who has helped him and accepted to be his mate.

One fine day, they finally reach the haven they are looking out for, and settle very well into White Deer Park, slowly dispersing and assimilating into the life there. But the travails they have been through together bonds them, and there are sequels that I would love to get my hands on.

I had read this book both in an abridged version as a very small child, and in the original when older. I had loved the sense of adventure it held for me then, and was a gripping, totally un-put-downable read. I was a bit aware of the message regarding conservation then, but not unduly troubled by it. I was a city-born-and-bred creature, and not very much in tune with animal habitats and such. All that was just something we learnt about at school, and the seriousness of it was not really realised then.

It proved to be every bit as enthralling now as it did then. I was, however, better educated in the POVof the animals, and it made so much more sense to me. It made equal sense to my animal-loving daughter, whom I read the whole book aloud to. A has encountered a lot of environment consciousness and conservation at an early age, at school, and I am much thankful for that.

I am also more aware of the dangers to wildlife due to roads etc. going through their habitat. When in the US and UK, we have often come across dead rabbits and such daring to cross these roads. Once we almost ran over one, and I can still remember the shriek of tyres with which we stopped just short of the animal streaking across. There are also so many examples of snakes, monkeys, etc. found in houses. What we fail to realise is that often it is us who have encroached upon what was once their home.

A wonderful read. Colin Dann has created a work of art with wonderful characterisation, an adventure, a wonderful example of what can be achieved as a team, with a realisation that often a team is only as storng as its weakest link. With a message of conservation.


artnavy said...

Nice one Sandhya.
And it is us who are the encroachers as i too felt in the recent bee hive episode we had in the apartment

janice said...

this was a cartoon on tv when i was a child and it terrified me. I think perhaps it was the fact that there is a serious message too it and i was maybe a little young to understand. It was in the same category as Watership Down for me.

Choxbox said...

Thanks for this S. You know which we are picking from you in the next swap :)

sandhya said...

@artnavy: True. Especially as our home is on the outskirts, we can see that- so often 'our' complex is 'invaded' by squirrels, monkeys, bees and such. We tend to forget that it was 'their' home not so long ago!

@janice: Thanks for commenting and welcome. I haven't watched the on-screen version, but would love to! I would recommend two animated movies called 'Once upon a forest' and 'Ferngully' which put across the message of conservation from the POV of the injured party- the animals and the forest itself, wonderfully for 8+ children.

@Chox: Done!

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