Sunday, 2 September 2012

The Terror Of Farthing Wood

I’ve decided to be a little more consistent with how I draw myself at different ages.  It’s not important, but when drawing past events I get conflicted trying decide at which age I metamorphosed from the child-me

to the present-me,

so for my own benefit, here is a guide I will follow from now on:

Moving on…

When I was a child,

The Favourite Author was Colin Dann.  It was a pretty obvious choice.  He wrote about animals.  I liked animals.  I compulsively sought out all his books, about fifteen in total.  The only one I didn’t manage to get The Hands on was Just Nuffin.

Then one day, when I was a teenager,

I was at a friend’s house and there it was, just sitting nonchalantly on a bookshelf like it wasn’t the Holy Grail.  Enraptured, I rushed off to read it.  And it was utterly naff.  Only I was never sure if
a)      it was naff,
b)      the years of longing had built expectations that could never be satisfied, or
c)      I was just too old to appreciate Dann any more.

I can sort of address that third point.  Now being an adult,

as part of The Reading All The Books I Own, I have come across The Old Colin Dann Collection.  This only consists of the Farthing Wood books (the original book, six sequels and one prequel) and King Of The Vagabonds and its sequel because I must have got the rest from the library (cheap parents).

So far I have reread The Animals Of Farthing Wood and the sequels.  I can’t quite face the prequel yet.

The Animals Of Farthing Wood is a good book apart from a bit of clichéd dialogue.  It’s really exciting and the moral is never overbearing.  In fact, I’d confidently say it is in my top ten best children’s books.  Easily.

The problem is in the sequels.

The original story is a direct quest/adventure story.  Farthing Wood is being demolished to build a housing estate.  The animals are forced to leave to find a new home.  One of them has been to a nature reserve where animals are protected from humans, so all the animals of the wood band together under an oath of mutual protection to go across country to their new home, encountering many perils, such as fire, a fox hunt and a motorway, on the way.

But the sequels are set in the nature reserve.  There’s no clear plot.  So what we get is a string of blatantly shorter tales dealing with new perils, such as dangerously bad weather, killer animals and further human interference (and one infuriating book set outside the Park), with unsatisfying conclusions where the threat is removed by some outside force or at the cost of the lives of beloved characters, while the original cast get older and weaker, dying off or going senile.  Turns out wild animals don’t live very long, so the longer the stories are perpetuated, the more depressing it gets.

Let’s put it this way.  These are the animals who leave Farthing Wood (roughly). 

And this is who arrives at the park.

They gain a fox and a heron and lose all the lizards, both the pheasants, two hedgehogs and all the baby mice and voles.
And this is how the original cast (not including later offspring, descendants and mates introduced in the sequels) fare by the end of the sixth sequel, Battle For The Park:

How depressing is that?

I must have had a tougher skin when I was a kid.  I thoroughly enjoyed the sequels (except perhaps The Fox Cub Bold, in which Fox’s son leaves the Park, undoing all the work of the original novel).  I only found one death in the whole bunch unnecessary and too distressing, and I think it is the very last death in the series (strangely this time it didn’t bother me so much).  Whereas as an adult I found all the sequels incredibly sad and kinda pointless.  Look, they made it to their happy ending, okay?  Let’s not ruin it with realism (I don’t need another Toy Story 3 see previous post: The Death, The Kiss And The Sunset).

The original moral was one of conservation and giving children an awareness of how humans affect the lives of animals.

By the end of the sequels, the moral seems to just be being a wild animal SUCKS.  Don’t be a fox, and certainly don’t be a mouse.


  1. I have a lovely hand-written letter to me from Colin Dann! He was my favourite writer many years ago and I wrote to tell him. He replied that getting letters like mine was what made the long, lonely activity of writing so worthwhile! I just went to find it (it was tucked into the front cover of one of his books) and it is LOST in the treacherous hovel of my son's room :(

    1. That's lovely (well, not the lost part). I've never written to an author. Mainly because a) I don't know how and b) most of the authors I like are long dead and c) I wouldn't know what to say anyway.

      I have been ruminating recently that many of my favourite books and films as a child have animal rights/vegan messages. I wonder whether I was attracted to them because I was a vegetarian, or became a vegetarian because of what I learned from fiction.

      Examples: The Animals Of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann has a conservation message as well as carniverous animals vowing not to harm other animals. Charlotte's Web by E B White starts with a little girl saving a piglet from being killed, openly refers to killing a pig as murder and is about saving the pig's life. The Hundred And One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith is anti-fur trade and animal cruelty. The Last Vampire by Willis Hall has a vegetarian vampire. The Church Mouse by Graham Oakley has a cat who has listened to so many sermons on brotherly love that he won't harm mice. Ozma Of Oz by L. Frank Baum has a tiger who won't kill things because sating his hunger isn't worth the suffering he'll cause.

      And my two favourite films as a little kid were Dumbo and The Little Mermaid. Dumbo sees a baby elephant get maltreated by humans and then get his revenge on them, and The Little Mermaid not only has merpeople afraid of humans for killing fish but has an entire satirical song sequence in which Sebastian (my favourite character) sees a kitchen as a chamber of horrors, and a chef preparing a seafood dinner becomes an insane torturer.


I look forward to your enthusiastic and loving comment.