Review: 'The Animals of Farthing Wood'
Though first published in 1979, The Animals of Farthing Wood played a fairly substantial part in my childhood. I didn't read the book, but I eagerly awaited the animated series to follow the animals' journey, supplemented by the episodic magazine released in tandem. In my early teens, I picked up an abridged version of some of the sequels, but it was only recently that I managed to obtain the original novel by Colin Dann.
The book chronicles the journey of the animals of Farthing Wood – driven from their home by its destruction to make space for human development – to the fabled White Deer Park, a nature reserve across the country. The animals realise that they need to stick together to make the trip, and take an oath to help and protect each other; vital when your party consists of such varied woodland critters as voles and mice, through an adder, to foxes and birds of prey. The party is led by Toad, who was captured by humans, escaped and made his way through White Deer Park back to Farthing Wood.
While the book is easy to read and clearly aimed at children, it does not hold back and try to coddle them from reality. Over the course of the journey it brings across the animal's sadness at losing their home and the fear that many human encounters leave in them. Not all of the characters make it, and at times you marvel at those who did, overcoming shotgun-toting farmers, fields laced in pesticide, busy highways and the feared fox hunt.
Right from the start there is a clear environmental subtext. The book is highly critical of human actions that lead to the destruction of the natural world without consideration for other living creatures. In perhaps the most conspicuous example, we find the animals discussing the opposing views of the hunter and the naturalist, and the possibility that even the ideals of the naturalist will only be maintained as long as it is comfortable to do so:
For some reason Toad felt himself bound to defend the conception of Nature Reserves. 'I don't know why you bothered to join us,' he said in an aggrieved tone to Adder, 'if you have no faith in White Deer Park.'
'I didn't think my faith was in question,' the snake replied easily. 'The point I was making was what might occur if and when our human friends find they are short of land. I realize it's something that will only occur in the future. Nevertheless, you won't have to look far to find a good illustration of my point. The very reason we are here now is, in case you have forgotten, because land that was once left wild was seized, without compunction, by humans for their own purposes.'
Perhaps my strongest criticism of the book would be the lack of characterisation. Of the multitude of characters, most of the lesser ones have no real personality. That said, the story moves quickly and I never found this to be a major drawback. While I bonded with few characters, I did want the group to finish their journey safely and was annoyed with those whose stupid or selfish actions occasionally put the others in danger.
Overall I found it an enjoyable book and would recommend it. If you want a compelling plot, though, you won't find it here. The story is very linear with only one branch of note. Though furries perhaps will not need it, and the people who do will probably not read it in any case, it does remind you that there are other creatures in the world who our actions affect and who we must not forget to consider.