Bambi title spread, Junior Deluxe Edition (1956).
My bedside reading table is mostly stocked up with non-fiction, but sometimes pieces of classic literature get fit in from time to time. Felix Salten’s short, bracingly realistic Bambi, A Life in the Woods is the latest. The copy I read (pictured above) might have been an abridged version of the 1928 original. One thing’s for certain, however – this isn’t the Disney version, not by a long shot. In describing the title deer’s maturity in a deceptively calm forest, Salten’s elegant, plain-spoken prose takes on a grimly factual outlook that makes the animated version look, well, cartoonish. In the book, animals are born, seasons change, predators kill, and the things that the forest creatures admire or fear turn out to be expertly constructed illusions (no wonder the Nazis hated this book).
There are many other differences between the book and screen Bambis. Thumper and Flower are absent; Faline is more prominent and they have another deer friend named Gobo (who becomes the deer equivalent of an Uncle Tom after he’s domesticated by He, the human). And the relatively sedate hunting scenes from the movie are depicted as a devastating, full-blown massacre in print. Cool. Below are some nice images from various incarnations of Bambi in book form – including the Disney version (can’t help it, the film’s imagery is lovely if overly cute-ified).
Bambi: A Life in the Woods German first edition cover (1926).
Bambi: A Life in the Woods U.S. first edition detail (1928).
Bambi first U.S. paperback edition (1939).
Bambi: A Life in the Woods illustration by Mirko Hanak (1967).
“Bambi Finds the Meadow” illustration by Charles Harper (1963).
Walt Disney’s Bambi, page from film tie-in storybook (1941).
For years I’ve seen these colorful ’50s hardbacks known as Junior Deluxe Editions in antique and thrift stores, but I’ve never given them much thought before coming across the beautiful Flickr group devoted to them. Though the books are not particularly rare or collectible, the covers have a charming, folk-meets-modern sensibility — and they look dynamite sitting on a shelf. From what I’ve gathered, the Junior Deluxe Editions were a mail-order based program from Doubleday in which customers signed on to receive new volumes on a monthly basis. In a plan similar to the Columbia House record club, the highlighted book of the month was automatically shipped to customers unless they specifically asked to opt out. There were about 90 titles in all, issued from the mid ’40s up to 1962 or thereabouts.
My official quest began a year ago at our local VNSA used book saleorama. Surely they would have a few Junior Deluxe Editions. I didn’t find any, however, until this year’s sale on February 12th. For fifty cents to a dollar apiece, I managed to snag nice copies of National Velvet, Sherlock Holmes, Tales from Shakespeare, Swiss Family Robinson and Robinson Crusoe. Even the volunteer lady who helped me check out was impressed. Coincidentally I also got a rather beat-up library copy of Bible Stories for Young Readers this week at a Wickenberg, Arizona thrift for two quarters. Score!
I set up a little Flickr set for my collection, adding to it as it grows. I suppose they’ve been an inspiration for LitKids as well (and, who knows, might serve as the background for future prints). Enjoy!