King of the Forest

The Viennese pornographer turned critic who dreamed up Bambi.

  1. In 1923, on holiday in the Swiss Alps, the Viennese writer Felix Salten was so taken with the natural setting and wildlife he was inspired to write the life story of a young fawn in the woods. Salten made up the name of his protagonist from shortening the Italian word for “baby.” In case you haven’t read it—I certainly hadn’t before writing this piece; Disney movies can eclipse their source material—Bambi is an astonishment. One chapter about the final moments of the last two surviving leaves on an oak tree as winter approaches is a wonder of compression and a rumination on old age and impending death as poignant as Kurt Weill’s “September Song.” “You’re as lovely as you were the day you were born,” says the first leaf. “Thanks,” whispers the second. “You’ve always been so kind to me. I’m just beginning to understand how kind you are.”

    In another, a fox, bleeding and exhausted, “beside himself with rage and fear,” stumbles into a clearing, pursued by a hunter’s hound. The fox first pl...

The complete text of “King of the Forest” is not in the Byliner library, but we love it so much we included an excerpt and a link to the full story on

Originally published in Tablet, June 2006

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