The Animals of Farthing Wood (book)
First edition, 1979
|Series||The Animals of Farthing Wood|
|Genre||Children's, Fantasy novel|
|Publisher||Egmont Publishing Hutchinson US|
|12 November 1979|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||302 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-434-93430-5 (first edition hardback)
ISBN 1-4052-2552-1 (paperback UK edition)
|Followed by||In the Grip of Winter|
The Animals of Farthing Wood is the first book of the Animals of Farthing Wood book series, which was later adapted into a TV series of the same name. It was first published in 1979. An abridged version of 70 pages, by the same author, was published in 1993 to accompany the TV series.
The novel begins in the fictional Farthing Wood, which is being destroyed to make way for the building of human homes. The book follows the adventures of a group of animals who choose to leave their home in Farthing Wood and journey to White Deer Park, a fictional nature reserve. They are led by Fox and take an oath not to harm each other during the journey.
The humans have dug up the heath that surrounds Farthing Wood, and have reduced the size of the wood itself to little more than a copse. When the pond is filled in leaving only a small trickle in the stream due to an ongoing drought, Badger and Fox take it upon themselves to call an Assembly of the wood's inhabitants in order to devise a solution to their problem. Calling all the animals to be at this assembly, which takes place in Badger's burrow, both Badger and Fox hope that one of them comes up with a solution.
Unfortunately, as the meeting goes on, they realise that there is little that they can do to stop the humans and are about to break up the meeting when Toad, who had disappeared almost a year ago, arrives. He explains that he had been captured in a jam jar and taken far away. He eventually managed to escape and followed his homing instinct to get back to Farthing Wood. As he travelled, he met a group of frogs that lived in a pond, who told him all about the fact that the pond was located in a nature reserve called White Deer Park. It is then that Toad himself suggest that they should leave Farthing Wood and travel to the reserve in the hope that they will be safe from humans there. All the animals agree to do that journey with Toad as their guide.
Tawny Owl also insists that they should choose a leader in order to lead them, to which they choose Fox. Still, the smaller animals do not trust the larger animals, especially Tawny Owl, Kestrel, Adder, Badger and even Fox himself, who are their natural enemies, and refuse to go on a journey with them, knowing that they could be eaten by one of them. In order to solve that problem, Badger insists that they all should take an oath; the Oath of Mutual Protection, in which each animal resolves to put their natural differences and instincts aside in order to help each other. Making all the arrangements needed, on the night after what is left of Farthing Wood is destroyed, the animals set off on their journey with Fox as their leader and Toad as their guide.
Problems soon arise due to each animal's different abilities, such as how fast they are or what they eat. Mole is only able to make the journey by piggy-backing on Badger, a source of some guilt to him for which he constantly looks to make amends for. There is also the problem caused by each animal's character: whilst most swiftly learn to trust the carnivores Fox, Badger, Tawny Owl and Kestrel, the herbivores are nervous around the cynical Adder and the loner Weasel - the former taking a malicious delight in tormenting them that he (and to an extent Fox and Badger) cannot be trusted to maintain the Oath ahead of his own self-interest.
On that same night, they all cross a housing estate, where they drink from a pool, and later on as the day starts to break, they cross a busy road, taking refuge in some marshland, which is also an army land, where the military are seen practising. It is also here that the Lizards decide to stay due to finding the journey much too overwhelming, there being little point in continuing when the marshes will suit them. In the end, Fox respects and accepts the Lizards decision, but not without lamenting the fact that the party is not complete anymore. A couple of hours later, the animals are soon forced to flee when a fire, caused by a cigarette stub, occurs. Toad, who ended up in the middle of the fire, is saved by Fox. Mole also gets into mischief when he digs for worms, and ends up being caught by one of the firemen who appeared on the site to try to extinguish the fire; he would be later saved by Kestrel. As the fire starts to get controlled by the humans, a sudden storm helps to extinguish it.
Having survived the fire, the animals manage to cross the rest of the army land, and enter into farm land, where they all hope to be safer. A few days later, it starts to rain and they take shelter in an open barn, but are trapped inside by the farmer who thinks Fox is the fox who has been eating his chickens. While on watch the pheasants are both shot. Trapped inside the barn, Mole decides to dig a tunnel in order to get out of the barn. Digging as fast as he can, he tunnels it and so, all the animals manage to get out of the barn and take shelter in a nearby copse; all except for Adder, who stays behind in order to distract the farmer's dog and so, buy the other animals some time to run. Later that night, Tawny Owl flies over the farm, showing Adder which way he should go. At the copse, the rest of the animals find out that it is inhabited by some rooks, who welcome them. Feeling refreshed after a few days spent with the rooks in the copse, the animals proceed journey. Leaving the farm land behind them, they soon arrive at a river. Feeling unease about crossing a river, the animals fear that it is too wide for them to cross it. Still, Toad tells them that the river is a little wide, but he assures them that the current is very slow and that crossing it will not be a trouble. Whilst swimming across, the Rabbits panic and Fox, as well as some of the other animals, goes back to help them. After saving the rabbits, Fox is too tired to swim. In order to save Fox, Badger tries to help him, but a mass of debris sweeps them both down the river.
Kestrel keeps an eye for the debris, where Fox and Badger are caught in, as the other animals try to follow him. When the debris fall from a waterfall, there is not trace of either Fox or Badger, and the party assumes that they both perished in the incident. But to everyone's amazement, they find out that Badger is alive. Being tangled by the weeds, it takes the combined efforts of Weasel, Toad and the Hares to free him. Kestrel follows Fox downstream, but he disappears under a bridge. With no sign of Fox, Kestrel heads back to where the rest of the animals are, informing them of what happened. The animals know that they will have to tell Badger the bad news when he wakes up, but none of them wishes to do it.
Fox's presumed death presents the largest crisis for the party. Badger - partly weakened by the events at the river in which he almost drowned, takes charge not without some discord from Tawny Owl taking it as read that he and Badger - as the cleverest - should be joint leaders, with Weasel believing that there can be no direct replacement for Fox and they simply have to work as one - "I don't believe Fox ever named a deputy."
Badger's leadership is strained when Toad leads them around in a circle (thanks to being half way between Farthing Wood and White Deer Park, confusing his homing instinct), whilst the mice and voles leave the party due to several becoming pregnant - the rest of the party refusing to remain where they are until the babies and mothers are fit to travel. The smaller animals agree that they should stay, while Badger tries to convince them that they should stick together, and that they had to continue the journey, because there was no time for the party to wait until the newborns were old enough to accompany them. This swiftly ends in tragedy when it transpires that they are in the territory of a Red-backed Shrike, or 'Butcher Bird' (which in fact finally became extinct within the UK only a few years after the book was published), who kills all of the mice and voles' babies. Upon seeing the tragedy happening, Weasel remarks that there were a couple of Butcher Birds in Farthing Wood, back in the old days, and the two of them were even more dangerous and vicious than Adder himself. Feeling guilty over not taking Badger's advice in account, the mice and voles rejoin the party, now understanding that they cannot leave the safety of the party until they reach their final destination. But, they are not the only ones who feel guilty for not doing what they were supposed to; Badger also feels guilty, blaming himself for what happened, asking himself what would have Fox done if he was still with them.
Unknown to all of the animals, Fox is very much alive and he is on his way to find his friends. It so happens that Fox floats down the river on some driftwood, which soon catches against a small motorboat. Fox is taken down the river and into a lock, where he is seen by several humans so he jumps up onto the land and runs away from the town into the countryside. While on the countryside he meets a horse who tells him that he is walking through hunting country and warns him to get away as soon as possible. As night falls, Fox comes across a large burrow and rests for a while, before waking up to the sight of a vixen, who allows him to continue resting in her burrow. The two foxes go hunting and Fox tells Vixen about his friends and their journey to White Deer Park. Seeing her as the most beautiful creature on Earth, Fox wishes Vixen to be his mate, but she only agrees to accompany him as he looks for his friends, although she tells him she will consider becoming his mate along the way.
Gathering information from a barn owl, they discover that the other animals are safe and well, and the two foxes head off in pursuit of them. Along the way the scent becomes divided and the foxes split up to search in both directions. Vixen soon discovers she has taken the wrong route and heads back towards Fox, but she is pursued by a fox hunt and tries to lose them in some woods and becomes trapped. Fox distracts the hunt, attracting them towards him, ending up reunited with the rest of the Farthing Wood animals, who he did not know were hidden in a copse on top of a hill, trying not to be noticed by the Hunt. He blames himself for almost putting them in danger, but none of the animals blames him for it, for they knew that he did not know they were there. Vixen, who starts to climb the hill to join Fox, is almost caught by the Hunt Master, when Adder saves her and the rest of the party by jumping out of the grass, and biting the Hunt Master's horse, causing the Hunt Master to break his arm when flung and cease the hunt. Adder brushes off his actions by saying the horse was about to stand on him, but with there being little doubt he'd specifically prepared an ambush to save Fox and Vixen (and the others in the process), it is the turning point in his relationship with the group.
After that, they keep going, until they find a quarry, where they acquire a new member to their party, the droll heron Whistler, who saves Toad's life, after he was almost swallowed by a huge carp. Toad asks Whistler to through it back into the pond, and the heron does so. This shows that all the animals have learned to respect life, through the use of the Oath. Before going on, they all organize a small party, where Vixen and Whistler get to know everyone a little better (with the exception of Adder, who stays up all night looking for the fish that almost swallowed Toad), and where they both take the Oath. The next morning, they arrive to a motorway. Upon seeing it, they all ask Toad (who crossed it when it was still being built, and did not know that it was already finished) if there is another way to get to the other side. Toad tells them that there is not another way, and that the only way he knows to White Deer Park continues after that motorway. Some animals suggest that they should wait for the night to fall in order to cross the motorway, but Fox tells them that even at night the motorway would still have traffic, but mostly because they are not out of fox hunting territory. Decided to cross the motorway, Fox decides that the bigger animals will cross into groups, while Whistler will carry the smaller ones on his beak. All the animals manage to cross, with the exception of the two oldest hedgehogs, who are run over by a truck after becoming scared while crossing the road and curling up. Whistler couldn't carry them as they were too prickly. Adder, who stayed behind in order to make sure that the hunt would not follow the group, arrives to the motorway and Whistler carries him to the other side.
A couple of days later, they enter a field of cabbages, and find out that it has been laced with pesticide. Mole, who disappeared once again in order to search for worms, tells them that all of the worms are dead, confirming what Tawny Owl had found out about the pesticide. Toad states that they are getting nearer the reserve, but that they have to keep going in order to avoid the humans. The larger animals and the birds all fly into town and gather food for the smaller animals, as soon as its dark. Taking precautions, they cross the field, where they are photographed by a naturalist, who is astounded by the fact of seeing so many different animals travelling together.
At night, they reach a town, which is the last obstacle on the animals' trek. It starts raining and the group decides to find some shelter, hoping that the next day will be better. They find it in a church. Entering in it through a hole in one of the walls, they all fall asleep, behind the church organ. When morning comes, they find out that the hole had been covered by the humans, and that they are now trapped inside. Fortunately, a wedding takes place right that day, and they all manage to get out, after the pandemonium created by the church organist, when it starts playing the organ. Finally, a few hours later, they arrive at White Deer Park, where the White Deer himself welcomes them to the park, having heard from other birds of their journey and all of the dangers that they faced in order to get there.
A couple of nights after their arrival, Toad invites the animals to join him in a celebration. They notice that he is quite cheerful (the reason is that he tasted a sip of sherry from a bottle that the park's warden accidentally dropped). Gathering around near the park's warden cabin, who they find out was the same naturalist that photographed him when they were crossing the field of cabbages, they enjoy each other's company, remembering those who started the journey with them, and that did not make it, but also the misadventures that they all shared, stating that they would keep following the Oath, as a remembrance of their journey.
Characters in The Animals of Farthing Wood
The Oath of Mutual Protection
The Oath plays a key role in the journey and in the books to follow. During the first Assembly in Farthing Wood, an Oath of Common Safety exists to protect the smaller animals, particularly from Adder. This idea was, according to Fox, introduced by Badger's father. However, when the plan is made to journey to White Deer Park, the smaller animals, fearful that they will be eaten by carnivores such as Fox or Adder, request that this oath be re-sworn. Badger then names the new oath "The Oath of Mutual Protection" and all the animals swear it. Although this was originally all that kept animals such as Adder from eating smaller animals like the Fieldmice, it is the Oath that brings the animals together, to be replaced by friendship and loyalty. As a result, they agree to continue to respect the Oath after arriving at White Deer Park.
Two books or one?
The book was originally published by John Goodchild Publishers in the first half of 1979 as two separate paperbacks, entitled Escape from Danger ISBN 0-903445-53-0 and The Way to White Deer Park ISBN 0-903445-55-7. They were only released in this separate form once, and have since been released as the single novel, The Animals of Farthing Wood. The only remaining clue to the once split nature of this first story is the way the book is split into chapters, but also into two parts, 'Escape from Danger', and 'Journey to White Deer Park'.
In an interview with the "Green Action" radio programme on Paisley-based station Q96, Dann explained that the two book version was a special issue for a children's book club operating through British primary schools - it contained some extra illustrations that were left out of the original. It was originally felt that this was the best chance the book had of success due to the resurgence of the novel Watership Down then out on film.