Forgotten Book: The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann

The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann, US publication: Elsevier/Nelson Books 1979 hardcover, fiction

I came across this in a bookstore in 1979, and as I sometimes like adventure books with talking animals, I bought it, as much for the beautiful dust jacket as anything. The scan is of my own copy, I haven’t seen any other image of it anywhere.

The Animals of Farthing Wood is a series of books about a group of woodland animals. It originated with the 1979 book, The Animals of Farthing Wood, by Colin Dann, and was followed by six sequels and a prequel by Dann. An animated Animals of Farthing Wood television series based on the books aired in the 1990s, created by the European Broadcasting Union.

In the UK, this was first published by John Goodchild Publishers in early 1979 as two separate paperbacks. The first was known as Escape from Danger and the second was known as The Way to White Deer. After this one instance, they have been released as one novel.

The original book was meant to be a stand-alone book, with the animals reaching White Deer Park at the end. The success of the book led to a further six novels detailing the adventures of the animals once they reached White Deer Park, and a prequel showing how Farthing Wood came to be destroyed. The cover illustrations for this original series were painted by Portal artist Frances Broomfield.

The story here is about the animals of Farthing Wood, a badger, a fox, an adder, an owl, a kestrel, a toad, a mole and families of hares, rabbits, hedgehogs, mice and voles.  The book begins during a drought and quite soon after the animals discover that their precious pond has been filled in by developers.  They realize they need to do something and they band together to try and find a solution.  At that point, Toad, who had disappeared shows up.  Turns out he had been snatched by a child, put in a jar and then released quite far to the north.  He made his way home which took four mating seasons.  Learning what happened to his pond, he tells the animals that he had discovered a nature reserve and could probably find his way back there.  The animals decided, after some debate, that escape to this place may be their only choice.  Their decision is confirmed the next day when the bulldozers show up. It is a true adventure journey.  They battle weather, forest fire, nasty farmers, big agriculture, the hunt, predators and traffic.

I reread it toward the end of 2019 after reading a December 11 Forgotten Book piece on Olman Freeny’s blog, Olman’s Fifty. He said:
The Animals of Farthing Wood was very straightforward, a little bit too simple for me to really get into.  Despite that, by the end, I was quite moved and felt a real sense of triumph at the completion of the adventure.  The stakes don’t feel that high, though in the narrative animals do die and the threat of human destruction and cruelty is very real and depressing.  This was Dann’s first book and judging by my memory of King of the Vagabonds, I suspect his work increases in subtlety.

Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t up to the standard of Richard Adams’ Watership Down, nor Duncton Wood by William Horwood or even The Redwall books by Brian Jacques. But for this sort of thing, it’s enjoyable. I haven’t seen the sequels nor the animated series.

About Richard Robinson

Enjoying life in Portland, OR
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13 Responses to Forgotten Book: The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann

  1. Steve Oerkfitz says:

    Never a big one for talking animals, although I remember enjoying Watership Down, and the Freddy the Pig books when a child.

  2. That wrap-around cover on The Animals of Farthing Wood is just dandy! I would buy the book just for that! Like Steve, I’m not a big fan of talking animals outside of cartoons.

  3. Jeff Meyerson says:

    Hard pass. I do like the cover.

  4. Your cover image scan of THE ANIMALS OF FARTHING WOOD might bring more traffic to your blog. You seem to be the only person on the planet with that dazzling cover!

  5. tracybham says:

    I am with George, I would buy that book just for the cover. It is lovely. If I found a copy I would read it. (and I found the same thing that George commented on above, there did not appear to be one copy at abebooks.com with that cover.)

    And you have reminded me that I need to read the first book in the Redwall series.

  6. Art Scott says:

    I tried blowing up the cover, but couldn’t quite make out the signature – “T. H…[something]”. Can you decipher it, or is the artist credited somewhere on the jacket flap or in the front material? It’s a very fine illustration, and I’d like to find out more about the artist

  7. Art Scott says:

    Hardly an unknown talent, it seems. Writes youth fiction (Whale in a FIshbowl, The Dragon of Cripple Creek, etc.), illustrator of a lot of fantasy fiction, the Redwall Series for one, whatever that is. Born 1953 in Long Beach, now lives in Virginia, trained at Art Center in Pasadena. Given your tastes, Rick, I’d have thought you would have encountered his work before. This jacket displays an affinity for Andy Wyeth, for sure.

    • I probably have, Art, I have the first 14 volumes of the Redwall series, beginning with
      Redwall all by Brian Jacques, all in HB 1sts. I just didn’t make the connection. As it happens, I like the Redwall cove ills too.

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