Tarka the Otter: His Joyful Water-Life and Death in the Country of the Two Rivers is a novel
A novel is a book of long narrative in literary prose. The genre has historical roots both in the fields of the medieval and early modern romance and in the tradition of the novella. The latter supplied the present generic term in the late 18th century....
by Henry Williamson
Henry William Williamson was an English naturalist, farmer and prolific author known for his natural and social history novels. He won the Hawthornden Prize for literature in 1928 with his book Tarka the Otter....
. The book narrates the experience of an otter
The European Otter , also known as the Eurasian otter, Eurasian river otter, common otter and Old World otter, is a European and Asian member of the Lutrinae or otter subfamily, and is typical of freshwater otters....
. It was first published in 1927 by G.P. Putnam's Sons, with an introduction by the Hon. Sir John Fortescue, K.C.V.O..
The plot begins with Tarka as a cub growing up in a den with his mother and siblings. As a cub, he learns how to clean himself, swim, and catch fish. When his home is attacked by hunters, he and his family must abandon it to flee from danger. Joining up with another group of otters, the family continue to travel. At some point he loses his family and his mother forgets she even had a cub named Tarka. From now on he must fend for himself. He continues to be persecuted and is constantly on the run from the hunters. In the end, as he is once again being chased by the pack of hounds, his life ends in a heroic death match with the fearsome dog Deadlock, who dies with him.
Awards and nominations
The book won the Hawthornden Prize
The Hawthornden Prize is a British literary award that was established in 1919 by Alice Warrender. Authors are awarded on the quality of their "imaginative literature" which can be written in either poetry or prose...
. It features illustrations by Charles Tunnicliffe
Charles Frederick Tunnicliffe was an internationally renowned naturalistic painter of British birds and other wildlife. He spent most of his working life on the Isle of Anglesey.-Life:...
In 1978 Sir David Attenborough
Sir David Frederick Attenborough OM, CH, CVO, CBE, FRS, FZS, FSA is a British broadcaster and naturalist. His career as the face and voice of natural history programmes has endured for more than 50 years...
narrated an audiobook version of the story, released as a double audio cassette.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
The novel has been adapted into a film: Tarka the Otter
Tarka the Otter is a film made in 1979, based on the novel of the same name by Henry Williamson. In the summer of 1976, Peter Talbot was asked by film producers David Cobham and Bill Travers to hand raise a baby otter called Spade, specifically for the film...
In 1974, Williamson began working on a script for a film treatment of the novel, but it was not regarded as suitable to film. Having previously rejected two separate offers from Walt Disney
Walter Elias "Walt" Disney was an American film producer, director, screenwriter, voice actor, animator, entrepreneur, entertainer, international icon, and philanthropist, well-known for his influence in the field of entertainment during the 20th century. Along with his brother Roy O...
, Henry finally accepted an offer to make the film from noted English wildlife documentary film-maker David Cobham
David Cobham is a UK Film and TV producer and director, notable for the film Tarka the Otter. He also directed children's TV series Bernard's Watch, Brendon Chase, Out of Sight and Woof...
, whom he trusted. The movie, narrated by Peter Ustinov
Peter Alexander Ustinov CBE was an English actor, writer and dramatist. He was also renowned as a filmmaker, theatre and opera director, stage designer, author, screenwriter, comedian, humourist, newspaper and magazine columnist, radio broadcaster and television presenter...
, was released in 1979, with a screenplay
A screenplay or script is a written work that is made especially for a film or television program. Screenplays can be original works or adaptations from existing pieces of writing. In them, the movement, actions, expression, and dialogues of the characters are also narrated...
by Gerald Durrell
Gerald "Gerry" Malcolm Durrell, OBE was a naturalist, zookeeper, conservationist, author and television presenter...
Williamson was very ill when filming started and died at the moment the final cathartic scene from the book was being shot at Instow beach in North Devon. One of his sons, Richard, and his daughter-in-law are actually in the film.
It was voted the 98th greatest family film in a Channel 4
Channel 4 is a British public-service television broadcaster which began working on 2 November 1982. Although largely commercially self-funded, it is ultimately publicly owned; originally a subsidiary of the Independent Broadcasting Authority , the station is now owned and operated by the Channel...
The soundtrack for the film was composed by David Fanshawe
David Arthur Fanshawe was an English composer, ethnomusicologist and self-styled explorer. His work is situated at the crossroads of traditional and modern music. His best-known composition is the 1972 choral work African Sanctus.- Life :Fanshawe was born in Paignton in Devon in 1942...
and performed by Tommy Reilly
Thomas Rundle Reilly MBE was a Canadian classical harmonica player. He began studying violin at eight and began playing harmonica at aged eleven as a member of his father's band...
In 1976 Anthony Phillips
Anthony Edwin "Ant" Phillips is an English multi instrumentalist, best known as a founding member of the band Genesis. He played guitar and sang backing vocals until leaving in 1970, following the recording of their second album, Trespass...
, formerly a guitarist with Genesis
Genesis are an English rock band that formed in 1967. The band currently comprises the longest-tenured members Tony Banks , Mike Rutherford and Phil Collins . Past members Peter Gabriel , Steve Hackett and Anthony Phillips , also played major roles in the band in its early years...
, and Harry Williamson
Harry Williamson is a British musician, producer and inventor.He is the son of noted author Henry Williamson and his second wife Christine Duffield. Divorced, one daughter Bee Williamson...
recorded a soundtrack to the film of Tarka the Otter with the support of David Cobham, the producer. Harry had helped to persuade his father to sign the contract, reassuring him that with the music he had composed, which Henry loved dearly, the film would be true to the book. When the film rushes were shown, however, it became apparent that there had never been any intention to use this orchestral work in the film. In 1987, Amy International paid for the completion of the work at Strawberry Studios and it was released by PRT records as simply Tarka. In 2001 the work was re-released with additional music by Voiceprint Records. The music has been commissioned for its first live performance with a symphony orchestra in Melbourne in February 2010.
About 'Tarka and me' by Pete Talbot
Pete Talbot trained at the Otter Trust under Philip Wayre. In 1976 he was invited by film producers David Cobham and Bill Travers to hand rear a baby otter called Spade for the title roll in Tarka the Otter. As his otter grew, Peter took him to live in a magical old water mill in Hampshire - the home of wildlife film makers Ron and Rose Eastman. In time, including Spade, they gathered a menagerie of five otters, a tame barn owl, a goose and a German shepherd dog. With others, they became a family traversing Southern England, from Norfolk to The West Country, with their exotic pets. Over two years living and swimming side by side with his otter, Peter encountered a diverse mix of other animals and their keepers. The principal animal handler on Tarka the Otter, his wonderful real-life experiences and gradual awakening to the magic of Henry Williamson's classic story are uniquely traced in this humorous and compelling adventure.
- 1927, UK, G. P. Putnams Sons, 1927, Hardback
- 1937, UK, Penguin Books, Paperback
- 1962, UK, Revised edition, Puffin Books, Paperback
- 1965, UK, Bodley Head, 1965, Hardback
- 1971, UK, Puffin Books ISBN 0-14-030060-0, January 1971, Paperback (C.F. Tunnicliffe, Illustrator)
- 1981, USA, Nelson Thornes ISBN 0-333-30602-3, March 1981, Hardcover (C.F. Tunnicliffe, Illustrator)
- 1982, USA, Salem House Publishers ISBN 0-370-30919-7, 1982, Paperback
- 1990, USA, Beacon Press ISBN 0-8070-8507-3, 1990, Paperback (Concord Library Series)
- 1995, UK, Puffin Books ISBN 0-14-036621-0, June 1995, Paperback (Annabel Large, Illustrator)