The Animals of Farthing Wood is the first book of the Animals of Farthing Wood book series. 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. They realise that there is little that they can do to stop the humans and are about to break up the meeting when Toad 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, passing through a nature reserve called White Deer Park in the process. The animals decide to leave Farthing Wood and travel to the reserve in the hope that they will be safe from humans there.
Bound by the Oath of Mutual Protection, in which each animal resolves to put their natural differences and instincts aside in order to help each other, the animals set off on their journey with Fox as their leader and Toad as their guide - the night after the little left of Farthing Wood is destroyed.
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.
After surviving a housing estate and a busy road, the animals take refuge in some marshland. It is here the Newts decide to stay due to finding the journey much too overwhelming, there being little point in continuing when the marshes will suit them. The animals are soon forced to flee when a fire, caused by a cigarette stub, occurs. The fate of the Newts is unknown.
Having survived the fire, the animals 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. However, while on watch the pheasants are shot. The animals manage to tunnel out and take shelter in a copse before arriving at a river. Whilst swimming across, the Rabbits panic and Fox goes back to help them. After saving the rabbits, Fox is too tired to swim, and is hit by some driftwood.
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. 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), which forces the decimated mice and voles to rejoin the party.
Fox is very much alive and whilst trying to find his friends, he meets Vixen. He also discovers that they are in fox hunting territory. Vixen helps Fox to try and find the other Farthing Wood animals, but the two foxes soon attract the attention of the local Hunt. Just when it looks as if the reunited Farthing Wood animals are doomed to a hopeless fight to the death with the foxhounds (which have in fact become too exhausted from chasing two different foxes to wish to continue), Adder saves them by biting the Hunt Master's horse, causing the Hunts 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 surviving a quarry (where they acquire a new member to their party, the droll heron Whistler - after he saves Toad's life), a motorway (where the two oldest hedgehogs are killed), and a field laced with pesticide, a town is the last obstacle on the animals' trek: the latter affording some comic relief as they choose to shelter behind a church organ on a wedding day, causing pandemonium when they flee in panic when the organist begins to play.
Characters in The Animals of Farthing Wood
Main article: List of Animals of Farthing Wood characters
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 Q-96 FM, 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 - which 'The Animals of Farthing Wood' had been accused of copying.no:Flukten fra Dyreskogen pl:Zwierzęta z Zielonego Lasu sv:Djuren i Gamla Skogen