Review Blog

Sep 19 2012

Into that forest by Louis Nowra

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2012. ISBN 9781743311646
(Ages 13+) Recommended. Children raised by animals. Two young girls, lost in the Tasmanian bush after a boating accident, form the basis of this rivetting tale. Hannah has some knowledge of the bush, but the other, Becky, has none, coming from a sheep farm where her father and the local bounty hunter kill all the wild dogs they can. But Hannah is more respectful of the tiger with the stripes and dog like features. Her father, a whaler, has told her stories about wild animals and she hates the visits of the bounty hunter to their house.
The girls, about five and six years old are taken in by a pair of Tasmanian Tigers. The girls become part of their den, learning to hunt with their tiger family, suckling, snuggling in with the he and she dogs, Hannah calls Dave and Corinna, for warmth. The girls become attuned to sleeping through the daylight hours, waking at night for hunting and feeding, they learn to hunt in a pack, tearing at uncooked flesh and eating it down, lapping the water with their tongues. They begin to lose the trappings of the life they once lead, abandoning their clothes, forgetting their language, taking on the growls and coughs of the animals as the form of communication.
One winter, desperately cold and starving, Hannah leads her family to the bounty hunter's shack, where she remembered there were sheep. It saves their lives, but the bounty hunter now knows a pack of tigers is around. He kills the two new cubs, but spots the naked girls in the bush trying to warn the mother.
An engrossing tale of family and togetherness, of familial loyalty as the two girls become part of the tigers' family, running with them in the wild, then turning to killing sheep, the one thing sure to focus the eye of the bounty hunter on them. All the while the reader knows a climax is coming, one where all their loyalties will be tested.
Nowra gets into the nitty gritty of a child learning to live with animals, which raises questions about our society and the trappings of civilisation which have glossed over the fundamental issues of family life, the basic stuff of survival, closeness, food and shelter. This astonishing book could be compared with others like it, Dog boy by Eva Hornung (2010) and the much earlier Dogboy by Victor Kelleher (1990) along with the stories and fables of old, Romulus and Remus, Mowgli, Tarzan and so on, which all have their bases in children being raised in the wild. This would make an amazing text to study for secondary readers, as the question of what is civilisation is tantamount to any discussion of what happens in the book. The environment, the extinction of the thylacine, the treatment of the Aborigines in Tasmania, are all issues which could have a sound airing through the study of this story.
Fran Knight

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