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Henry Williamson (1) (1895–1977)

Author of Tarka the Otter

For other authors named Henry Williamson, see the disambiguation page.

71+ Works 1,855 Members 23 Reviews 2 Favorited


Works by Henry Williamson

Tarka the Otter (1927) 878 copies
Salar the Salmon (1935) 94 copies
The Patriot's Progress (1930) 57 copies
The Dark Lantern (1800) 46 copies
The Beautiful Years (1921) 41 copies
Dandelion Days (1930) 33 copies
How Dear is Life (1954) 32 copies
Donkey Boy (1952) 30 copies
The Golden Virgin (1957) 29 copies
A Test to Destruction (1960) 29 copies
Young Phillip Maddison (1953) 28 copies
The Innocent Moon (1961) 27 copies
Phoenix Generation (1965) 26 copies
Love and the Loveless (1974) 26 copies
The Power of the Dead (1963) 25 copies
It Was the Nightingale (1962) 25 copies
A Fox Under My Cloak (1955) 23 copies
Lucifer Before Sunrise (1967) 23 copies
The Pathway (1928) 23 copies
The Dream of Fair Women (1943) 17 copies
The Old Stag (1926) 16 copies
The Phasian Bird (1950) 16 copies
The Gale of the World (1969) 16 copies
The Scandaroon (1972) 14 copies
The Wet Flanders Plain (1987) 12 copies
Life in a Devon Village (1945) 12 copies
The Story of a Norfolk Farm (1941) 11 copies
Tales of a Devon Village (1944) 9 copies
Christmas Book at Bedtime (2000) 9 copies
A Clear Water Stream (1958) 8 copies
The Ackymals 7 copies
The Sun in the Sands (1945) 7 copies
The Village Book (1930) 7 copies
The Flax of Dream (1935) 5 copies
Norfolk Life (1943) 5 copies
The Star Born (1973) 5 copies
Goodbye, west country, (1938) 5 copies
As the Sun Shines (1944) 5 copies
Village Tales (1986) 4 copies
The Lone Swallows (2010) 3 copies
Devon Holiday 2 copies
Sun brothers 2 copies
Days of Wonder (1987) 1 copy

Associated Works

Winged Victory (1934) — Tribute and Preface, some editions — 152 copies
Famous and Curious Animal Stories (1982) — Contributor — 29 copies
English farming (1941) — Introduction, some editions — 20 copies
The Country Child (1992) — Contributor — 10 copies
A Soldier's Diary of the Great War (1929) — Introduction — 4 copies
West Country Short Stories (1949) — Contributor — 2 copies
Stories for girls — Contributor — 1 copy
水の誘惑―釣魚文学大全 (1983年) (1983) — Contributor — 1 copy


Common Knowledge

Other names
Tonson, Jacob
Madison, William
Williamson, Harry
Date of death
Brockley, London, England
Places of residence
Georgeham, Devon, UK
Colfe's School



Super-dense prose, unrelenting in its exact description. Many things happen, but they're mostly the same things over and over. Admirable writing, but also lots of work required from the reader. I can't imagine what people who don't see pictures in their heads would make of this book.
judeprufrock | 14 other reviews | Jul 4, 2023 |
"Pity acts through the imagination, the higher light of the world, and imagination arises from the world of things, as a rainbow from the sun."

Starting with his birth, the book takes us almost day by day through Tarka's life — learning to swim and fish, wrestling and sliding down riverbanks with his sisters and mother, before heading off alone to find himself a mate, around the estuaries of Devon.

This is one of the best known nature novels but its not a sanitised Disneyesque nature. There is beauty is everywhere but there is also danger everywhere. Everything tries to eat everything else and the local farmers and water-bailiffs hunt otters, which they see as vermin. The sub-title of the novel, 'His Joyful Water-Life and Death' , tells us what the inevitable ending will be but beforehand gives a highly realistic insight into an otter’s life, its joys and perils. Williamson spent years tramping the riverways of Devon studying otters so whilst this is fiction its based on fact and close observation.

The writing is beautiful, in particular when Tarka was in the water, I could almost visualise it. Its sometime easy to think of otters as cute fish eating creatures but we mustn't forget that they are carnivores that will eat birds, frogs and other mammals as well. The book was first published in 1927 and thankfully attitudes have changed and despite the ending is neither sad nor depressing. It's a classic for a reason. My only real grumble was the constant use of local slang for many of the creatures that featured, whilst he initially tells us what the proper name is when they reoccurred later on I had forgotten it. The glossary could have been more expansive I felt.

“Time flowed with the sunlight of the still green place. The summer drake-flies, whose wings were as the most delicate transparent leaves, hatched from their cases on the water and danced over the shadowed surface.”
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PilgrimJess | 14 other reviews | Apr 23, 2023 |
Classic fiction, otters
sbodmer | 14 other reviews | Jan 5, 2023 |
This is the most uncompromisingly "animal" of all animal stories, more like a TV nature documentary than a novel. On the one hand, the writing itself is as beautiful as the place it describes: north Devon with its deep wooded valleys and rich farmland, its high moors where wild ponies graze under huge skies, its headland-fringed coast with the tallest sea-cliffs anywhere in England, are lovingly described by a Londoner who came to know every inch of it. But on the other hand, there's no moral, no "lesson", just life in the raw the way it really is for a wild animal: cubs, parents and mates disappear from the narrative and are simply never mentioned again.
   It's not a book about hunting. None of its otters die of disease or old age, most are killed and most of those by people - by the otter-hunt, or in gin-traps, or cornered and battered to death as "vermin"; yet Williamson's own attitude was to some extent contradictory. He admired the huntsmen themselves for their knowledge of otters and of Nature in general - he got to know them and followed the hunt himself; but in Tarka he also managed to get down on paper, better than almost anyone else I've read, the numbed outrage I feel at senseless cruelty to animals.
   Environmental campaigners such as Rachel Carson have taken inspiration from this book - and, for all I know, Tarka may even have helped to save the otter itself because much has happened since 1927 when it was written. Their numbers declined for decades until otters finally disappeared completely from most of England in the 1960s (due as much to pesticides running into rivers as to hunting) and they even made it into the Red Book as "vulnerable to extinction". But then in 1978 hunting was banned, and in 1981 the landmark Wildlife and Countryside Act was passed into law, with otters as one of the first animals to come under its protection. These days they're making a comeback and the future looks bright.
   Tarka isn't really about all that either though, neither about hunting nor conservation; in fact just for once, refreshingly, here we have a novel which isn't about us at all - and I think maybe that at least partly explains its enduring appeal. It's a story in which humans are peripheral figures, absent altogether for much of the time and only periodically erupting into Tarka's life like just another incomprehensible destructive phenomenon, like storms, like bad luck, like winter. And in the interludes we get glimpses of a different Earth (my favourite passage in the book: Tarka and a raven playing together), the way it must have been throughout almost all its history: no "moral", no "point" to it all, just life.
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justlurking | 14 other reviews | Jul 4, 2021 |



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