A whole different kettle of fish from wildlife novels by other authors, such as Watership Down and the Duncton chronicles. In fact, reading this really sheds light on just how fantastical those other books are. This, on the other hand, attempts much more to get inside the skin of a 'real' creature - in this case an otter. Tarka and the other creatures that inhabit the book, not as intelligent as those fantasy rabbits and moles, are believable as animals. Tarka doesn' talk, is moved by animal instincts, forgets quickly, and he has few human emotions, except only very basic ones such as anger, fear and love. Williamson tries to project himself much les on his animals.
As well as featuring incredibly emotive and beautiful descriptions of the English countryside, minutely observed, this is a violent, brutal and bloody book (said by some to be influenced in this respect by WW1). It is also very sad. It makes you hate not only otter hunting but all the other wilfully, carelessly destructive things that humans inflict on our landscape and those that live in it.
Survival is tough for these otters, tough for all the creatures that inhabit the Two Rivers system (the Taw in north Devon). For the otters, at the top of the food chain, survival is only made tough by the humans, who hunt them relentlessly. Yet in the 1920s, when Tarka was written, otters were sill plentiful in Britain. Hunting wasn't responsible for decimating their numbers. This was caused by agricultural chemicals mainly used after WW2. Changes in regulations have now meant that the most harmful of these chemicals are no longer used, and with the reintroduction of otters into many British rivers and hunting outlawed, it can only be hoped that these beautiful creatures have a bright future here.