Henry Williamson’s spare writing is single-point focussed on getting inside the mind and life of an otter, as nearly as a human can. He observed them in their natural context for years and his revisions to the draft were aimed solely at removing anything that did not feel authentic.
A recurring and delightful theme in the book is that of the playfulness and sociability of otters. He gives many lovely examples of them playing with each other and even with other creatures such as birds. In this case, Tarka’s mother, who spends much of her time first feeding and then teaching her cubs how to feed themselves, here chooses to tease and dissimulate, replacing what would normally be a fresh, tasty fish or frog, for a mere leaf. Elsewhere Williamson describes what he perceives as the otter’s answer to a laugh.
‘Once she whistled the food-cry, and they ran in excitement to her, only to find a large leaf laid on a stone. It was fun, and they chased her.’
Source: Henry Williamson, Tarka the Otter: His joyful water-life and death in the two rivers, illus. C.F. Tunnicliffe (Harmondsworth: Puffin Books, 1976 (1927)), p. 66
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