In the wild there is no safety. The otter cub Tarka grows up with his mother and sisters, learning to swim, catch fish - and to fear the cry of the hunter and the flash of the metal trap. Soon he must fend for himself, travelling through rivers, woods, moors, ponds and out to sea, sometimes with the female otters White-tip and Greymuzzle, always on the run. Eventually, chased by a pack of hounds, he meets his nemesis, the fearsome dog Deadlock, and must fight for his life.
First published in 1927, Williamson's ( Salar the Salmon ) timeless work eschews sentimentality and anthropomorphism in its detailed, persuasive account of an otter's life (from the otter's point of view). England's rural West Country is vividly evoked through setting and language, notably the use of regional terms, such as crackey (wren) and ruddock (robin), and even the otters' own ``speech,'' from the ``yinny-yikkering'' of cubs to Tarka's adult challenge: Ic-stet hyphen, ital and exclamation point yang! The tale follows Tarka as he learns hunting and survival skills from his mother, finds and loses two mates (the first claimed by a stronger otter, the second killed by a farmer), tackles a 200-pound sow, romps playfully in and around the river and is chased during several otter hunts. Although Tarka himself kills for fun, Williamson unambiguously opposes blood sport, reserving particular contempt for the ``sportsmen on wheels'' tucked into their comfortable autos. The text is accompanied by Tunnicliffe's simple black-and-white engravings made in Devon during 1932.