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Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
History, Science & Current Affairs
Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
Sci-Fi, Fantasy, Alternate History
Two girls survive a terrible flood in the Tasmanian bush and are rescued by a pair of Tasmanian tigers who raise them in the wild. Their story of survival is remarkable, as they adapt to the life of the tiger, learning to hunt and to communicate without the use of human language. When they are discovered and returned to civilization, neither can adapt to being fully human after their extraordinary experience. Totally believable, their story will both shock and captivate readers as it explores the animal instincts that lie beneath our civilized veneer and celebrates the ways of the tiger.
Into That Forest
Me name be Hannah o 'Brien and I be seventy-six years old. Me first thing is an apology me language is bad cos I lost it and had to learn it again. But here's me story and I be glad to tell it before I hop the twig.
I were born in Tasmania, born not in a hospital but here in the backblocks. In this actual house. It is crumbling round me ears now, but the roof hardly leaks and if I chop enough wood I can heat the place when it snows. Though I live here by meself I am not lonely. I got a wedding photograph of me mother and me father when men wore beards and sat down for the picture while me mother wears a wedding dress and stands beside him. And there's me father's harpoon hanging from the living room wall with its cracked wooden handle and rusted blade. Me only new thing is the cabinet with a radio in it which Mr Dixon down at the general store gave me. I can't hack it. There always be mongrel music in it, like it's shouting all the time. Anyway, I'd sooner yabber to me self than listen to those voices inside that box. I reckon I need new curtains, these are a bit dusty and fraying, but they keep out the summer light when it's so strong it hurts me eyes.
I think me uncle built this house. He gave it to me father. It were a present. At that time we were the only house for miles and miles. Me father wanted to live in a place near water if not the sea, then a river. Me mother liked rivers and so the house were a give-and-take for the both of them. From the verandah we could almost touch the Munro River as it flowed down to the sea. I had no brothers or sisters. I don't know why. There were a problem, I think. I'd hear me mother crying buckets in me father's arms and hear him say, like to a child, There, there, we got Hannah
Me first memories, well, the thing is, and this be strange when I think about it, but me first memories, they are really me father's. Maybe not even his memories, maybe his stories. I'd drop into a swoon of gladness when he come to me bedroom to put me to sleep and he'd tell me 'bout his adventures. He were a whaler and when he came back after travelling the seas, he'd tell me these stories, stories about places and things he'd set eyes on. I s'pose me mind made them me own so I thought it was me, Hannah, in the Philippines and I could see two black men in a boat, the sort hacked out of a log, and they were waiting for a whale shark. When it came, one fisherman jumped out of the boat onto the back of the whale shark and rode it like it were a brumby and at the same time he stabbed it in the back til it croaked. In the South Seas, in water so clear you could see right down to the bottom where queer fish swim , a fisherman jumped into the sea with a banana in his mouth. He spitted bits of the banana at a huge groper which gobbled them up, all the time coming closer and closer til the fisherman caught that big fish in his bare hands. There were another time when me father were at the bow and a sperm whale, big as a house, were harpooned and the whale boat, stuck fast to the wounded whale, were dragged along at a wild speed towards the sun on the horizon til the monster carked it of exhaustion. o ne time me father were at anchor in Western Australia when he seen a gin on a beach and she were singing a song, an uncanny song like you sing to ghosts, but it called to the whales. o ne whale, 4 a minke, came to shore sucked in by her song and beached itself like a sacrifice for her. o n the Tasmanian coast, near South Bruny, a whale were winched into the flensing yard where a big puncture were cut into the back of the creature and an old man, he crippled with tuberculosis so bad that he walked on all fours, were put into it, like a plug down a hole. He was pulled out half a day later and all the workers were thunderstruck cos this fellow could walk and he was straight-backed. He had been cured.
Excerpted from Into That Forest by Louis Nowra. Copyright © 2013 by Louis Nowra. Excerpted by permission of Amazon Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
When Louis Nowra travels Into That Forest, he goes in deep, delving into wild terrain where humans have scarcely set foot, trekking through thickets of "gum trees reeking of peppermint" and over "forest floors smothered in hairy toadstools." He tunnels deep into night landscapes alive with the scents of exotic animals quolls and wombats, devils and wallabies and nestles down into the wild lair itself, nose pressed into warm and sweet-smelling fur.
Into the Woods this is not. Nowra's forest is animated not by fairy-tale magic but by the scientific wonder of a nature documentary. The fictional fantasy is set in mid-nineteenth century Tasmania, the Australian island state, where marsupial mammals dominated and there were almost no placental mammals until humans introduced them from outside. Into That Forest probes what seems to be the last wild corner of the last wild place, putting the reader on intimate terms with magnificent creatures who are among the last of their kind of earth. It's a spellbinding tour, and one you won't want to end.
The protagonist, Hannah, who narrates the story, loses her parents when their country picnic is swept away by a violent flash flood. Hannah and her friend Becky, who has the misfortune of coming along for the picnic, find themselves lost in the bush. A pair of Tasmanian tigers are their salvation - the tigers pluck the girls out of the flood and teach them to survive in the wild. In this way Hannah and Becky are transformed into those most fascinating of creatures - feral children (the focus of so much attention in literature and psychology, from the real-life "wolf children" like eighteenth-century Wild Peter to Mowgli in Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book). Hannah speaks in slightly fractured English because, as she says, "I lost it and had to learn it again." The girls occupy a powerful vantage point in a world that is on the brink of change, like embedded spies in the last days of the Garden of Eden. It's a place and time we look back on with longing and regret.
As children, Hannah and Becky have a fluid ability to adapt, and where their Tasmanian tiger mother leads, they follow. The tigers are the powerful center of the novel. Nowra's imagination climbs to great heights and gives these extinct marsupial predators substance and personality. (See 'Beyond the Book' for details about the Tasmanian tiger and its history). Early on, when human habits still come easily to Hannah, she names the tigers Corinna and Dave. They look on the girls as replacements for the pair of pups lost to one of the brutal bounty hunters who patrol the bush. Hannah figures out the tigers' language of yawns and yips and growls, and she quickly learns how to take comfort and food from the tigers as if they were her true parents. The bond she has with them seems plausible, and their wild lives, noble and ancient.
This is the kind of fantasy that young readers will find delicious. The Tasmanian tigers are the next step on the path of children's literature for readers who have been brought up on stories of talking animals and forest enchantment. How tantalizing to imagine that the wildness in our human nature can sharpen with practice that our eyesight can be honed into a hunter's night vision (as Hannah's is), and that we can learn to distinguish the scents of family and food.
There is brutality in the animal world too, of course hunting and danger and bloodshed. But most of the violence in Hannah's Tasmania comes from the human realm. The book is aimed at readers twelve and up, which seems right, although a sophisticated ten or eleven-year-old could handle it with some support. Cruelty to animals stirs up emotions that can be overwhelming (and not just for children). Into That Forest raises questions about loss in all its forms, from personal grief to the extinction of a species. But the novel also gives us an incredible chance to "crawl" into the burrow of a Tasmanian tiger, which opens the mind to the magnificence of animals in general. There is no better way to read Into That Forest than in the company of your own favorite dog or cat, who may suddenly seem more interesting than ever.
Reviewed by Jennifer G Wilder
When Hannah, the narrator of Lois Nowra's Into That Forest, encounters her first Tasmanian tiger, she is mesmerized:
I turned and there, on the bank not more than ten yards from us, were a wolf creature with yellow fur and black stripes. It were about the size of a real large dog…It had a long muzzle and stripes on its sides like a tiger. The tail were thick and the fur so fine and smooth, it were like it didn't have hair. It's like a wolf, I heard me mother say, and indeed it looked like those wolves I seen in me fairy-tale books. It stared at us with huge black eyes, then it opened its jaw real slow till I thought it could swallow a baby. I'd have bailed out if it were not the most bonny, handsomest thing I ever seen.
The Tasmanian tiger is certainly one of the most exotic animals you could meet in a novel – it isn't related to the Asian tiger that we're all familiar with but was a marsupial mammal that evolved to fill a similar niche in Australia. By the time the early European settlers arrived, the animals were rare, if not extinct, on the mainland, but survived in good numbers in Tasmania, an island state of Australia.
As the largest modern marsupial carnivore, Tasmanian tigers (Thylacinus cynocephalus, also called simply "thylacines") baffled the European naturalists who first laid eyes on them. The fact that they bear a passing resemblance to wolves is an example of parallel evolution (the independent evolution of similar traits, starting from a similar ancestral condition). But thylacines did not hunt in packs, did not behave aggressively toward humans, and were exceedingly shy. Wallabies are believed to have been their favorite food. Like all marsupials, Tasmanian tigers gave birth to tiny, underdeveloped young called joeys and carried them to maturity inside pouches. Thylacines were unique in that the male animals had pouches of their own – not for carrying young but for protecting the sex organs.
No recordings of thylacine vocalizations have survived; there are only written descriptions of various sounds – from a cough-like bark to a hiss. One of the thylacine's best known and most astonishing habits, was its way of opening its jaw to a seemingly impossible angle, a feat Louis Nowra describes as a "threat yawn." It might have been a trick meant to give a rival male a good look at the teeth, or a feature that evolved to help the tiger get a good grip on a wallaby.
The Tasmanian tiger's closest living relative is thought to be that small, fierce marsupial carnivore, the Tasmanian devil. The paleontological history of marsupials in Australia is twisted and complex, but the thylacines are believed to be an ancient species, part of a line that dates from the late Oligocene Epoch (33-24 million years ago). Thylacines feature prominently in the rock art produced by prehistoric aborigines, both on the island of Tasmania and on the Australian continent. The name Hannah gives to her Tasmanian tiger mother in Into That Forest - "Corinna" - is related to "coorinna," one of the names aboriginal Tasmanians had for the animals.
The last Tasmanian tiger, a zoo specimen known as Benjamin, died in captivity in 1936. The tigers were hunted to extinction, rounded up in sweeping bounty hunting programs sponsored by land development companies. The virulence and thoroughness of this extermination program is hair-raising. Early colonists saw the thylacines as "vermin," a threat to sheep farming. The strange thylacines must also have seemed frightening and uncanny to early European settlers – and the thylacines themselves were, like many island populations, inherently fragile because of a lack of genetic diversity. The Tasmanian tiger became a side-show curiosity and a sought-after zoo specimen even as people began to wake up to the fact that there would soon be no more of these rare animals. By the time a law was passed protecting the Tasmanian tiger in 1938, it was too late.
The Tasmanian tiger has become a potent symbol for wildlife conservation, especially in Australia. At the same time, there is a robust culture of tiger spotters, people who claim to have photographic or bone evidence of the continued existence of thylacines deep in the Tasmanian wilds. Other thylacine enthusiasts suggest that the tigers are prime candidates for "de-extinction." Attempts have been made to extract thylacine DNA from museum specimens in order to sequence it, and maybe, to create a clone.
For more about Tasmania's wilderness and ecology, see the Beyond the Book for The World Beneath.
Picture of Tasmanian Tiger from Wikipedia.com (Smithsonian Institute Archives)
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