Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681374246
Pages: 336
Publication Date: May 5, 2020

Tarka the Otter

by Henry Williamson, introduction by Verlyn Klinkenborg, with illustrations by Charles Tunnicliffe


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May 2020 selection of the NYRB Classics Book Club.

In the wild there is no safety. The otter cub Tarka grows up with his mother and sisters, learning to swim, to catch fish—and to fear the cry of the hunter and the flash of the metal trap. Soon he must fend for himself, traveling through rivers, woods, moors, ponds, and out to sea, sometimes with the female otters White-tip and Greymuzzle, and always on the run. Eventually, chased by a pack of hounds, he meets his nemesis, the fearsome Deadlock, and must fight for his life.

Tarka the Otter depicts a fierce struggle for survival in the wild that also carries echoes of Henry Williamson’s experiences in the First World War. The result of years spent observing otters in the wild, this book is a celebration of life, of the eternal rhythms of nature, and of the English countryside.


The supreme writer of the English countryside.
—Christopher Somerville, The Daily Telegraph

[Tarka the Otter] was hailed as both a popular success and a literary masterpiece, and has never been out of print.... Set along the Rivers Taw and Torridge in north Devon, the novel follows the birth, life and inevitable death of Tarka in vivid and lyrical prose that reflects Williamson’s intimate study of the natural world. Written from the perspective of the otter, Williamson’s narrative is empathetic but unsentimental. Tarka roams and crosses the landscape, encountering other animals, finding mates and surviving in an environment that is at times brutal. This is also fundamentally a tale of the hunted animal: moments of peace are interrupted by the sound of the otter hunt, culminating in a 40 page account of the final chase and battle between Tarka and the hound, Deadlock.... In recent years Tarka has been interpreted as an allegory of war.
—The British Library

I was about eleven years old when I found [Tarka the Otter], and for the next year I read little else.... It entered into me and gave shape and words to my world.... In the confrontations of creature and creature, of creature and object, of creature and fate—[Williamson] made me feel the pathos of actuality in the natural world.
—Ted Hughes