Synopses & Reviews
Chapter One0nce upon a time, long, long ago, where the forest runs down to the ocean, a hunter lived all alone in a house made of logs he had chopped for himself and shingles he had split for himself. The house had one room, and at the end closest to the ocean there was a fireplace of pink and gray and green boulders -- the hunter had carried them home in his arms from the cliff where the forest ended. On the crushed seashells of the floor there were deerskins and sealskins, and on the bed was the skin of a big black bear. Hanging on the wall over the bed were the hunter's bows and arrows.The hunter, a big brown-faced man with fair hair and a fair beard, wore trousers and a shirt and shoes of creamy deerskin; his silvery gray cloak was made of the hide of a mountain lion; and the cap he wore when it rained or snowed was the skin of a sea-otter. Over the fireplace hung a big brass hunting horn he had found in a wreck the waves washed ashore. He had carved some of the logs of the walls and some of the planks of the chairs into foxes and seals, a lynx and a mountain lion. When he sat at night by the logs blazing in the fireplace, the room looked half golden with firelight and half black with the shadow of the firelight, and the logs would roar and crackle so loudly that they drowned out the sound of the waves on the beach below.But when the logs had burnt to embers and the embers had burnt away to coals, the man would lie in his bed, warm under the bearskin, and listen to the great soft sound the waves made over and over. It seemed to him that it was like his mother singing. And before he could remember that his father and mother were dead and that he lived there all alone, he had driftedoff to sleep -- and in his sleep his mother sat by the bed singing, and his father sat at the fireplace waxing his bowstring or mending his long white arrows.In spring the Meadow that ran down from the cliff to the beach was all foam-white and sea-blue with flowers; the hunter looked at it and it was beautiful. But when he came home there was no one to tell what he had seen -- and if he picked the flowers and brought them home in his hands, there was no one to give them to. And when at evening, past the dark blue shape of a far-off island, the sun sank under the edge of the sea like a red world vanishing, the hunter saw it all, but there was no one to tell what he had seen.One winter night, as he looked at the stars that, blazing coldly, made the belt and the sword of the hunter Orion, a great green meteor went slowly across the sky. The hunter's heart leaped, he cried: "Look, look!" But there was no one to look.One evening he was lying on his bed. The soft summer breeze blew in through his open door, and the moonlight lay on the floor by the window like the skin of a white bear. The hunter thought; after a while his thoughts changed to dreams, and his mother was singing to him. But all at once his eyes were open, he was awake, and he could still hear someone singing. He got up and went down through the Meadow to the sea. The tide was out. He walked over the warm wet sand, and the warm soft waves ran to his feet and died away whispering, in little foaming scallops like the scales of a fish.Out at the seal rocks, hidden in their shadow, something was singing in a soft voice like a woman's. The song had words, but no words the hunter had ever heard before, and the song itself wasdifferent from any he had ever heard. He listened for a long time. The song ended on a long low note, and then everything was silent except the sea, whose shallow silver waves made a little hushing sound, and were silent for an instant, and then said Hush! again.The hunter called to the singer. From the rocks' shadow he heard a quick scrambling noise, and then the sound of something diving into the water -- the sound the seals always made. Shading his eyes with his hands, the hunter stared into the moonlight round the shadow of the rocks. But there was nothing to see and, now, nothing to hear. After a while he went home.The next night when he heard the voice singing, and went down to the shore and listened till its new song was over, and then called softly to it, the singer dived into the water just as before; but this time, as the hunter stated into the moonlight round the rocks, a sleek wet head came up out of the water, stared at him with shining eyes, and then sank back under and was gone. It was nothing he had ever seen before. Its long shining hair and shining skin were the same silvery blue-green, the color of the moonlight on the water. As he walked home over the sand of the beach and the grasses of the meadow, the hunter sang to himself, over and over, the last notes of the mermaid's song.
All the next day, no matter what he did, he hummed them; sometimes he would forget them for a few moments and be afraid he had forgotten them for good, but they always came back to him. That night when the moon rose the hunter went down to the beach, sat at the edge of the water, and began to sing.
This "hauntingly beautiful tale for young and old" (New York Herald Tribune Book Week) is the story of a young hunter and how he "acquires" a family of his own. "In singing words, (Jarrell) catches the essence of family".--The Horn Book. A Newbery Honor Book.
This is the story of how, one by one, a man found himself a family. Almost nowhere in fiction is there a stranger, dearer, or funnier family -- and the life that the members of The Animal Family live together, there in the wilderness beside the sea, is as extraordinary and as enchanting as the family itself.
About the Author
Randall Jarrell (1914-1965) received the National Book Award for his book of poems The Woman at the Washington Zoo. His children's book The Animal Family was named a Newbery Honor Book, and his translation of The Three Sisters was produced by The Actors Studio Theatre.