BOOK REVIEW: Two Owls at Eton: A True Story by Jonathan Franklin

The Blurb (from Goodreads):

When Jonathan Franklin takes two baby tawny owls back to Eton, he has no idea how chaotic the following months will be. The birds show no respect for Etonian routine and tradition. They trash his room and rule his daily life, and are known throughout the school as 'Dum' and 'Dee'.

Although a keen naturalist, Jonathan struggles to understand his charges and to find the right food for them; at first meat and feathers, soon mice and rats. Even so, they nearly die of malnutrition on two occasions. Frantic, he searches for natural food. How to keep them alive is a constant worry. He watches them grow from ugly balls of fluff into beautiful adults, every change of plumage and behaviour noted. They play truant, they shock others, and lead Jonathan into hilarious adventures. They charm his housemaster and everybody who meets them. Best of all is seeing them flying about over those famous playing fields.

All the time, Jonathan works to train them for eventual return to the wild. Will that be possible? He is never sure whether he will succeed.

My Thoughts:

In April 1959, sixteen-year-old Jonathan Franklin is given two baby owls to care for, after their mother was shot by a gamekeeper. Jonathan liked to think he was a budding ornithologist, and had already cared for a thrush, a jackdaw and a pigeon. It was tawny owls, though, that fascinated him the most: ‘the silent flight, the sharp, mysterious hooting, the soft brown plumage and the extraordinary swivel-like turning of the head.’ So he was thrilled when he was given two ‘small balls of fluffy white down’. His parents, however, objected. Who will look after the owls when you are at school? they demanded.

So Jonathan decided to take the owlets back to Eton with him.

What follows is an utterly delightful book about the difficulties of raising two hungry, noisy, obstreperous owls in an upper-class boys’ school in between lessons, chapel, and cricket practise. Christened Tweedledee and Tweedledum – Dee and Dum for short – the two owls spend their days moulting feathers everywhere, spitting pellets of mouse skeletons on the floor, and biting his pen till the ink spurts, then leaving little owl claw-prints all over his homework.

The hardest struggle for Jonathan is feeding them. Luckily his school mates help, asking their parents to send any dead mouse or sparrow they find in the post, with malodorous results. Once the owls learn to fly, Jonathan’s life grows even trickier. Luckily, everyone – including the dreaded Beak – is charmed by the adorable owlets, and the year passes in a rush of hilarious misadventures.

However, it is Jonathan’s job to train his owls so that one day they can fly free in the wild once more.  And that may well be the most difficult challenge of all.

You might also like to read my review of The Wild Places by Robert MacFarlane here:

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Kate Forsyth
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