The true story of Gavin Maxwell's life with three otters he kept as pets and the enormous changes they brought to his life.
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Gavin Maxwell (15 July 1914 – 7 September 1969) was a Scottish naturalist and author, best known for his work with otters. He wrote th e book Ring of Bright Water (1960) about how he brought an otter back from Iraq and raised it in Scotland. Ring of Bright Water sold more than a million copies and was made into a movie starring Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna in 1969. The tit...
Gavin Maxwell (15 July 1914 – 7 September 1969) was a Scottish naturalist and author, best known for his work with otters. He wrote th e book Ring of Bright Water (1960) about how he brought an otter back from Iraq and raised it in Scotland. Ring of Bright Water sold more than a million copies and was made into a movie starring Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna in 1969. The title Ring of Bright Water was taken from a poem by Kathleen Raine, who said in her autobiography that Maxwell had been the love of her life.
Maxwell's book Ring of Bright Water describes how, in 1956, he brought a Smooth-coated Otter back from Iraq and raised it in "Camusfearna" (Sandaig) on the west coast of Scotland. He took the otter, called Mijbil, to the London Zoological Society, where it was decided that this was a previously unknown sub-species of Smooth-coated Otter. It was therefore named Lutrogale perspicillata maxwelli (or, colloquially, "Maxwell's Otter") after him. It is thought to have become extinct in the alluvial salt marshes of Iraq as a result of the large-scale drainage of the area that started in the 1960s.
In his book The Marsh Arabs, Wilfred Thesiger wrote:
[I]n 1956, Gavin Maxwell, who wished to write a book about the Marshes, came with me to Iraq, and I took him round in my tarada for seven weeks. He had always wanted an otter as a pet, and at last I found him a baby European otter which unfortunately died after a week, towards the end of his visit. He was in Basra preparing to go home when I managed to obtain another, which I sent to him. This, very dark in colour and about six weeks old, proved to be a new species. Gavin took it to England, and the species was named after him.
The otter became woven into the fabric of Maxwell's life. Kathleen Raine's relationship with Maxwell ended in 1956 when she indirectly caused the death of Mijbil. Raine held herself responsible not only for losing Mijbil but for a curse she had uttered shortly beforehand, frustrated by Maxwell's homosexuality: "Let Gavin suffer in this place as I am suffering now." Raine blamed herself thereafter for all Maxwell's misfortunes, beginning with Mijbil's death and ending with the cancer that took his life in 1969.