In this first volume of the series, Bartemus Ammblin in the Old Forest, life on the Great Plains of North America prior to the arrival of humans unfolds as an anthropomorphic tale of good and evil. Bartemus, a shy young rabbit, lives with his mother and grandfather in the Hollow. His grandfather is the town healer and mystic. He's also an incorrigible troublemaker. Except for the occasional problem with their teacher, Bartemus's only troubles are with the town bully, Simon Muddens, an egomaniacal bullfrog. That changes when a stranger interrupts the annual Hollow Faire. With the help of his friends, a badger named Timblelew, a wolverine named Willoughby, and an owl named Wynstan, Bartemus has to unravel the mystery of how a barrel of salted meat ended up in the Hollow. No critter has eaten another in several hundred years, so Bartemus and his friends are duly frightened by their horrific discovery.
When wolves attack the Hollow and take prisoners soon after the stranger and the barrel of meat disappears, it is up to Bartemus and his friends to rescue their families. Their search takes them across the prairie, gathering clues from crazy prairie dogs and an eccentric old goose. They enlist the help of an unlikely ally when they find Simon Muddens cowering in the river. As they journey farther northward, the skills Bartemus inherited from his grandfather, both magical and musical, begin to emerge, testing his own inner strength and the relationships within his circle of friends.
Following the clues into the Old Forest, far in the north across the Misery River and over the Lost Hills, Bartemus and his friends battle an insane dire wolf and rescue friends and family, to escape the fate of being turned into slaves. As he battles the dire wolf, Bartemus encounters the evil mercenary Afilius. This black-hearted monster will continue to plague Bartemus and his friends in the next two volumes, as the mystery surrounding his relationship to the young rabbit unfolds.