Thursday, August 23, 2012

Little Stories for Bedtime 1912 (Part 1/3)

In the 1919 American Magazine article referenced last post, Thornton Burgess described the earliest days of "Little Stories for Bedtime."
 The first six months went hard. The newspapers began by using the stories once or twice a week, and with no very great enthusiasm. But by the end of six months every paper on the list was using a story every day.
Indeed, of the four papers in the Associated Newspaper family I've been using to read the earliest stories, only one (Omaha World-Herald) actually published "Billy Mink loses a race" on its intended date-of-publication, February 5, 1912. The Salt Lake Evening Telegram started with "Johnny Chuck is left alone," running it on February 13, 1912 ran it a week late, while the Kansas City Star's and Boston Daily Globe's first Burgess stories ran on March 13, 1912 and November 16, 1912 respectively. And as Burgess suggests, even when the newspapers began running the stories they did not necessarily run them consistently, run them on the intended dates of publication, or even run them in the right order. The Omaha World-Herald, for example, frequently ran the exact same story on two consecutive days.

Cross-referencing stories between papers, and using the dates listed in Wayne Wright's TWB book bibilography, I've been able to construct a tentative list of stories, titles, and dates from the first three months. I still appear to be missing about four stories from this period so my listing here needs to be considered incomplete. I've grouped the stories into episodes below. (Please contact me directly if you want the complete list). [August 2013 Update: Even the Associated Newspaper flagship New York Globe and Commercial Advertiser was an irregular publisher of the story during the feature's first few months]

Little Stories for Bedtime, February 5 to May 4 1912 (Stories 1-78)

Feb 5: "Billy Mink loses a race."

Illustration from "Johnny Chuck is left alone." February 6, 1912.
Feb 6-20. A long multi-part episode featuring Johnny Chuck and Peter Rabbit. Peter gets Johnny Chuck to run away from home. Adventures include escape from Whitetail the Marsh Hawk and Granny Fox. They encounter Mr. Toad, who boasts of courage but is scared off by a belt. Peter and Johnny watch (the real) Mr. Blacksnake shed his skin and Peter plans to use the skin to play a trick on Danny Meadowmouse, but Danny catches wind of Peter's plan and alerts Cresty the Great-crested Flycatcher who takes the skin to use in his nest. Johnny comes to learn that his mother has officially turned him out of his home so he begins to dig his own, advising Peter Rabbit about the importance of backdoors. Peter disregards the advice and regrets it after an encounter with Bowser the Hound.
Illustration from "Chatterer makes a call." February 23, 1912
Feb 21-26. This episode begins with a fable about blue jays. Happy Jack Squirrel discovers his nut collection is missing, initially blames Chatterer the Red Squirrel but comes to learn the culprit is Sammy Jay. Chatterer, offered a half share of the nuts as a reward, tracks down Sammy Jay's nest with the help of Bobby Coon and threatens Mrs. Jay into handing over the nuts. After secretly stashing a third of the nuts, he holds a race among the animals to return the rest of the nuts to himself and Happy Jack. But when he returns to his hidden stash, it is missing. The culprit? Striped Chipmunk.
Illustration from "Billy Mink plays a joke." February 28, 1912.
Feb 27-March 9. Jerry Muskrat and Little Joe Otter, encouraged by Billy Mink, build a slide on the banks of the Smiling Pool. Everyone enjoys it, even Grandfather Frog. Peter Rabbit is tricked into sliding but gets even by pushing a large rock from the bank and scaring Billy and Little Joe. Billy Mink plays tricks on Reddy Fox and Grandfather Frog, who also learns to avoid Farmer Brown's Boy's frog-fishing lure. The residents of the Smiling Pool, advised by Grandfather Frog, spring Farmer Brown's Boy's traps and steal his bait.
Illustration from "The digging match." March 19, 1912.
March 11-19. Hooty is mobbed by crows but later gets his revenge by harassing Blacky the Crow at night. Blacky, in bad shape after a poor night of sleep, gets caught in a snare when feeding on Farmer Brown's corn. Jimmy Skunk bites through the snare and releases him. Peter Rabbit tricks Jimmy into jumping on Reddy Fox; Reddy Fox chases after Peter Rabbit but runs into Bowser the Hound and Farmer Brown's Boy waiting in the cornfield. Reddy escapes from Bowser by leaping onto the back of a sheep. After boasting about his quick wits, Reddy loses a digging contest to Johnny Chuck.

March 20-21. The animals watch as Mr. Toad struggles to shed his skin. They leave too early to learn that he disposes of the old skin by eating it.
Illustration from "Bumble the Bee proves a friend indeed." March 25, 1912.
March 22-25. Johnny Chuck hears that his mother has been captured by Farmer Brown's Boy (though she later gets away). He watches from his back door Reddy and Granny Fox waiting to catch him. Arranges with Bumble the Bee to sting them.
Illustration from "Bowser the Hound stays at home." April 1, 1912.
March 26-April 11. Happy Jack narrowly escapes from Terror the Goshawk and is tricked by Old Grandfather Chuck. He and Peter Rabbit discover strange needles (porcupine quills) on the forest floor. This introduces Prickly Porky the porcupine, a brand-new Burgess character. He makes friends with the other animals after he's attacked by Bowser the Hound. After removing the quills from Bowser's face, Farmer Brown's Boy takes his gun and searches for Prickly Porky but finally decides not to shoot him. Reddy Fox decides to use Prickly Porky to help raid the Brown henhouse but Prickly tricks him by blocking the exit. Peter Rabbit and Johnny Chuck meanwhile figure out a way to use loose porcupine quills to guard their homes from the foxes and Bowser the Hound.
Illustration from "Peter Rabbit's big cousin." April 12, 1912.
April 12-15. Jumper the Hare, another new Burgess character, comes for a visit. The animals make fun of his timidity. He shows his bravery by defending Peter Rabbit from the foxes.

April 16-18. Granny Fox teaches Reddy how to use train trestle to escape from dogs but the trick fails when Reddy tries it on Bowser the Hound.
Illustration from "The sky parlor of Whitefoot." April 26, 1912.
April 19-May 4. Johnny Chuck defends Danny Meadow Mouse from Reddy Fox. Danny Meadow Mouse worries that his tail is too short. Mr. Toad takes him to see Whitefoot the Wood Mouse, who complains that his long tail makes him more vulnerable to predators. Whitefoot is afraid that Shadow the Weasel has visited his home. Johnny Chuck accompanies him to ask Grandfather Frog for advice. Grandfather Frog suggests that he should build his home in a place that looks abandoned. Whitefoot chooses an old red-winged blackbird nest, and watches as Shadow loses his scent because of Johnny Chuck's trail. Shadow raids Billy Mink's storehouse but is discovered and beaten. When Mrs. Grouse's eggs disappear, Jimmy Skunk is the chief suspect (discovered with egg from the henhouse on his fur) but after some detective work, he finds evidence that Shadow is the guilty party. Shadow then gives himself away in front of the animal community.

Notes on the first 13 weeks

Burgess is still operating largely in Mother West Wind-style fable mode. There are many stories about boys having fun and playing tricks on each other and the characters still have extended families (Johnny Chuck's mother and grandfather, e.g.) Johnny Chuck's mother uses a basket to gather vegetables from Farmer Brown's garden (a clear Beatrix Potter influence) and Peter Rabbit laughs at Reddy Fox with his hands on his hips (Uncle Remus).

On the other hand, Burgess has started sprinkling his stories with his favorite nature facts: great-crested flycatchers do indeed use snake skins in their nests and toads do indeed consume their old skins. The predator-prey relationships are appropriately high-stakes (though Peter Rabbit's porcupine-needle defense strategy is pure cartoon).

Burgess has not yet become careful about the accuracy of all his nature facts. Bumble the bee, with his gruff voice, is a boy (male bees don't sting).  Gray squirrels don't hoard nuts in one place, they bury them in many places (unlike red squirrels). And the idea that a fox would ride on the back of a sheep to escape a dog is a piece of "nature-fakery" straight out of Ernest Thompson Seton.

Farmer Brown's Boy

One of the things I've tried to do in my reading of the 15,000 Burgess stories is to keep track of the character of Farmer Brown's Boy. He will evolve to be a great advocate for the animal characters but in 1912 he is still their nemesis.

In the stories from the first 13 weeks, FBB shows up in several stories, but plays significant roles in two. As a prospective fur trapper, he tries to catch the otters, minks, and muskrats at the Smiling Pool (they spring his traps, though not before Little Joe Otter has lost a claw). And after his dog is hurt by Prickly Porky, he heads out to the forest, gun in hand. In the first story he is motivated by avarice (he counts his furs before they're trapped) and is both oblivious to any suffering he might cause and ignorant about the resourcefulness of his targets. In the second story, however, we see a slightly more sympathetic character. He is motivated to avenge his beloved dog but when he finally meets the porcupine is so impressed by his impudence that he leaves him be. Needless to say, he will not yet put his gun away.

Next: Little Stories for Bedtime 1912 (May-July)


  1. The Salt Lake Evening Telegram did publish the story Billy Mink Loses a Race on 2-12-1912.