Saturday, August 25, 2012

Little Stories for Bedtime 1912 (Part 2/3)

The  official "Little Stories for Bedtime" header (only adopted in some markets

 Little Stories for Bedtime May 6 to August 7, 1912. (Episodes 79-159).

Illustration for "Who's a coward?" (May 20, 1912)
May 6-11. A new character: Unc' Billy Possum, who has come up from Ol' Virginny. Forms partnership with Jimmy Skunk to raid Brown farm hen house. Farmer Brown's Boy cannot figure out who is stealing the eggs. Sits and watches skunk entry hole but Unc' Billy enters from the roof and Farmer Brown's Boy does not see him.

May 13-18. Grandfather Frog is towed around on lily pad by Little Joe Otter. Their fun is disrupted by a stone thrown by Farmer Brown's Boy. Grandfather Frog tricks Farmer Brown's Boy by making him think he's caught a large trout (actually Jerry Muskrat). Farmer Brown's Boy sets traps (catching Jerry Muskrat's tail). Jerry's mother brings together a convention at the Smiling Pool to discuss what should be done about the traps. Unable to reach a consensus they agree to ask the "oracle" of the Smiling Pool, Grandfather Frog. He says he will provide his answer the following morning. (He never does.)

May 20-25. Unc' Billy Possum challenges Reddy Fox to a game of chicken involving Bowser the Hound. Unc' Billy plays dead and Bowser chases Reddy. Later Farmer Brown's Boy finds a "dead" possum in the henhouse and carries in into the barnyard. Reddy Fox thinks Unc' Billy is actually dead and spreads the news. Meanwhile Unc' Billy returns and decides to send for his family.
Illustration for "Bobby Coon takes his own medicine." (June 1, 1912)
May 27-June 1. Unc' Billy Possum kicks Bobby Coon out of his home (where Bobby accidentally fell asleep). Then Bobby falls into the water trying to reach a shiny piece of tin. Little Joe Otter and Billy Mink make fun of his neatness. Then Bobby Coon pranks Johnny Chuck and Skunk. They prank him in turn.
Illustration for "The runaway cabbage" (June 8, 1912)
June 3-15. A long episode (reprinted in the Adventures of Unc' Billy Possum) in which Peter Rabbit plans a surprise party for Unc' Billy Possum's family. Reddy Fox, Shadow the Weasel, Sammy Jay, and Blacky Crow are not invited and plan to disrupt the party. Mr. Toad overhears their plan and gets Prickly Porky to trap Shadow and Reddy in their hiding place in a hollow log. Meanwhile there is an extended scene of slapstick as a cabbage rolls down a hill and leaves destruction in its path. Mrs. Possum shows up with eight children in her pocket. Farmer Brown's Boy, still looking for the henhouse raider, sees the eight children clinging to their mother and is so surprised he forgets to shoot.
Illustration for "Digger the Badger shames Johnny Chuck" (June 25, 1912)
June 17-25. A new character: Digger the Badger, from the West. He defeats Bowser the Hound in a fight and avoids Farmer Brown's Boy, who has been led to the badger hole by Reddy Fox. Johnny Chuck is jealous of Digger because he digs faster, but is ashamed when Digger treats him fairly despite his rudeness.
Illustration for "Grandfather Frog loses a race" (June 26, 1912)
June 26-27. Grandfather Frog loses a race to Mr. Toad (because Peter Rabbit tells Mr. Toad a snake is coming). Grandfather Frog loses a rematch but is in a better mood after realizing it was a joke.
Illustration for "Reddy Fox gets a scare." (July 1, 1912).
June 29-July 10. A long episode (reprinted in the Adventures of Peter Cottontail) in which Reddy Fox tries a variety of methods to try to catch Peter Rabbit, including teaming up with Shadow the Weasel and Sammy Jay. He even pretends being dead, which is effective until Prickly Porky makes him sneeze. Johnny Chuck tricks Reddy into running into a hornet's nest. Peter is almost caught when he expresses sympathy for Reddy.
Illustration for "Ol' Mistah Buzzard tells a story" (July 15, 1912).
July 11-17. A new character: Ol' Mistah Buzzard. Initially everyone in the Green Meadows is afraid, thinking he is a bird of prey (he's actually a turkey vulture). He greets his friend Unc' Billy Possum and tells everyone a fable about why his head is bald. Then he and Digger the Badger have a quarrel about gophers.
Illustration for "The lost baby" (July 18, 1912).
July 18-August 7. The longest single narrative episode so far. One of Unc' Billy Possum's children is lost.  Reddy Fox leads the hunt and Peter Rabbit follows secretly behind. After several unsuccessful attempts by Reddy Fox to charm the baby possum out of a tree, Peter Rabbit is able to coax the possum down and they run away.  Peter teaches the possum to use water to break his scent trail and they end up at the bank of the Laughing Brook. Mistaking Snapper the Turtle for a rock, the baby possum takes an unintentional journey to the other side. Reddy Fox is just about to pounce on the baby possum when Snapper grabs his tail. When the baby possum finally returns home (guarded by Prickly Porky) he refuses his mother's pocket. He has proved himself able to care for himself.

Notes on the second 13 weeks

Burgess is beginning to tell longer sustained narratives during this period and the Reddy Fox character, while still a hapless would-be predator, becomes a devious charmer as well. The series, however, is still operating in fable mode, Peter Rabbit's surprise party and the big convention at the Smiling Pool being glaring examples.  Animal characters still carry things in their arms, tip their hats, and make impossible gestures, such as Grandfather Frog "actually" shaking his fist at Mr. Toad (June 27, 1912).
Many stories still revolve around pranks and tricks, and after Unc' Billy Possum's arrival, the characters are often depicted breaking into song.  This, indeed, may be the most difficult period of Burgess for contemporary readers, as many of songs are clearly modeled after those in minstrel shows (TWB himself penned at least real one song for such shows).  A low point is reached on May 25, when Unc' Billy Possum sings the following:
This, sadly, is not the only example.

The character of Unc' Billy Possum is from the south, joining Prickly Porky from the north (who tells stories about Indians). Digger the Badger represents the west. In fable mode, the presence of a badger (not native to Massachusetts) is acceptable, but later Burgess would have to go out of his way to justify the character's presence in the Green Meadows (and eventually Digger would be forgotten).

The animal characters (with the exception of Snapper the Turtle, who will become a major villain later) are depicted in ways that express, in general ways, characteristic settings and behaviors, though the teaching of nature facts is still not a priority. Burgess is still not rigorously careful in the facts he does present. Baby Possum, for example, is depicted hanging down trying to steal eggs from the nest of a pair of great-crested flycatchers. This is unlikely given that great-crested flycatchers are cavity nesters (a fact Burgess in future years will take pains to emphasize).

Farmer Brown's Boy

Farmer Brown's Boy continues to be a nemesis of the animals during this period, setting steel traps at the Smiling Pool and the hen house and carrying his gun with the intention of killing animals he considers pests. He is also, however, depicted as a knowledgeable tracker, able to identify species by their footprints and dwellings. In explaining why FBB would gratuitously throw a stone at Grandfather Frog, Burgess (May 13, 1912) gives the reader the following passage:
He was a good natured boy, and everybody liked him; everybody but the little people of the Green Meadows and the little folks of the Green Forest. They hated him because they were afraid of him, and they were afraid of him because he was always trying to frighten them. It wasn't because he was hard hearted  but because he was thoughtless.
Farmer Brown's Boy is not evil but also not yet enlightened. There is still hope for him.

No comments:

Post a Comment