Monday, August 27, 2012

Little Stories for Bedtime 1912 (Part 3/3)


August 8, 1912 to January 4, 1913. (Stories 160 to 251)

 (Note: the story count reflects a four day period (August 30-September 3) when there was no story (Burgess was reportedly ill) and the fact that, as far as I know, there was no 1912 Christmas story.)
Illustration for "Jerry Muskrat's secret door" (August 13, 1912).
August 8-14. Jerry Muskrat begins construction of his house. Other animal characters laugh at him until they learn that Mother Nature herself tells him when upcoming winters will be hard. Burgess provides very specific details about the construction of muskrat homes. Other animals help out (they are happy to be able to work so hard). The entrance to the house is underwater and there is a secret muskrat hiding place that TWB suggests readers write in to learn.
Illustration for "Billy Mink becomes a boaster" (August 15, 1912).
August 15-21. Billy Mink boasts that he can do anything that other mammals can do. Grandfather Frog bets he can't and schedules an exhibition. Billy succeeds until Grandfather Frog reveals his special guest, Flitter the Bat. Grandfather Frog tells a fable about the origins of bats' power of flight.
Illustration for "Reddy Fox grows careless" (August 23, 1912)
August 22-October 12. The longest single narrative yet, reprinted, in part, as the Adventures of Reddy Fox. Reddy, full of false pride, takes Farmer Brown's boy's pet chicken in broad daylight and his carelessness allows the boy to shoot him. Reddy, who cannot walk because of his wounds, is nursed and defended by Granny Fox, though other animals, showing sympathy bring food for him. Farmer Brown's boy continues to hunt for Reddy, tracking him to his home. By the time he returns with a shovel to dig him out, the foxes have already moved. This is how the book version ends.

In the newspaper version, however, the story continues. After a brief episode that has Prickly Porky blocking the entrance to Reddy's hole (and inadvertently sheltering him from Bowser the Hound), the story moves on to describe the turmoil that Farmer Brown's boy continuing search is causing in the Green Forest and Green Meadow communities. Billy Mink calls a meeting and the animals decide to "give Reddy Fox up." Peter Rabbit, who is conflicted but feels duty-bound to follow the will of the community, is called to lure Bowser the Hound to the new fox home. A foot injury keeps Peter from carrying out the mission and the foxes, realizing their home has been revealed again, move far away to the "Old Pasture" near the mountain's edge.
Illustration for "The mischief-makers" (November 1, 1912)
October 14-November 16. Another long story, reprinted as the Adventures of Mistah Mocker. Members of the Green Forest community complain that Sammy Jay and Stickytoes the Treefrog are singing all night and keeping them awake. Unc' Billy Possum, who has already figured that this involves an old friend of his, meets with him and arranges an elaborate prank that has his friend use the voices of various Green Forest folk to spread bad word-of-mouth about others in the community (with praise reserved for Unc' Billy). When the plan is discovered, everyone pretends not to see or hear Unc' Billy, but the possum makes amends by holding a coming-out party for his friend, Mistah Mockingbird. Peter Rabbit demands a story from Ol' Mistah Buzzard explaining the origin of Mistah Mockingbird's beautiful voice.
Illustration for "Why Ol' Mistah Buzzard has a red head" (November 19, 1912)
November 18-November 20. Peter Rabbit pesters Ol' Mistah Buzzard for fables about turkey vultures and black vultures.
Illustration for "Happy Jack Squirrel's sad mistake" (November 30, 1912)
November 21-December 4. Happy Jack Squirrel and Chatterer the Red Squirrel fight over hickory nuts and Striped Chipmunk benefits by getting the nuts for himself. Happy Jack suspects the chipmunk and spies on him; Striped Chipmunk pretends that his storehouse is in an old stump. When Happy Jack raids the stump, he is attacked by Chatterer, whose storehouse it really is. To settle the conflict, Striped Chipmunk invites both of them to a Thanksgiving dinner. Happy Jack regrets his greed.
Illustration for "What happened to Bobby Coon" (December 9, 1912)
December 5-December 19.  Bobby Coon is seen by Farmer Brown and his son raiding the cornfield. They are able to track him down though while his son is searching for clubs to kill the raccoon with, Farmer Brown intentionally scares Bobby away. As in the Reddy Fox story, Farmer Brown's boy keeps hunting for the raccoon, causing Bobby (and the community) problems. Granny Fox, finally, appears and intentionally leads Bowser off of Bobby's trail. Farmer Brown's boy realizes the dog will never follow the raccoon's trail with a fox around and gives up his search.
Illustration for "Happy Jack Squirrel is too busy to talk" (December 24, 1912)
December 21-January 4.  Peter Rabbit, who has evidently never experienced winter before, is surprised to find his friends preparing for winter (Johnny Chuck has gained pre-hibernation pounds, Grandfather Frog is already asleep in the mud, Jerry Muskrat is too busy to talk, and Ol' Mistah Buzzard flies south). After consultation with Unc' Billy Possum, Peter Rabbit decides that he too will sleep during the winter.  Peter learns his lesson when Unc' Billy enters his sleeping chamber and scares him. After a beautiful snowfall, Peter is glad he stayed awake.


Passing the first six month mark the stories are immediately more like the Burgess we would know for the next 48 years. There are clear moral messages about the dangers of pride, greed, and carelessness and the benefits of hard work. And there are clear nature study lessons about muskrat homes, mink abilities, mockingbird talents, pre-winter behaviors, etc.

On the other hand, animals are still doing impossible things, such as tipping hats and ripping skirts and using vines to trip one another...
Illustration for "Happy days on the Green Meadow" (October 14, 1912)
  While they will still occasionally burst into verse, that verse is becoming more and more aphoristic.
"Billy Mink feels uncomfortable" (August 16, 1912)
 Burgess, now more in control of story scheduling than in the first six months, can pay attention to seasonality. There is a Thanksgiving story (published 4 days late--though this may be due to the four-day story gap in August and September) and winter is clearly on its way. Note that the idea that muskrats have a way of knowing the severity of the coming winter will be criticized repeatedly as a myth in later Burgess stories.

The long Reddy Fox episode is the first great Burgess Bedtime story, exhibiting mastery over point of view and presenting the reader with some ethical conundrums. Reddy certainly deserves punishment (he gets it in the form of banishment from the community) for his overweening pride and hen-stealing ways but the reader quickly becomes sympathetic to his plight after he is shot by Farmer Brown's boy (Peter Rabbit, of all characters, is the model for the sympathetic attitude).  The later section of narrative, in which the community comes together to "give Reddy up," expresses a negative aspect of the (small town?) forest community (once again Peter Rabbit is a moral holdout).

Farmer Brown's Boy

The character of Farmer Brown's boy remains a nemesis of the animals. Indeed, Farmer Brown's boy repeatedly terrorizes the forest and meadow communities with his terrible gun and hound dog. In the words of Jimmy Skunk,
Boys with guns...get terribly careless, dreadfully careless. They don't seem to thing anything about the feelings of those likely to get hurt when the gun goes off
At the same time, Farmer Brown's Boy is admirably resourceful and observant. He is the kind of boy who "uses his eyes" (something that "many little boys and girls never learn to do"). His father, in a twist, is far kinder than his son. He has a "big heart" and "loves the little meadow and forest people."

Next: Burgess is popular!

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