Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1925

The stories

January 1 to January 14. A fur trapper pursues the otter family. A foolish young otter loses a toe to a steel trap and later wonders who stole his fish (Snowy the Owl). 

January 15 to January 26. After a big snow storm, Farmer Brown's boy puts out food and Peter Rabbit has predator problems. Mrs. Grouse proves to be a friend.

January 27 to February 3. Shadow the Weasel pursues Timmy the Flying Squirrel but finds himself hunted.

February 4 to February 9. Reddy Fox pursues Happy Jack Squirrel. Peter Rabbit proves a friend.

February 10 to February 12. Farmer Brown's boy rescues Mr. and Mrs. Grouse, caught under the crust after an ice storm. 

February 13 to February 14. After Blacky the Crow steals chicken food, Farmer Brown's boy leaves an ear of corn for him.

February 16 to February 28. After he and Jumper the Hare find Buster Bear's den, Peter Rabbit foolishly dares Reddy Fox to enter the cave with him.

March 2 to March 12. Farmer Brown's boy builds Plunger the Osprey a new nesting platform.

March 13 to March 28. Johnny Chuck must fight off a rival for Polly's affection. Later Peter Rabbit makes use of the Chucks's new home to hide from Reddy Fox.

March 30 to April 4. Farmer Brown's boy removes brush in the Old Pasture to the dismay of many residents. It turns out he is planting a grove of pine trees. 

April 6 to April 11. Peter Rabbit learns how Thunderer the Grouse makes his drumming sound.

April 13 to April 15. Peter Rabbit learns how Mrs. Robin shapes her nest.

April 16 to May 2. The skunk family moves to a spot near the Brown house and works nights digging grubs from the lawn. Later Jimmy stops an automobile.

May 2 to May 9. A cigarette carelessly thrown from a car starts a fire. Mrs. Grouse loses her eggs but Mrs. Timmy the flying squirrel is able to save her babies. Jimmy Skunk dines on cooked grouse eggs.

May 11 to May 14. Old Mr. Toad has a series of misadventures on his way to the Smiling Pool.

May 18 to May 21. Unc' Billy Possum goes looking for Mrs. Teeter the Sandpiper's eggs but ends up with a dinner of snapping turtle eggs. [Note that this includes a mistake that Burgess would repeatedly correct in future years--it is the male Spotted Sandpiper that looks after eggs, not the female]

May 22 to May 28. Scrapper the Kingbird takes on King Eagle.

May 29 to June 6. An albino robin, abandoned by its family, is comforted by an albino red squirrel. Another "freak," a white porcupine, doesn't need comforting. Melanistic freaks (including Reddy Fox's child "Dusky" from 1917) are also discussed.

June 8 to June 13. Peter Rabbit learns about hare children.

June 15 to June 24. Striped Chipmunk has a family, including disobedient "Smarty," who is almost consumed by Mr. Blacksnake before Farmer Brown's boy comes along. 

June 25 to July 1. Sally Sly the Cowbird lays an egg in Red-Eye the Vireo's nest.

July 2 to July 9. Peter learns about the origin of Digger the Badger. It turns out that he used to live in the West but was trapped and brought to live in a park.

July 10 to July 20. Digger the Badger tells Peter Rabbit about animals in the West, including Yap Yap the Prairie Dog, Grubby the Gopher, Seek Seek the Spermophile and Jack Rabbit. 

July 21 to July 24. Peter Rabbit visits the Smiling Pond to tell someone about Digger's stories but Grandfather Frog is uninterested and Jerry Muskrat is too busy.

July 25 to July 29. Billy Mink loses his appetite for young kingfishers and Longlegs the Heron loses his temper when they disturb his fishing. 

July 30 to August 8. Danny Meadow Mouse finds himself stranded on a board in the middle of the Smiling Pond. 

August 10 to August 20. The flying squirrels, wood mice, downy woodpeckers, and screech owl all live in the same "apartment" tree. 

August 21 to August 27. Peter Rabbit watches a number of visitors to Jerry Muskrat's roof.

August 28 to September 1. Jenny Wren is accused of breaking her neighbors' eggs. (It's true). 

September 2 to September 4. Peter Rabbit and Flitter the Bat grumble about the rain.

September 5 to September 7. Jimmy Skunk makes himself useful and eats the yellow jackets that bothered Farmer Brown's horses.

September 8 to September 14. Buster Bear tries to get Chatterer the Red Squirrel's mushrooms, but Chatterer is too smart for him.

September 15 to September 19. Buster Bear is delighted when a storm opens up a honeybee tree but disappointed when the bees move away.

September 21 to October 2. Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare look for Mrs. Buzzard's nest.

October 3 to October 30. Peter Rabbit says good-bye to all his friends who are getting ready to leave or sleep for winter, including a new friend, Ruddy the Red-backed mouse.

October 31 to November 11. Danny and Nanny Meadow Mouse have some adventures on their way to Farmer Brown's barn (their wintering spot).

November 12 to November 17. Bobby Coon outwits hunters.

November 18 to November 21. When Buster Bear runs scared, the Green Forest  hunts a hunter.

November 23 to December 25. The beaver family builds a new dam and dodges predators.

December 25. Farmer Brown's boy spreads Christmas cheer.

December 26 to December 29. Terror the Goshawk arrives but Farmer Brown's boy scares him off with his terrible gun (not loaded, of course).

December 30 to December 31. Peter Rabbit tries to escape from Reddy Fox by diving down a woodchuck hole but gets a big surprise. (continued in 1926).


In 1925 Burgess moved from telling long extended narratives (with the exception of the beaver dam story in November and December) to much shorter episodes. Farmer Brown's boy still featured in many  stories though a smaller percentage of them than in the previous two years. His accomplishments in 1925 included erecting an osprey nesting platform, starting a reforestation project, and convincing his family to allow a skunk family to live near their home.

The anti-hunting and trapping theme continued, with a "foolish" young otter being the first of a number of Burgess animals to lose an appendage to a steel trap (by the 1930s animals would be forced to twist or gnaw off entire paws, not just toes). The fall hunting stories were relatively mild, with the animals again able to avoid human hunters without human intervention, though Farmer Brown's boy was on the scene once more to scare off the avian hunter, Terror the Goshawk. The automobile represented a new threat to the animal community, a carelessly discarded cigarette starting a fire (discovered by Farmer Brown's boy in time to prevent real damage).

In 1925 Burgess finally got around to explaining the presence of Digger the Badger in Massachusetts (like Old Man Coyote, he had been captured and transported east). This set up a series of tales about animals in the West paralleling the stories about animals in the Sunny South the previous year. I suspect Burgess was both searching for new story material and attempting to widen the geographical relevance of his stories to regions with different mammal species.

It is worth noting some reframing Burgess did around his bald eagle character, King Eagle. In previous stories, King Eagle had already been exposed as a bully and a thief. When Burgess had Scrapper the Kingbird go after him, you could add "coward" to the description. But the ever-patriotic Burgess managed to maintain the bald eagle's worthiness as a national symbol. It was not the strength of the eagle that was relevant but its family values: the eagle "represents the best in loyal and true home life, which is the very foundation of the best in national life."

In 1925 Burgess began his Radio Nature League program on WBZ in Springfield. In September he would offer a nature-oriented column for Sunday newspaper supplements drawn largely from his radio scripts. 

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