Thursday, October 18, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1926

The Stories

January 1 to January 2. Johnny Chuck explains why he "closes" his doors.

January 4 to January 8. Jumper the Hare and Mrs. Grouse are proud of their snowshoes.

January 9 to January 16. Farmer Brown's boy rescues Mrs. Grouse, who is trapped under the ice crust. Yowler the Bobcat is unhappy.

January 19 to January 23. Shadow the Weasel invades the barnyard and pays for the hen he took but killing rats. 

January 25 to February 6. Danny and Nanny Meadow Mouse have adventures as they move from Farmer Brown's barn (because of the weasel) to the henhouse.

February 8 to February 27. Mocker the Mockingbird, who is over-wintering because of an injury, plays tricks on everyone.

March 1 to March 17. Farmer Brown's boy hunts for Puma the Panther in the Green Forest but can't bring himself to kill him. 

March 18 to March 30. A new enduring character, the tree-climbing Gray Fox, arrives in the Green Forest and Reddy Fox doesn't like it.

March 31 to April 12. The Quacks arrive and Mrs. Quack reports that their wintering grounds are worse than ever because of water pollution. Farmer Brown's boy muses at length about the need to reform hunting practices. [link to original story] Later Peeper the Hyla is nearly eaten by a pickerel and Mr. Quack narrowly escapes being caught by Killer the Duckhawk. (The Peeper story is reprinted in At the Smiling Pool).

April 13 to April 23. Ringneck the Pheasant appears in the Green Meadows and causes trouble for the Bob Whites and Mrs. Grouse.

April 24 to May 8. Mrs Grouse has ten children, one of whom, the disobedient "Little Mister Smarty" must learn humility from Sharpshin the Hawk and Farmer Brown's boy.

May 10 to June 5. After Johnny Chuck ruins his fruit trees, Farmer Brown's boy relocates him to the Old Pasture. He journeys home only to be kicked out by Polly Chuck, who is raising babies. Johnny commiserates with Jimmy Skunk, who has been given the same treatment.

June 7 to June 16. Peter Rabbit learns about a variety of insects, including aphids, ant lions, lace-wing flies, and butterflies.

June 17 to June 26. Jerry Muskrat has seven children, and his disobedient son, "Little Mister Know-it-all" must learn humility from a big pickerel and his sister, "Little Miss Brighteyes,"  while another is too curious and is nearly killed by Longlegs the Heron.

June 28 to July 2. When Farmer Brown's boy loses a pigeon to Killer the Duck Hawk, he climbs to the falcon's ledge and discovers chicks. He bands them.

July 3. Farmer Brown's boy has fun with Bluffer the Adder.

July 5 to September 25. Danny Meadow Mouse (without Nanny this time) stows away on another man-bird and he, along with the local Reddy Fox and Jimmy Skunk, learns all about the creatures of the seaside. Reprinted as The Burgess Seashore Book for Children.

September 27 to November 6. Danny Meadow Mouse must make the long journey home without the man-bird. (Killy the Sparrow Hawk inadvertently helps). 

November 8 to 12. Peter Rabbit watches squirrels collect nuts for the winter.

November 13 to December 2. After Mrs. Grouse is rendered flightless by a hunter, she must find a way to avoid becoming someone's dinner. Eventually Farmer Brown's boy finds her. 

December 3 to December 10. Peter Rabbit watches as the Chucks and Buster Bear begin to hibernate.

December 11 to December 13. Sammy Jay learns where Happy Jack Squirrel's nuts are stored and where Buster Bear is sleeping.

December 14 to December 18. Reddy Fox hunts in the snow for meadow mice and almost catches Jerry Muskrat.

December 20 to 25. Sammy Jay is upset when he sees Farmer Brown's boy chopping down spruce trees. It turns out he is thinning them out and selling the small trees for Christmas.

December 27 to 30. Pine and Evening Grosbeaks arrive in the Green Forest.

December 31. Peter Rabbit tries to visit Paddy the Beaver. (continued in 1927).


In 1926 was an exciting year in the world of Burgess Bedtime Stories, featuring the introduction of new enduring characters (Gray Fox, Puma the Panther), an extended trip to the beach, and a journey to the "edge of the world." Gray Fox, who would in later stories be excoriated by Burgess for his weasel-like massacres, became a chief rival of Reddy Fox (though in the 1926 story line they seemed to reach a kind of detente). Unlike the gray fox, mountain lions were extirpated in Massachusetts long ago, so Burgess may seem to be stretching reality for dramatic purposes in allowing Puma the Panther to live in the Green Forest. In fact, given the mountain lion's tendency to wander long distances, it is not impossible that one might end up in Central Massachusetts, and Burgess never goes the next step of suggesting there might be a breeding population.

The seaside stories allowed Burgess to relate stories about the environment of his youth, Cape Cod. Once again an airplane-borne Danny Meadow Mouse was the reader's guide to the creatures of this habitat. Curiously, however, "Jimmy Skunk" and "Reddy Fox" were also guides. This speaks to a point suggested early on in Burgess stories--that all skunks were "Jimmy" and all foxes were "Reddy" and therefore the characters of Burgess stories could be imagined living in the reader's own neighborhood. But "Danny" was the "real" unique Danny, an important fact to establish given the number of anonymous (not-Danny) meadow mice regularly consumed by Burgess predators. Danny's long journey home on his own may strain credibility but a literal-minded geographical survey reveals that it is a straight shot down the Connecticut River (the "Big River" of Burgess stories) to the sea-shore from the Springfield area.

Farmer Brown's boy was uncharacteristically blood-thirsty in his searches for the mountain lion and the peregrine falcon that has killed his pigeon, though characteristically humane in his refusal to harm them when he had the chance. His relocation of tree-killing Johnny Chuck ultimately failed (though it does provide Burgess with the opportunity to relate the adventures of the woodchuck's journey back home). Overall Farmer Brown's boy was the familiar benefactor, a reliable source of food for hungry animals and a nurse maid (mockingbird, grouse) to those who have been injured. [His rescue of grouse after an ice storm sometimes seems like an annual event] As in the previous year, his environmental management (cutting down spruce trees) initially concerns residents but is shown to be for the greater good.

Farmer Brown's boy was also Burgess's mouthpiece when it came to environmental issues. In 1926, after having Mrs. Quack relate her troubles with "unfair" "two-legged weasels" and their polluting ways, Burgess had Farmer Brown's boy recite a litany of hunting practices in need of reform (once again, all William T. Hornaday concerns), including overly large bag limits, the use of automatic weapons, and the use of bait.

Finally it is worth noting Peter Rabbit's interest in a new set of friends,  from the world of arachnids and insects. This particular interest would grow in years to come.

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