Saturday, October 20, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1927

The Stories

January 1 to January 5. A trapper is after Paddy the Beaver. Farmer Brown's boy puts an end to it.

January 5 to January 15. Peter Rabbit falls asleep in a hollow log and finds himself trapped by Reddy Fox until Shadow the Weasel comes along. Mr. Grouse and Bowser the Hound help him get away.

January 17 to January 28. Whitefoot the Wood Mouse must find a new home because of Shadow the Weasel. He finds a nice place in an old stump that just happens to be a storehouse of Chatterer the Red Squirrel.

January 29 to February 5. Chatterer the Red Squirrel searches for the thief who stole the nuts from his storehouses. Could it be Timmy the Flying Squirrel?

February 7 to February 11. Peter Rabbit's unsuccessful search for signs of spring ends with his getting trapped in the skunk den.

February 12 to February 21. The skunks are regular visitors to the Brown house and even learn to scratch and bang at the door to get in.

February 22 to February 24. When the grouses begin eating the buds off the apple trees, Farmer Brown's boy must think of an alternative food supply.

February 25 to March 1. Farmer Brown's boy won't shoot Whitey the Owl because he catches rats, but when Whitey's mistaken attempt to catch a skunk ends up fouling the air around the Brown house, his parents aren't so sure about his love of skunks and owls.

March 2 to March 17. Peter Rabbit is looking for signs of spring again and discovers Great Horned owlets. Reddy Fox and Hooty the Owl compete for prey.

March 18 to March 26. When Bully the English Sparrow harasses the bluebirds, Farmer Brown's boy traps him and leaves him in a cage for the other birds to harass. 

March 28 to March 30. Peter Rabbit witnesses a procession of garter snakes.

March 31 to April 2. The toads and frogs assemble at the Smiling Pool to sing but stop when danger in the form of a water snake shows up.

April 3 to April 16. Peter Rabbit meets and learns about Eft the Newt, Sally the Salamander, and Skink the Lizard. [Note: the five-lined skink had been extirpated in Massachusetts by 1927, but still could be found in Connecticut]

April 18 to April 23. Longlegs the Heron reports being shot at because fishermen think he's a threat. Peter Rabbit tries to convince him that Farmer Brown's boy is different.

April 25 to April 30. Farmer Brown's boy digs a hole near the brook in order to see kingfisher chicks. They are not very attractive.

May 2 to May 26. A circus comes to the Green Meadows and Peter Rabbit along with Danny and Nanny Meadow Mouse get to meet, or at least encounter (guided by "Circus Mouse"), many exotic animals, including: My Lord the Elephant, Striped-Coat the Tiger, Spotcoat the Leopard, Bigmouth the Hippopotamus, Longneck the Giraffe, Horned-nose the Rhino, Humps the Camel, and Jocko the Ape (chimpanzee). Meanwhile, Old Man Coyote is surprised to hear his howls returned.

May 27 to June 14. The circus may have left but a couple of animals have been left behind, including Spotcoat the Leopard (eventually recaptured with the help of Farmer Brown's boy).

June 15 to July 2. Old Man Coyote and the other escapee, Miss Coyote, make a home together.

July 4. Farmer Brown's boy worries the animals when he lights firecrackers on the Fourth of July.

July 5 to July 13. Farmer Brown's boy adopts a young woodchuck, "Little Miss Curiosity," as a pet. She loves Mother Brown's cookies. Meanwhile, Johnny and Polly Chuck blame the coyotes for her absence.

July 13 to July 21. The coyotes pursue young woodchucks until their hunt is disrupted by Farmer Brown's boy and Bowser the Hound. While Bowser is occupied Old Man Coyote slips into the barnyard and takes a chicken.

July 22 to July 30. Little Miss Curiosity makes friends with Bowser the Hound and learns to scratch at the door for cookies.

August 1 to August 6. Albino bluebirds turn themselves blue by bathing in Mother Brown's bluing water.

August 8 to August 10. Peter Rabbit learns that skunks will eat Woolly Bear caterpillars by rolling their hair off. And are quick enough to catch mice.

August 11 to August 15. Bear cubs meet coyotes in the Old Pasture berry patch.

August 16 to October 3. Farmer Brown's boy rescues a bear cub that has caught its leg between the roots of a tree. "Cubby" follows the boy home and he lives with the Browns for a while until Farmer and Mother Brown can tolerate his destructive behavior no longer. Returning him to the Green Forest proves difficult. (According to Wayne Wright, these stories were later reprinted as a series of "Cubby Bear" books).

October 4 to November 19. Peter Rabbit leaves Mrs. Peter, pledging never to return. Both regret the break-up and Peter becomes extremely jealous when he hears of another male rabbit in the vicinity of the Old Briar Patch. Eventually it is revealed that the male rabbit is actually "Little Pete" (from 1913!), now grown up with a mate ("Mrs. Pete") of his own.

November 21 to December 3. Cubby Bear meets his father, who tries to kill him.

December 5 to December 23. Terror the Goshawk arrives and causes problems for Reddy Fox and the grouse family. Farmer Brown's boy traps him and keeps him in a cage, but Terror refuses to be Farmer Brown's boy's friend.

December 24 to December 31. Whitefoot the Wood Mouse is rescued by Farmer Brown's boy from Black Pussy. He decides to spend the winter in the Old Stone Wall near his (sleeping) neighbor Striped Chipmunk. (Continued in 1928.)


The centerpiece of 1927 was the extended circus story, which had the dual purpose of letting Burgess talk about zoo animals and providing a mechanism through which Old Man Coyote could find a mate. It is worth noting that Burgess was critical, or at the very least ambivalent, about the display of captive animals. My Lord the Elephant greets Peter Rabbit by asking if he too is a prisoner, and Peter Rabbit comes to pity the loss of freedom suffered by this "lordly" being with a chain around its leg. While the escape of the leopard is played for its adventure value (not unlike the mountain lion story the previous year), the escape of the female coyote is something Burgess and the reader welcome.

Indeed this was a year when Burgess highlighted the tensions between the status of being "wild" and "domesticated." The skunk family moved into the Brown house as if it was just another habitat but ended up begging for cookies and stinking up the yard. The young woodchuck, "Little Miss Curiosity," became a cookie-loving pet (like the young chuck who refuses to return to the wild in 1913), but was, nevertheless, free to come and go.  And Farmer Brown's boy's hubristic attempt to keep a bear cub as a pet proved to be a disaster. Two animals were imprisoned: Bully the English Sparrow and Terror the Goshawk, the first for punitive reasons (this was actually a rare act of cruelty by Farmer Brown's boy) and the second to keep other animals safe. It is telling that Burgess didn't allow the goshawk to become the boy's "friend" (Terror begged for no cookies).

Perhaps the most shocking story of the year was the break-up (trial separation?) of Peter and Mrs. Peter Rabbit and their encounter with their (now adult) son and his mate, Pete and Mrs. Pete.  Long-time readers of Burgess would have recognized Pete as the former "Little Pete," a character introduced in 1913 and never heard about since. While the initial encounter was tense, relations became more cordial when their identities were revealed. (Unlike the case of bears, where Buster is repeatedly seen trying to kill his children). As Burgess stories became more and more naturalistic, nevertheless, rabbits and woodchucks (but not foxes) would become increasingly indifferent to their children when they matured.

The anti-hunting theme was subdued in 1927, limited to a story about a beaver trapper at the beginning of the year and some complaints by Longlegs the Heron that he was being shot at for taking trout. Farmer Brown's boy was the one most likely to be seen pointing a gun at something. In many ways, though, 1927 was the year when Farmer Brown's boy, the former thoughtless tormentor of animals, moved to the opposite position, becoming a thoughtless animal lover, loving them too much for their own good. While the Cubby Bear story was played for humor (like most of Burgess's human-bear encounter stories), it was Farmer Brown's boy's foolishness that instigated the affair. It is also worthwhile to note that Burgess had Farmer Brown's boy thoughtlessly light fireworks and disturb animals on the Fourth of July (as in the earliest stories, Farmer Brown's boy could still be used as the example of how NOT to behave).

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