Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1929

The Stories

January 1 to January 12. Peter Rabbit must enter Farmer Brown's barn to escape from Reddy Fox and Hooty the Owl (continued from 1928).

January 14 to January 19. Reddy Fox loses a toe to a steel trap. Farmer Brown's boy is able to use that fact to exonerate Reddy from the accusation that he had stolen a neighbor's chicken.

January 21 to February 4. Spooky the Screech Owl moves into Farmer Brown's barn after a snow storm, to the dismay of the house mice.

February 5 to March 2. Danny and Nanny Meadow Mouse move from place to place to raise a family and to avoid predators (including Roughleg the Hawk and Blacky Crow). The fate of the eight meadow mice children is revealed--most of them were eaten by predators.

March 4 to March 20. The Wanderers (Evening Grosbeaks) tell Peter Rabbit about animals from distant regions, including Howler the Wolf, Billy the (burrowing) Owl, and Blackfoot the Ferret.

March 21 to April 2. After Farmer Brown's boy removes a jar from his head, Jimmy Skunk is suspected of stealing chickens (in fact rats are the culprits). Jimmy is a hero when he stops human thieves from stealing chickens from the hen house.

April 3 to April 12. Peter Rabbit helps Lightfoot the Deer avoid Buster Bear after Lightfoot loses his antlers.

April 13 to April 26. Honker the Goose and his flock arrive at the beaver pond. A "willful young gander" is almost caught by Yowler the Bobcat.

April 27 to May 15. The Wood Ducks arrive at the beaver pond and raise a family. A "disobedient duckling" is nearly eaten by grandfather frog.

May 16 to June 1. Peter Rabbit learns about Dipper the Grebe and his family. [Note: Burgess does not indicate the species of grebe but Dipper is probably intended to be a pie-billed grebe and not the red-throated grebe in Cady's illustration] (Partially reprinted in At the Smiling Pool).

June 3 to June 8. Welcome Robin battles his own reflection in the window. Farmer Brown's boy must figure out a way to stop him.

Newspaper layout artists could be surprisingly careless.
June 10 to June 19. The house wrens make their nest in a bag full of clothes pins. Later the wrens search for a chirping insect and discover it is a centipede with squeaky legs.

June 20 to June 28. Happy Jack Squirrel fights off Robber the Rat but his heroism is short-lived.

June 29 to July 1. Watersnakes are eating all the fish in the Smiling Pool.

July 2 to July 20. Peter Rabbit watches the Bob White family as it trains to avoid predators.

July 22 to July 31. Peter Rabbit meets Logcock the Pileated Woodpecker. (Partially reprinted in The Crooked Little Path).

August 1 to August 10. Cubby Bear, not longer under his mother's care, must fend for himself. He discovers a bee tree but is terrified when Buster Bear finds it too.  Even Farmer Brown's boy (watching the whole thing) gets stung.

August 12 to August 17. Peter Rabbit learns about dobson flies and frog hoppers.

August 19 to September 30. Introducing a new central Burgess character: Flip the Fox Terrier. Flip, a runaway from the city, makes typical city-slicker mistakes, leading to bee and wasp stings, skunk spray, a woodchuck confrontation, and toad poisoning. He also tries out Little Joe Otter's slide and chases Peter Rabbit.

October 1 to October 10. Peter Rabbit meets Thalessa the Ichneumon Fly. 

October 11 to October 23. Flip saves Striped Chipmunk from Shadow the Weasel. Shadow returns to the barn to slaughter rats.

October 24 to October 31. Flip saves the grouse family from a poacher. Meanwhile Sammy Jay proves a hero when he alerts the Bob Whites from the poacher even while being shot at. 

November 1 to November 12. Hunting season begins and this time it is Peter Rabbit who gets shot. Peter manages to avoid Reddy Fox and a hawk while running on three legs.

November 13 to November 27. Unc' Billy Possum tricks Flip the Fox Terrier and plans (unsuccessfully) to spend the winter in the hen house feasting on eggs.

November 28. Lightfoot is chased from the Green Forest by hounds and must avoid hunters on the Great Mountain until finally making back to the safety of the Green Forest for Thanksgiving. 

November 29 to November 30. Hooty accidentally hits Buster Bear in the back of the head while hunting.

December 2 to December 21. The foxes make elaborate plans to take domestic turkeys from a local farm but must deal with Hooty the Owl, Yowler the Bobcat, and a farmer with a gun.

December 23 to December 31. Spooky the Screech Owl takes over Happy Jack Squirrel's house in the Old Orchard.  (continued in 1930). 


In 1929 Farmer Brown's boy got a new dog, Flip the Fox Terrier. In a single stroke, Burgess changed the texture and balance of his stories forever. Bowser the Hound would recede to the background and the impetuous Flip, a dog with a whole lot to learn, would take center stage. In many ways Flip was a stand-in for the perspective of city folk (a large percentage of Burgess's readers).  But the adventures of Flip furthered pulled the focus of Burgess stories, for a while at least, into the world of the human.

1929 was also the year that Reddy Fox lost a toe to a steel trap. From this point on his tracks would reveal his identity, a fact that helped Farmer Brown's boy exonerate him when a neighboring farmer blamed Reddy for stealing chickens. Farmer Brown's boy's detective work in defense of accused animals would become its own genre of Burgess story in years to come.

Generally speaking, Farmer Brown's boy (thanks in part to the appearance of Flip), returned to center stage in 1929, involved in most of the story lines for the year, if sometimes just as a witness (and sometimes, as in the Bob White episode, an unknowing but potentially disruptive presence). 

The realities of predation also began to creep into Burgess stories during 1929. While "disobedient" and "willful" animal children still largely managed to escape with their lives, this kind of grace would soon end. A warning shot was Burgess's matter-of-fact accounting of the ultimate fates of Danny and Nanny Meadow Mouse's eight children, the survival of which had been the focus of stories for the previous couple of weeks. Only two survived, five were the victims of Roughleg the Hawk, Hooty the Owl,  Reddy Fox, Old Man Coyote respectively, and the status of two were unknown (Burgess the newspaperman just reporting the facts...).  Rather than something to be regretted (Danny and Nanny could have cared less--they already had new children to worry about), this helped Burgess (via Farmer Brown's boy) defend his predator characters. Without their help the Green Meadows would be over-run with meadow mice.

There were poachers on Brown family land again in 1929 looking for grouse, bob whites, squirrels and even rabbits. Peter Rabbit was the only shooting victim. The Thanksgiving story featured Lightfoot the Deer chased by dogs, a scenario that Burgess would return to repeatedly in future years. Even in the 1920s it was illegal to allow dogs to chase deer. Future stories would not end as happily.

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