Sunday, October 28, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1931

The Stories

January 1 to January 6. Jumper the Hare and Thunderer the Grouse dodge predators in the snow.

January 7 to January 12. Whitey the Owl tells Jumper the Hare about lemmings.

January 13 to January 20. Farmer Brown's boy goes ice fishing but his fish keep disappearing.

January 20 to January 28. Billy Mink and Reddy Fox are too wise to eat the poisoned food left by a hunter. [A shrew, a red squirrel, an owl and a crow are less lucky]

January 29 to January 31. Mother Brown's mouse turns out to be Flitter the Bat. Her son asks that he be allowed to stay in the barn over the winter.

February 2 to February 7. Farmer Brown's boy finds a hibernating jumping mouse, brings it back to life, and then lets it go to sleep again.

February 9 to February 19. Farmer Brown's boy looks for spruce gum. Later Peter Rabbit is fooled by the scent of skunk spruce.

February 20 to March 7. After Farmer Brown's boy stumbles upon Buster Bear's sleeping place, Buster Bear and Yowler the Bobcat swap dens.

March 9 to March 10. Yowler tries to raid Hooty the Owl's nest and regrets it. (Reprinted in The Crooked Little Path).

March 11 to March 20. Mr. and Mrs. Redshoulder the Hawk build a nest and are indignant when Redshoulder is blamed for the crimes of Sharpshin and shot at. (The nest-building section is partially reprinted with heavy editing in The Crooked Little Path. Redshoulder replaced with Red-tailed Hawk)

March 21 to April 2. Reddy Fox figures out where the marsh hawk hest is but gets more than he bargained when he tries to take advantage of that knowledge.

April 3 to April 4. Farmer Brown's boy is surprised when a garter snake falls from the roof. It turns out Redshoulder dropped it.

April 6 to May 2. Yellow Wing the Flicker fights off a rival, and with Mrs. Flicker reclaims his nest hole from Speckles the Starling, and defends chicks from Black Pussy. Sharpshin the Hawk still manages to get a foolish young flicker.

May 4 to October 24. Farmer Brown's boy and Flip the Fox Terrier take a trip on the man-bird to the West. Stories about encounters between Flip and/or Farmer Brown's boy and native animals are interspersed with tales told from an animal's perspective. The trip moves from the southwest desert (elf owls, desert foxes and gila monsters) and the prairie (prairie dogs, gophers, and pronghorn antelopes) to the mountains (pika, mountain goats, and elk).

October 26 to November 13. Peter Rabbit falls in love with a younger rabbit, Molly. Molly doesn't feel the same way (he's too old) and Peter rekindles his love for Mrs. Peter. 

November 14 to November 19. Danny and Nanny Meadow Mouse quarrel with Chicoree the Goldfinch over sunflower seeds.

November 20 to December 25. The adventures of Runty the young possum, adopted, temporarily, as Farmer Brown boy's pet when he is caught in the hen house. Learns to ride on the back of Flip the Fox Terrier. 

December 26 to December 31. Reddy and Mrs. Reddy hunt after a snow storm (continued in 1932).


The centerpiece of 1931 was the long trip Farmer Brown's boy (and Flip) took to the American West. While Farmer Brown's boy would take other trips (most notably to Trinidad), this was the most extensive. The trip allowed the boy and his dog to encounter first hand many animals (such as Yap Yap the Prairie Dog) that had been previously discussed second hand. The animals of the Green Meadows and Green Forest, who were distressed when they thought the man-bird had eaten Farmer Brown's boy, rejoiced upon his return.

The most shocking story of 1931, indeed perhaps the strangest Burgess story of all time, portrayed Peter Rabbit as a philanderer with eyes for another female. This was a move toward a more naturalistic depiction of the relationships between cottontails--in the wild they are completely opportunistic breeders with no enduring relationships--but Burgess was ultimately not willing to sacrifice the marriage between his two popular characters. Revealingly, Peter Rabbit was rejected as being too old (there is no evidence linking this story to Thornton Burgess's biography); we are a very long way from the boy character of 1912.

The anti-hunting theme was subdued in 1931, though a new threat to animals was introduced--poisoned bait--which Burgess identified as a highly criminal act, already illegal in Massachusetts. When it came to pests, however, Burgess made it clear that mass poisoning could be justifiable. This was addressed explicitly in a story about California ground squirrels (part of the American West adventure). In the story the "Twitchtails" return to their colony and are horrified to find all of their neighbors either dead or dying. Burgess explains:
Of course, the Twitchtails couldn't know that this killing of their friends had to be. It did, however. Otherwise the Squirrels would in time have become so destructive that there would have been no crops left and the people who owned the ranch and had planted the crops would have had to leave. Things like this happen all over the Great World and cannot be helped. It is too bad, but it is so. It always has been so and it always will be so. 
Indeed, the control of ground squirrel populations is still a hot issue in California environmental circles and poisoning is still common, despite the objections of animal rights organizations.

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