Thursday, October 4, 2012

The end of Little Stories for Bedtime. The beginning of...Little Stories for Bedtime?

New illustration for "A busy day at the Smiling Pool"
During 1919 contract talks broke down between Thornton Burgess and Associated Newspapers, the syndicator of "Little Stories for Bedtime." He prepared to move to another syndicate. Burgess's final "little story," "Chatterer's Big Jump Grows," ran on February 14, 1920.

On Monday, February 16, 1920, in many (though not all) newspapers running the feature, lo and behold, there was a "new" little story, "A busy day at the Smiling Pool." (Burgess aficionados will recognize this as a chapter in The Adventures of Jerry Muskrat). This story had originally run in March 1912. The "Little Stories for Bedtime" repeats had begun.

According to Burgess's autobiography, Associated Newspapers had exploited some ambiguous contractual language and were now asserting their right to reprint the eight years of "Little Stories" in perpetuity. Burgess did try to sue Associated Newspapers to stop them, but apparently nothing came of the law suit. (See more about this in an earlier post).
New illustration for "The digging match"
The repeats were carefully planned. A new artist (identity unknown) had been hired to do new pre-Harrison Cady illustrations. And the stories were edited to match the continuity of recent events in the Green Meadows and Green Forest. In particular, the repeats had to deal with the fact that the character of Farmer Brown's boy had evolved over the previous eight years.

In the original March 1912 story-line, Farmer Brown's boy is frustrated in his attempts to trap Jerry Muskrat, Little Joe Otter, Billy Mink et al. In the February 1920 story, all references to Farmer Brown's boy are replaced by "The Fur Hunter's Son," an apparent reference to the poacher character who had been recently terrorizing the Smiling Pool community. This kind of editing only occurred during the transitional period. After a while, Farmer Brown's boy was allowed to revert to his previous unenlightened state and evolve all over again (and again and again).

When the eight-year stock of stories ran out (they did not run every story), Associated Newspapers (and its successors) would start them over again. Into the 1950s.
New illustration for "The Sky Parlor of Whitefoot"
It is this eight years of Burgess stories that 20th century readers knew best. These stories were the basis of most of Burgess's books and the repeats were more popular among newspapers than the new stories because of their discount cost. Indeed, from a business point of view, eight years of material is probably enough. By the time eight years pass, most children will have outgrown a series and won't even notice repeats.

Nevertheless, it is regrettable that this eight year period represents Burgess's most enduring legacy. This was a period when Burgess was still evolving as both a storyteller and a naturalist. The real heights were yet to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment