Thursday, November 1, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1933

The Stories

January 2 to January 9. Paddy the Beaver worries about the hunter the visiting otter family has attracted to his pond. 

January 10 to January 17. Bad weather means hard times for the animals of the Green Meadow and Green Forest. Peter Rabbit grumbles while Tommy Tit remains cheerful. Blacky the Crow feeds with the hogs and chickens.

January 18 to February 28. Reddy and Swiftfoot, desperate with hunger, plan a hen-stealing spree. But when they become overconfident and the news of their crimes spreads, they must run for their lives.

March 1 to March 14. Reddy and Swiftfoot return to their old home only to find that Jimmy Skunk has moved in. Jimmy further irritates the foxes by protecting Peter Rabbit from them.

March 15 to March 17. Jimmy Skunk retreats from Shadow the Weasel but lets Hooty the Owl have it.

March 18 to March 21. Jumper fights a brash young hare invading his territory. Hooty the Owl removes the competition.

March 22 to April 8. Unc' Billy Possum shocks Jumper the Hare when he plays dead to avoid Yowler the Bobcat.  Then Unc' Billy has a hard time sleeping when he chooses Happy Jack Squirrel's hole to rest in.  Later he vies with Farmer Brown's boy for eggs in the henhouse.

April 10 to April 11. Unc' Billy Possum chats with Ol' Mistah Buzzard. (Reprinted in The Crooked Little Path).

April 12 to May 1. Johnny Chuck fights with a rival "Black Chuck" but they soon find that a farmer with a gun and poison is the real enemy. Next he talks to a three-legged "grizzled old chuck" whose leg was shot off by a hunter.

May 2 to May 19. The grackles build their nest on the osprey platform to protect it from egg stealers such as Chatterer the Red Squirrel. Meanwhile, Plunger loses yet another fish to King Eagle.

May 20 to May 27. Peter Rabbit is astonished to learn that Teeter the Spotted Sandpiper does the child-rearing in his family.

May 29 to June 9. The Bluebirds arrive and fight with the English sparrows (Farmer Brown's boy settles things). Meanwhile the wrens build their nest in Farmer Brown's boy's fishing basket. 

June 10 to June 15. Cliff swallows make a row of mud nests on Farmer Brown's barn.

June 16 to June 20. Mr. Blacksnake is frustrated in his efforts to raid nests in the Old Orchard. Farmer Brown's boy puts him in a cage until the end of nesting season.

June 21 to July 30. The adventures of Betty Bear, the newest bear cub. She learns to respect skunks and porcupines and recognize the scent of humans. She encounters Farmer Brown's boy, with somewhat tense results.

July 31 to August 22. When he catches the scent of vegetables borne by The Merry Little Breezes, Peter Rabbit cannot resist a visit. But he doesn't count on being injured by Hooty the Owl and trapped by Reddy Fox. Finally Farmer Brown's boy comes to the rescue. 

August 23 to September 2. Danny and Nanny Meadow Mouse fret when Farmer Brown starts mowing the grass on the Green Meadow. Then Mr. Blacksnake shows up. 

September 4 to September 11. Everyone searches for Stickytoes the Tree Frog in the false belief that he can call the rain and stop a drought.

September 12 to October 7. When a stray dog starts chasing Reddy Fox, Reddy leads the dog into a steel trap. Feeling pity for the suffering dog, Reddy lures Bowser to the spot to get help. Soon the trapper realizes he had trapped his own dog and is "cured of trapping." Later the dog pretends to lose Reddy's trail on a hunt. 

October 9 to October 20. The foxes enjoy hunting season, which supplies them with many meals of wounded and dead animals. Meanwhile hunters complain that grouse are getting harder to kill--smaller in numbers and smarter when found. 

October 21 to November 14. Inspired by his squirrel neighbors, Peter Rabbit decides to be thrifty but is dismayed to discover that the food he had stored has gone bad.

November 15 to November 25. Nimbleheels the Jumping Mouse is delayed on the way to his sleeping spot.

November 27 to December 31. It is a bad year for nuts but Farmer Brown's boy keeps his "cafeteria" well stocked. Even with so much food the squirrels and Sammy Jay act selfishly. Meanwhile Tommy Tit shows his bravery by flying in the window to get food. And who is that stranger in gray? (continued in 1934).


1933 begins with a set of images straight out of the Great Depression. The winter has been hard and the animals must manage their desperate hunger. This desperation is used to motivate (and justify) the first in a series of extended Reddy/Swiftfoot Fox capers. I use the term "caper" deliberately as the stories fall neatly into that genre--the "crimes" are well-planned and full of suspense, especially in Burgess's well-choreographed chase scenes, and readers end up sympathizing with behavior they probably wouldn't endorse in real life.

Farmer Brown's boy played a much smaller role than in previous years, his "range" pretty much restricted to his natural habitat around the farmyard and garden, except when lured into the forest to rescue a dog (the familiar story of a trapper who traps his own dog) or to the Old Pasture by the promise of blueberries (where he had a familiar bear encounter).  In 1933 he was rather aggressive in trying to cage (not always successfully) animals he considered pests.

Hunters, trappers, and farmers armed with guns and poison were ever-present in 1933, threatening beavers and otters, woodchucks and grouse.  Burgess contrasted the opinions of foxes delighted by game hunting season with grumbling hunters complaining that game bird populations were low. Burgess also voiced his one caveat to his over-all objection to hunting--hunters did have the benefit of making animals, as a species, more clever each year in their avoidance of hunters.

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