Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1936

The Stories

January 1 to January 8. (Continued from 1935). White predators tussle over white prey while Whitefoot the Wood Mouse looks on.

January 9 to February 4. A young grouse gets caught under the ice crust. This time Lightfoot the Deer breaks the ice.  Later Reddy Fox and Terror the Goshawk pursue the young grouse but Whitefoot helps him out.

February 5 to March 21. Blacky the Crow leaves the Green Forest for the salt marsh, where he finds new friends (fish crows and gulls) and sorrow (dying oily ducks). Then he and Mrs. Blacky find a nesting spot but they are distressed when the Redtailed Hawk family comes to nest nearby. Meanwhile Farmer Brown's boy bands the young crows.

March 23 to April 18. The Happy Jacks make a nest in the chimney of the sugar house but abandon their babies when Shadow the Weasel appears. Farmer Brown's boy gives them to a neighbor's nursing cat to foster.  Meanwhile, Peter Rabbit, trapped in the sugar house, is rescued and brought home.

April 20 to April 25. Who is making that hair-raising scream in the middle of the night? Reddy Fox, it turns out. 

April 27 to May 2. Peter Rabbit loses a fight to a brutal rival cottontail. But when the rival starts abusing Mrs. Peter he arranges a fatal solution. 

May 4 to May 9. Johnny Chuck is dismayed when Jimmy Skunk takes his new home but is glad when he discovers that home had been vulnerable to dogs.

May 11 to May 28. Bluebirds, house sparrows, tree swallows, and house wrens compete over houses in the Old Orchard. Farmer Brown's boy intervenes to move the wren house.

May 29 to June 10. Farmer Brown's boy tests the strength of Mrs. Timmy the Flying Squirrel's "Mother Love." Later she discovers a snake skin and makes Cresty the Great Crested Flycatcher happy.

June 11 to June 17. Reddy Fox kills a woodchuck to feed his family.

June 18 to June 23. Mrs. Reddy Fox kills a young goose for her family.

June 24 to August 15. Fox children, including the "The Weakling" and "The Bold One" learn to be safe, sometimes the hard way. The "Headstrong  One," "The Bully," and "The Slow One" don't survive, killed by porcupine quills, rattlesnake poison, and Yowler the Bobcat respectively. The "Timid One" and the "Weakling" (now called "Miss Swifty") set out together and learn how to avoid dogs and steel traps.

August 17 to September 5. Danny and Nanny Meadow Mouse get separated and have adventures before they are reunited.

September 7 to September 22. Chatterer the Red Squirrel and Spooky the Owl trade trees but are dismayed when both of their trees are cut down. Farmer Brown's boy helps out.

September 23 to October 10. Unc' Billy Possum (and his family) play dead in a series of comic situations.

October 12 to October 24. Hunters, both human and non-human, are after the Bob Whites. Reddy Fox takes a young quail wounded by a poacher.

October 26 to October 30. Peter Rabbit promises not to reveal Old Mr. Toad's hibernation spot.

October 31 to November 14. Bobby Coon discovers the world is a very dangerous place (hunters and bobcats) when he strays from Farmer Brown's boy's sanctuary.

November 16 to November 23. A falling tree, thanks to Paddy the Beaver, keeps Howler the Bobcat from catching Peter Rabbit.

November 24 to December 10. Flathorns the Moose arrives at the beaver pond, having been driven from his home by hunters. He fights off Buster Bear and commiserates with Honker the Goose about treacherous hunting calls and decoys. 

December 16 to December 24. Jack Frost arrives and Paddy the Beaver and Buster Bear settle in for the winter.

December 25 to December 26. On Christmas Day all the animals express good will to one another. On the day after Christmas fear and hate take the place of good will. 

December 28 to December 31. Tommy Tit is admirably optimistic, tapping on Farmer Brown's boy's window after a terrible ice storm. (continued in 1937). 


In 1936 things were darker than ever in the world of Burgess, exemplified by the graphic, if matter-of-fact, deaths of three young foxes in one story line. Among the high (low) lights: Mrs. Peter Rabbit got abused by Peter Rabbit's victorious rival and Peter made the grim decision to lure the rival into the waiting jaws of Reddy Fox. A wounded young Bob White, which in earlier years would have been discovered in the nick of time, met his end despite a furious search by his family. When Black the Crow tried to find respite in the salt marshes he was met with dying ducks (the victims of oil spills) and the very snowy owl he was trying to escape. When the majestic Flathorns the Moose arrived, finally, in the Green Forest (the moose was one of Burgess's favorite animals), it was because he had been tormented by hunters.

In 1936 Farmer Brown's boy did not magically appear on the scene to save animals in need (where was he when the grouse got caught under the ice crust?), in fact he seemed more interested in cutting down their trees and testing their relationships with him, particularly in a succession of episodes involving mothers (flying squirrels, gray squirrels and meadow mice) and their tiny babies. Farmer Brown's boy himself was made fun of by neighbors for his unpopular (but correct) theory about the source of strange night-time screaming.

Lightening the tone a bit was a series of stories featuring Unc' Billy Possum (still speaking in dialect) playing dead to escape from unpleasant situations. But even these revolved around the rather dark premise that other animals believed, at least momentarily, that they had actually killed Unc' Billy. This reached its funniest moment when Lightfoot the Deer, trying to prank the possum family by scaring them, thought he had killed the whole family.

The year's Christmas episode is perhaps the most telling. As in most years, Farmer Brown's boy fed the animals, spreading joy and good will, even between Peter Rabbit and Reddy Fox. On December 26, however, Burgess added a special story about the day after Christmas. The good will had disappeared, intense hunger had reappeared, and the relationship between Peter and Reddy was once again defined by hate and fear. The moral, in the story's last paragraph:
So it was all over the Green Meadows and all through the Green Forest. The hunters hunted and the hunted hid, and fear and hate took the place of peace and good will. Alas, that it so often is so throughout the Great World.
While not part of the above storyline it is important to note that the very next story featured the ever optimistic Tommy Tit, who trusted that an absent Farmer Brown's boy would soon return to feed the birds.

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