Friday, November 9, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1937

The Stories

January 1 to January 2. Chatterer the Red Squirrel and Happy Jack the Gray Squirrel have different methods of storing nuts.

January 4 to January 21. After seeing Hooty the Owl take a chicken, Reddy Fox has the same idea. But after Mrs. Reddy is shot, Reddy returns to the Browns as a beggar. 

January 22 to January 26. Some animals spend the winter in comfort. Some don't.

January 27 to January 30. Sammy Jay watches Drummer the Woodpecker bore for borers.

February 1 to February 6. Jimmy Skunk protects Peter Rabbit from Reddy Fox.

February 8 to February 9. Jimmy Skunk warns a headstrong young skunk to be careful. Hooty the Owl gets him anyway.

February 10 to February 16. Yowler the Bobcat, bothered by Prickly Porky, gets a young grouse (already dead) from under the ice crust. Old Man Coyote is disappointed.

February 17 to March 3. A venturesome young otter manages to escape the jaws of Old Man Coyote thanks to his father, Little Joe, but gets killed in a trap despite his father's warnings.

March 4 to March 15. There are too many house mice for Mother Brown to tell which one is singing.

March 16 to March 26. Johnny Chuck, newly awake and in a bad mood, wards off Mrs. Reddy Fox.

March 27 to March 31. Jumper the Hare is worried because his white coat has not yet changed for spring. (Reprinted in The Crooked Little Path).

April 1 to April 5. Peter Rabbit stops the hyla chorus. Then he warns Jerry Muskrat about a hawk. Jerry returns the favor. (Partially reprinted in At the Smiling Pool).

April 6 to April 21. The Woodcocks raise a family in the face of threats from Reddy Fox, Mr. Blacksnake, and even Peter Rabbit.

April 22 to May 6. Old Mr. Toad meets friends and enemies at the Smiling Pool.

May 7 to May 22. Teeter the Spotted Sandpiper works hard to keep his chicks safe. Meanwhile Mrs. Little Friend the Song Sparrow is scandalized by Mrs. Teeter's behavior. (Partially reprinted in At the Smiling Pool)

May 24 to June 15. Taddy the Tadpole matures into a toad and learns many important things from Old Mr. Toad, including how to dig when faced with Mr. Blacksnake. (Partially reprinted in At the Smiling Pool).

June 16 to June 29. After a game warden accuses Reddy Fox of killing black duck ducklings, Farmer Brown's boy must find the real culprit. (Snapper the Turtle). Later, Jimmy Skunk feasts on snapping turtle eggs.

June 30 to July 10. Mr. and Mrs. Lightfoot must protect their fawns from fox hounds and Old Man Coyote.

July 12 to July 21. Sally Sly has more trouble than usual finding hosts for her eggs. Scrapper the Kingbird intervenes to put an end to "Old Orchard Welfare." 

July 22 to August 11. New bear cub twins learn about dangers, including Tufty the Lynx and their father, Buster.

August 12 to August 17. Graywing the Gull stuns Reddy Fox with his report about the size of whales.

August 18 to August 21. Farmer Brown's boy salts a stump for deer but it's Prickly Porky who takes possession. 

August 23 to September 7. Petey, Peter Rabbit's son, avoids dangerous predators but needs to be rescued when he fall in a hole.

September 8 to December 24. Farmer Brown's young cousins from the city, Sammy and Sue, come to visit. Tommy Brown teaches them many things about the folks of the Green Meadow and Green Forest. On December 9 they visit Aunt Sally's Woodhouse Night Club to see the skunks and raccoons feed.

December 25. Farmer Brown's boy feeds the animals for Christmas. (There is no day-after story this time). 

December 27 to December 31. Peter Rabbit and Danny Meadow Mouse wonder whether moles and bats hibernate. 


The stories of 1937 continued the 1930s pattern of familiar story-lines and grim outcomes, particularly during a stretch in February and March when a young grouse expired under the ice crust and a young otter succumbed to a trap that drowned him. The latter story was particularly heart-breaking as Little Joe Otter had been trying desperately over the previous two weeks to keep his headstrong son alive. Here are the final two paragraphs:
Without warning something grabbed him by the leg, grabbed and held with jaws that seemed to be biting into the very bone. The young Otter plunged frantically to get away, but was brought up short. Though he tried with all his might to swim, he couldn't pull away from that dreadful thing holding him with such a terrible grip. He twisted and turned and struggled with all his strength, but it was useless. He needed fresh air, but he could not get any. There under the ice, held fast by that cruel steel trap, the young Otter drowned. He had learned about traps, but he had learned too late. 
Presently down the length of that pool came little Joe Otter, gliding through the water as smoothly and swiftly as a fish. He saw the young Otter. He saw the dreadful trap. He understood perfectly what had happened. He, too, was too late. With sorrow in his heart he kept down the brook, away from that pool of sadness. There are no sadder words that just those four--it is too late. 
From Smiling Pool to "pool of sadness."

In September things changed dramatically. Burgess introduced Farmer Brown's boy's young cousins from the city, Sammy and Sue, and spent the next four months narrating their experiences in the Green Meadows and Green Forest. Tommy Brown (his cousins addressed him by name) became the teacher and his cousins the students (Sue was a more avid learner while Sammy was more of an impulsive trouble-maker who learned from experience) and the format of Burgess Bedtime Stories changed to the explicit instruction of nature facts (still wrapped in engaging stories). Thus Sammy and Sue learned about such things as ant-lions, wasp nests, the difference between lizards and salamanders, how to use triangulation to find bee nests, beaver dams, and the like. While Tommy Brown still occasionally brought up darker topics such as the unwarranted persecution of kingfishers, generally speaking the tone was lighter and more suitable for younger audiences than Burgess Bedtime Stories had been in years.

In December Tommy Brown brought his cousins to visit "Aunt Sally," a neighbor who hosted night-time visits by raccoons and skunks to her "Woodhouse Nightclub." As noted previously, this scenario was based on a real-life situation. Burgess's films of the antics of the many visiting raccoons and skunks to this Woodhouse would become a staple of his lecture tours.

It is worth noting an odd theme that began to crop up in Burgess stories during this time: the "problem" of welfare. This began in the July cowbird story line in which Sally Sly's parasitism was directly compared to someone on welfare doing no work but reaping the benefits of work anyway. Perhaps sensing the contradictions, Burgess defended Aunt Sally's and Farmer Brown's boy's feeding of animals as something other than "welfare." The animal beneficiaries retained their independence while human beneficiaries became dependent on the state. It should be remembered that Burgess politically was still quite conservative (as were many other prominent environmentalists) and he was likely reacting to some aspects of the New Deal that had been put into practice in 1937 (including Social Security).

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