Sunday, November 11, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1938

The Stories

January 1 to January 3. Flitter the Bat looks for places in which to hibernate. (Continued from 1937)

January 5 to January 11. The foxes use an old trick involving cows to escape a hunter with a dog. 

January 12 to January 14. Peter Rabbit's timidity is a great blessing.

January 15 to January 25. Butcher the Shrike is back, killing sparrows. Sammy Jay leads a mob to force him out.

January 26 to February 5. After an ice storm, Farmer Brown's boy feeds the deer trapped in their yard (and scares away Yowler the Bobcat). Later he rescues a grouse caught under the ice crust. 

February 7 to February 9. Blacky the Crow uses his mimicry skills to get a dog's meal. 

February 8 to February 14. Peter Rabbit is so busy counting the "seven sleepers" he nearly gets caught by Hooty the Owl.

February 15 to February 22. The owls nest during a snow storm.

February 23 to March 2. Farmer Brown's boy defends Hooty the Owl against a neighbor farmer who accuses him of being a chicken thief.

March 3 to March 11. Danny Meadow Mouse's timidity is a great blessing. Stripes the young skunk, who lacks timidity, chases a dog away from the Old Briar Patch but later gets himself killed by an owl. 

March 12 to March 14. Happy Jack goes after Chatterer the Red Squirrel after Sammy Jay calls him a coward. 

March 15 to March 21. A spring flood leads Johnny Chuck and Old Jed Thumper to ponder the nature of luck.

March 22 to March 30. Johnny Chuck and a rival for Polly's affections try to fight but keep getting interrupted.

March 31 to April 2. Farmer Brown's boy plays an unwitting April Fool's joke on the bluebirds when he moves their nesting box.

April 4 to April 23. The Quacks arrive and tell stories about pelicans. They decide to nest surprisingly far from the water.

April 25 to April 28. Peter Rabbit continues to be confused by Spotted Sandpiper gender roles.

April 29 to May 4. Johnny Chuck is ejected from his home so that Polly can raise children. Later a young chuck is saved when Jimmy Skunk rests on his doorstep, illustrating the fact that "whatever you do affects some one else."

May 9 to May 16. Peter Rabbit admires the beauty of birds and hears a fable about flamingos. 

May 17 to May 19. Farmer Brown's boy saves a green heron whose foot was caught in a clam.

May 20 to May 23. Farmer Brown's boy makes mud and scatters feathers for barn swallows.

May 24 to May 29. Reddy Fox's cleverness keeps his children fed.

May 30 to June 4. Plunger the Osprey teaches his children to fish and Grandfather Frog tells a fable about his relationship with King Eagle. 

June 6 to June 21. Sammy and Sue are back. Farmer Brown's boy teaches them facts about insects. 

June 22 to June 25. Peter Rabbit learns about the music making of crickets, grasshoppers, and katydids. (Reprinted in On the Green Meadows).

June 27 to July 4. Queen Bumble searches for a home. Later Jimmy Skunk feasts on bumblebees. 

July 5 to July 9. Sue has an unpleasant encounter with Mrs. Snapper the Turtle and Jimmy Skunk and Bobby Coon compete for turtle eggs. 

July 11 to July 12. Sue learns about sunfish and bullheads. 

July 13 to July 21. Farmer Brown's boy helps a young fox whose leg is caught between two roots. The fox's mother leaves a dead woodchuck for the young fox to eat.

July 22 to July 28. Aunt Sally is distressed that her friend Crippy the three-legged raccoon is missing. Crippy had been hit by a car. Sammy and Sue are sad. 

July 29 to August 11. Farmer Brown's boy tests the intelligence of Striped Chipmunk. 

August 12 to September 1. An Old Naturalist is staying at the Sugar House. Tommy Brown and his cousins consult him about animal intelligence. Later the Old Naturalist watches "Spike," a young deer, display intelligent behavior. Then he quizzes the children about whales and shrews. 

September 2 to September 17. The Muskrats must build a new house in the face of threats from Reddy Fox and trappers.

September 19 to October 1. So-called "sportsmen" hunt black ducks and coots at the Smiling Pool. Falco the duck hawk snatches a young duck from a hunter and takes another on the water. 

October 3 to October 15. The Old Naturalist teaches Tommy and the cousins about homing pigeons, wasps, and blue jays. (Partially reprinted in On the Green Meadows)

October 17 to October 22. Johnny Chuck prepares for winter.

October 24 to October 29. The Old Naturalist teaches Tommy and the cousins about the cooperative behavior of ants. Later Sue witnesses cooperative behavior between foxes. 

October 31 to November 3. Tommy Brown teaches his cousins about pitcher plants and other plants that should not be picked. 

November 4 to November 22. Aunt Sally hosts a great number of refugees after a hurricane, including rats and a skunk she calls "the dictator." Shadow the Weasel (brought by Farmer Brown's boy) ends the rat party. 

November 23 to December 4. Farmer Brown's boy rescues a wounded goose suffering at the beaver pond. 

December 5 to December 10. After the frost, the beaver lodge is too hard for bears or bobcats to penetrate. 

December 12 to December 29. Tommy Brown and his cousins read tracks in the snow. 

December 30 to December 31. Sue is delighted when Linnet the Purple Finch taps at Tommy's window to get food.


Sammy and Sue, Tommy Brown's cousins, returned in 1938 along with a new character, The Old Naturalist, who took up residence in the Sugar House. The Old Naturalist, perhaps an idealized version of Burgess himself, could be consulted by the cousins about more theoretical and methodological issues in natural history, including the question of animal intelligence (vs. instinct) and cooperative behavior. He also trotted out one of Burgess's favorite animal-oriented puzzlers (repeated from the very first episode of the Radio Nature League)--how many shrews (the smallest mammal) would fit in a great blue whale (the largest mammal).

Aunt Sally also returned in 1938. In one story she asked Tommy Brown's help in finding "Crippy" the (insensitively named) Raccoon. Crippy had been introduced as a Woodhouse Nightclub regular in 1937 but now he was missing. Crippy was eventually found but succumbed to injuries suffered by being hit by a truck.  This, as far as I can tell, seems to have been inspired by a real-life story. Burgess would begin to incorporate more and more "true" stories (of the type listeners sent him for the Radio Nature League) in his Bedtime Stories. The true story frame also informed two late 1930s Burgess books, Tales from the Storyteller's House (1937) and While the Story-Log Burns (1938); the latter also featured "The Old Naturalist."

At the same time, Burgess began telling fables again. The People's Home Journal, which had been Burgess's main outlet for Mother West Wind-type tales, had been out of business since 1930. Three were incorporated into his Bedtime Stories in 1938 featuring pelicans, flamingos, and ospreys respectively. There would be more to come.

It seems that Burgess was experimenting with new ways to tell his stories. A lovely example (that in some ways becomes a story about story telling) is his December episode in which Tommy Brown tutors his cousins in reading the stories of tracks in the snow (Farmer Brown's boy had done this on his own in Burgess stories several times previously). Tommy counsels his cousins to read the story already "written" in the snow and they comply, hoping for a "happy ending." The happy ending does come but only because they followed the story (Tommy rescues Peter Rabbit and Jumper the Hare from predators). This is old tracker wisdom--that the moment one begins reading the track story one becomes part of the story. 

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