Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1939

The Stories

January 2 to January 7. Mrs. Lightfoot gets caught in a fence. Farmer Brown's boy (and cousins) come to the rescue, alerted by crows.

January 9 to January 14. Butcher the Shrike is back terrorizing Old Orchard. He fights with his "look-a-like" (in Sue's opinion) Mr. Mocker. Tommy Brown brings Sue to see the shrike's larder.

January 16 to January 18. Tommy and his cousins visit the Old Naturalist, who is entertaining "The Captain." The Captain tells a story about a courageous meadow mouse. 

January 19 to January 30. Reddy Fox gets revenge on a wily trapper.

January 31 to February 18. After fighting over a missed rabbit, Whitey the Owl tells his cousin Hooty about animals of the frozen north, including lemmings, polar bears, seals, and arctic foxes. 

February 20 to March 2. Hooty and Mrs. Hooty defend their snow covered nest from crows and Chatterer the Red Squirrel.

March 3 to March 9. Jimmy Skunk and Bobby Coon compare notes.

March 10 to March 14. Longbill the Woodcock celebrates the coming spring.

March 15 to March 21. Farmer Brown's boy observes Reddy Fox playing with a pickle jar. Danny Meadow Mouse is inside.

March 22 to April 1. Harrier the Marsh Hawk nests on the Green Meadow and proves a good father. Peter Rabbit and Danny Meadow Mouse are not happy about it.

April 3 to May 22. Mrs. Peter worries about her disobedient, headstrong son, but it's another momentarily careless one that gets taken by the marsh hawk. The "Little Wanderer" meets Queen Bumblebee, gets advice from Old Mr. Toad, visits the Smiling Pool, learns about Thunderer the Grouse's log, is saved in the nick of time by Jumper the Hare from Reddy Fox, observes Buster Bear step aside for Jimmy Skunk and Prickly Porky, and stumbles upon Mrs. Grouse's nest (she isn't happy).

May 20 to June 2. Farmer Brown's boy sets up a test to see if his neighbor's pointer can find the grouse nest. The dog fails. Later, Mrs. Grouse loses most of her children to cold rainy weather.  

June 8 to June 26. Jimmy Skunk eats all of Mrs. Snapper's eggs. She doesn't care. Peter Rabbit thinks it's a pity until he sees a snapping turtle kill a young muskrat. Meanwhile Jerry tries hard (but is only partially successful) to keep his other children alive. (Partially reprinted in At the Smiling Pool).

June 27 to July 1. Jimmy Skunk gets his head stuck in a jar. Farmer Brown's boy gets it off.

July 3 to July 7. Chatterer the Red Squirrel is vulnerable when he gets his teeth stuck in a line. Farmer Brown's boy arrives in time to drive Black Pussy away. 

July 8 to July 15. Old Mr. Toad helps out in the garden.

July 17 to July 22. Farmer Brown's boy shouts to scare off King Eagle and ruin a hunter's shot. He convinces the hunter that the bald eagle should be revered as a living symbol of America. 

July 24 to August 19. Paddy the Beaver, having exhausted the tree supply around his pond, needs to move on. He discovers a old beaver dam. King Eagle tells him the story of the former beaver colony and how it was decimated by a trapper. 

August 21 to August 26. Paddy meets Mrs. Flathorns and her two "homely" calves.

August 28 to September 12. Paddy and Mrs. Paddy leave their home (and their grown children) to make a new home for themselves. They are threatened by lynx and puma (and ridiculed by "Gaffer" the Raven). A young beaver joins the couple and "earns his keep." (Partially reprinted in At Paddy the Beaver's Pond). 

September 13 to September 19. One of Mrs. Flathorn's children is taken by Puma the Cougar. Then Flathorns fights a rival for her honor. 

September 20 to September 23. Puma the Cougar can't break through the ice shell of the beaver lodge. But he can break through the pond ice (accidentally). (Retold in At Paddy the Beaver's Pond).

September 25 to October 9. Danny Meadow Mouse dodges predators, including Longlegs the Heron, Reddy Fox, and Jimmy Skunk.

October 10 to October 20. Bob White, wounded by a hunter, is assisted by Peter Rabbit (who leads the hunting dog away) but is caught by Black Pussy. Farmer Brown's boy nurses him back to health. Not wanting to be a "dictator," Farmer Brown's boy releases him. Bob White is dismayed to learn that five of his children had been shot and killed.

October 21 to November 14. Peter Rabbit, chased into unfamiliar territory by a hunter and a giant aggressive rabbit, makes some new friends (wood mouse and woodchuck) and dodges a new enemy (a fox). When a fire (once again started by a cigarette tossed from a car window) threatens a neighboring farmer's pasture, Farmer Brown's boy arrives just in time to see the mouse, the fox, and two rabbits emerge onto the pasture. Farmer Brown's boy takes Peter Rabbit back to his home.

November 15 to November 18. Mrs. Slim the Eel leaves the Smiling Pool and travels down the Big River to the ocean. (Reprinted in At the Smiling Pool).

November 20 to November 30. Farmer Brown's boy uses his saw to save two bucks (one is Lightfoot) with their antlers entangled. Later a hunter decides not to shoot Lightfoot because of his deformed antler.

December 1 to December 7. Yowler the Bobcat is disappointed in his efforts to get a wounded deer by Lightfoot and Mrs. Lightfoot, who are protecting their child. Meanwhile, Reddy and Mrs. Reddy are enjoying all the wounded grouse and pheasant provided by hunters, and also stealing their chickens while they are away (hunting for foxes). 

December 8 to December 11. Reddy Fox feels foolish when he performs his "act crazy and attract ducks" trick for the benefit of decoy ducks. 

December 12 to December 16. Blacky the Crow, watching Reddy Fox trick a hunting dog, gives Reddy away. Later he warns Reddy about a hunter.

December 18 to December 25. Happy Jack worries when frost locks in his nut supply. Luckily Farmer Brown's boy puts out food for Christmas. 

December 26 to December 30. Billy Mink steals fish from an ice fisherman. 


1939 continued recent trends in Burgess Stories. Sammy and Sue returned, although just briefly, as did the Old Naturalist, visiting with his storytelling friend, "The Captain." [I am assuming "The Captain," like Aunt Sally, was based on a real life Burgess acquaintance].  And Burgess's political references became more and more overt. While the idea that animals in captivity could be compared to prisoners was an old Burgess theme, now Farmer Brown's boy was worried that his penchant for keeping wild animals (remember the series of pets in the 1920s?) might make him a "dictator."

Burgess addressed contemporary politics directly in a September 11 story by drawing a surprising analogy.
These days we hear much about dictators, totalitarian states and democracies. Those are big-sounding words for little ears, aren't they? Never mind. You will learn the meaning of them when you grow older. Just now all you need to understand and remember is that you live in a democracy and that his great country of ours is the greatest democracy that the world has ever known. Because it is a democracy you are free and independent, yet at the same time you work for and share in the common welfare, and all your neighbors are doing the same thing. 
There were democracies here in America, a vast number of them, long before Man found out that this was the best way of living.
And what were these proto-democracies? Beaver colonies.
Each Beaver colony was a democracy, as each colony today is. The oldest and wisest members are the leaders, but there are no dictators. There is complete freedom for each member of a colony, but these wise little people of the Green Forest know that the greatest good of all means the greatest good for each one. So as a rule each does his or her share of the work that all will profit by.
Burgess was well aware of the "keystone" status of beavers in local ecosystems. He also admired their work ethic and ingenuity. That they also symbolized American democracy made the persecution of beavers out of greed particularly intolerable.

In an unusually moving story that began in early August, Burgess had Paddy discover the ruins of an old beaver colony. Paddy scrambles around in excitement identifying the dams, the old food supply, and the pond (since reverted to a meadow). King Eagle (another symbol of America) comes along and tells Paddy the story of how beavers moved in, created a great colony (a "four-house pond"), and made their pond the most popular place in the forest. Burgess then spends several stories talking about the life of the colony as beavers learn and work together. And then the trapper comes, and beavers start disappearing, or are discovered suffering, caught in steel traps, lured by the trapper through deliberate breaks in the dam. The beavers, unable to move because of the season, are eventually all taken. Here is Burgess's elegiac conclusion (August 18):

So the last break in the dam was not repaired, for there was none to do the work. The water continued to flow out through it until there was no pond left. With the coming of spring the ice melted and there where the pond had been for so long was a dreary mud flat with the brook running through it. Four big houses of sticks and mud stood empty, and near them were the food piles of poplar and willow sticks and small logs that had been cut and stored there with so much patient labor by fur-coated workers. 
And as the seasons passed the mud flat became merely moist soil whereon grass and other plants grew richly. The houses crumbled and fell apart. The food piles rotted away. The dam settled and fell apart in many places, for a dam must be constantly repaired if is to remain a dam. And the fur coats that had cost so many lives were sold and made into garments for beautiful women who did not really need them. In time these garments were worn out and thrown away. And all this was the price of greed. 

It is quite possible that Paddy the Beaver was the ultimate Burgess hero. And victim.

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