Thursday, November 15, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1940

The Stories

January 1 to January 6. Hooty the Owl breaks up a fight between Billy Mink and Shadow the Weasel.

January 8 to January 20. Farmer Brown's boy convinces his friend to feed the birds, calling them "tree cops." Later he tries to help Tommy Tit find a new home.

January 22 to February 3. Nibbler the House Mouse moves to Aunt Sally's place and is horrified at the number of skunks and rats. Billy Mink deals with the rats.

February 5 to February 13. The animals of the Green Forest discover new bear cubs under the snow.

February 14 to February 20. Whitey the Owl is back again, complaining to Hooty about a shortage of lemmings. They argue about the color of bears.

February 21 to February 26. Reddy Fox and Hooty the Owl argue over Jumper the Hare.

February 27 to March 1. Peter Rabbit and Danny Meadow Mouse disagree about the desirability of snow.

March 2 to March 5. Farmer Brown's boy rescues Speckles the Starling from Black Pussy after his foot gets caught in some string.

March 6 to March 14. Farmer Brown's boy confronts a hunter who is shooting crows. Then Reddy Fox learns that the "Blacky" who lives in the Green Forest in the summer is a different "Blacky" than the one who lives there in the winter. The crows mob Hooty the Owl, with familiar consequences.

March 15 to March 23. Peter Rabbit finds signs of spring.

March 25 to April 5. When Reddy Fox's greed causes him to lose the hens he'd caught, Mrs. Reddy finds a different way to feed the children.

April 6 to April 27. Farmer Brown's boy must convince his neighbor that Hooty the Owl is a useful bird (they keep meadow mice populations in check) that shouldn't be killed.

April 29 to May 7. Mr Toad has adventures on the way to the Smiling Pool. 

May 8 to May 10. Peter Rabbit searches in vain for Mrs. Woodcock.

May 11 to May 18. Flip learns to be more cautious, even toward oppossums, after he is injured by a porcupine quill.

May 20 to June 8. The birds of the Old Orchard gossip about nests. Then Sally Sly arrives and victimizes the vesper sparrows, proving the difference between the "rule of might" and the "rule of right".

June 10 to June 13. Farmer Brown's boy must convince his friend that woodchucks shouldn't be shot for fun. One shouldn't persecute a whole species for the crimes of a few individuals.

June 14 to July 8. Johnny Chuck's little son, Chuckles, must decide whether Reddy Fox is friend or foe. 

July 9 to July 15. Jimmy Skunk and Prickly Porky represent the "independence of preparedness."

July 16 to July 29. Another little woodchuck, Rover, explores the Green Forest and decides to stay near the "woodland democracy" of the beaver colony. Meanwhile, Whitehead the Eagle (the smaller folk used to call him "King Eagle") has finally earned national protection. 

July 30 to July 31. Sammy Jay has his revenge on Mother Brown when she won't let him take a bath (a "true story").

August 1 to August 10. Old Mr. Toad and Welcome Robin encounter Bluffer the Adder. Then Farmer Brown's boy teases Bluffer and Unc' Billy Possum (but then regrets scaring them).

August 12 to August 14. Peter Rabbit and Farmer Brown's boy watch the movement of the seventeen year cicadas.

August 15 to August 16. Paddy the Beaver is the woodpeckers' friend.

August 17 to August 22. Mrs Peter Rabbit is upset when she sees a hay mower approach her nest in the Green Meadows. Luckily Farmer Brown's boy sees it in time. 

August 23 to August 27. Blacky the Crow discovers a new method of opening clams involving automobiles. (Reprinted in At the Smiling Pool).

August 28 to September 6. Jimmy Skunk gets his head stuck in a jar (Farmer Brown's boy gets it off again). Then he learns to fear automobiles. 

September 7 to September 16. Grandfather Frog proves that the "price of living" is learning. A cocky young frog and an impudent muskrat fail to learn (or live.) (Partially reprinted in At the Smiling Pool).

September 17to September 19. Peter Rabbit watches with fascination as a wasp buries a caterpillar.

September 20 to September 25. Farmer Brown's boy rescues Peter Rabbit from a compost pit.

September 26 to October 3. Tommy Brown's cousin Sue sees Spooky the Screech Owl kill a sparrow and wants him removed from the Old Orchard. Tommy, with the help of the Old Naturalist, collects evidence in defense of Spooky.

October 4 to October 26. The Bob White family dodges Reddy Fox and Swiftwing the Hawk with the help of Peter Rabbit and Blacky the Crow but are safe from human hunters in Farmer Brown's sanctuary. Meanwhile a near-by bob white family is decimated in a "blitzkrieg."

October 28 to November 2. Johnny Chuck goes to sleep and Jerry Muskrat fights a scrappy young mink. 

November 4 to November 9. Peter Rabbit falls into the Smiling Pool and faces Reddy Fox on the one side and Flip on the other. 

November 11 to November 21. After witnessing the death of a young fox in a fox hunt, Reddy makes the foolish decision to try to outsmart the hunters. 

November 22 to December 3. Thunderer is wounded by a poacher but is well protected by Mrs. Grouse.

December 4 to December 21. Aunt Sally tells Tommy Brown about the skunk and raccoon visitors to her Woodhouse Nightclub. Tommy helps her confirm that a fox has been visiting when it thinks no one is watching 

December 23 to December 31. Peter Rabbit is lonesome now that his friends have settled down for the winter.


1940 featured a lot of familiar story-lines as well as the return of an actively interventionist Farmer Brown's boy. Tommy Brown acted as a public defender for Hooty the Owl and Spooky the Owl, scolded a hunter using a decoy to lure crows, and convinced his friends to feed the birds (the "tree cops" image was borrowed from one of the Green Meadow Club Bird Sanctuary campaigns), and stop shooting woodchucks. This on top of his regular activity saving animals from danger (Speckles the Starling, Peter Rabbit, Mrs. Peter Rabbit's children, Jimmy Skunk, etc.)

The anti-hunting theme was very much in evidence with a new form of hunting--the traditional "Fox Hunt" up for particular criticism. And while some hunters respected the posted "No Hunting" signs on Brown family land, indeed appreciating sanctuaries as a source of future game birds, poaching persisted. For the first time, Burgess described hunting season as a "blitzkrieg" (yes, he directly compared hunters to Nazis)
A new word has come into our language. It is "blitzkrieg." To you boys and girls of America it brings no fear for you have never known through experience what it means. God grant that you may never know. But to the boys and girls of Europe, and to the grown-ups as well, it brings terror, for it means frightfulness and death and suffering. 
Of course, the people of the Green Meadows and the Green Forest and along the Big River never have heard the word, but they know the meaning of it.

During 1940 news about the war in Europe was unavoidable. So Burgess was simply using language already in circulation. At the same time, he did have political opinions in respect to the national defense and he expressed them through the character of Jimmy Skunk. Skunks were the model of "the independence of preparedness," going through life untroubled and minding their own business precisely because they had a very effective and well known defense prepared for any aggression towards them.

It is worth noting that Burgess also returned briefly to the "woodland democracy" represented by the beaver colony. This time when the bald eagle arrived, he was newly protected (Burgess himself had helped promote the need for legislation protecting the eagle), and he had a new name, "White-head." Apparently "King" Eagle did not have quite the right democratic connotations. [Burgess would revert to the "King Eagle" name in future stories.]

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