Monday, November 19, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1942

The Stories

January 1 to January 5. Whitey the Owl learns the hard way that he should avoid Jimmy Skunk.

January 6 to January 10. After a storm (Brother West Wind's "Blitzkrieg") the animals each have a different way of staying alive.

January 12 to January 17. Spooky the Owl kills mice that believe themselves "smart".

January 19 to January 31. Timmy the Flying Squirrel moves into the Sugar House after being pursued by Shadow the Weasel.  Timmy watches Reddy Fox and Yowler the Bobcat quarrel over Jumper the Hare.

February 2 to February 4. Johnny Chuck sees his shadow but Farmer Brown's boy is skeptical that it means anything.

February 5 to February 7. Jimmy Skunk talks to Reddy Fox about the difference between fearing someone and respecting someone.

February 9 to February 16. Farmer Brown's boy rescues a dovkie blown by a storm into the Old Briar Patch. 

February 17 to February 19. Starnose the Mole must work or starve.

February 20 to February 25. Farmer Brown and his boy enjoy Whiskey Jack the Canada Jay's boldness.

February 26 to March 11. The great horned owls are nesting. Farmer Brown's boy climbs their tree to see the owlets (and must dodge the parents). Later, when Hooty is trapped by a neighboring farmer, Farmer Brown's boy trades a chicken in exchange for his freedom.

March 12 to March 27. Introducing a new enduring character, Little Spot the Spotted Skunk. [The Spotted Skunk is not a native Massachusetts species]. Little Spot does a handstand to spray a fox and climbs a tree. Later he kills rats (the "Nazis among the furred and feathered folk") in a neighbor's barn but Farmer Brown's boy must convince the farmer that the skunk is a rat-killer, not a chicken-killer. 

March 28 to April 7. Peter Rabbit searches for and finds signs of spring, especially the song of Peeper the Hyla. (Partially reprinted in At the Smiling Pool).

April 8 to April 14. Flickers, starlings, house sparrows, and even a screech owl, compete for a nesting hole in a telephone pole. 

April 15 to April 25. Old Mr. Toad and Yellow Wing the Flicker enjoy ants with very different tongues. Then Old Mr. Toad falls into a compost pit, luckily as it turns out.

April 27 to May 6. Scrapper the Kingbird talks about some Central American animals. "What is needed most of anything these days is for the folks down that way to really know the folks up this way and the folks up this way to really know the folks down there. That is what is needed most right now."

May 7 to May 16. The wrens build a nest in Farmer Brown's boy's fishing basket.

May 18 to May 23. Farmer Brown's boy releases feathers for nesting tree swallows. Skimmer the Tree Swallow helps Cresty the Great-crested Flycatcher find a snake skin.

May 25 to May 30. The birds of the Old Orchard join together to fight off the threat of egg-stealer, Chatterer the Red Squirrel.

June 1 to June 6. Scrapper the Kingbird proves himself to be a great leader as he gathers a mob to chase off egg-stealer, Blacky the Crow. But Farmer Brown's boy must defend him from a farmer who accuses him of eating honey bees.

June 8 to June 18. Johnny Chuck is wounded by a hunter shooting at groundhogs for sport. Farmer Brown's boy tries to convince the hunter that groundhogs, crows and hawks should not be classified as vermin. It is a Nazi practice to judge the group by the actions of a few individuals. It is meadow mice who are the real Green Meadow "Fifth Columnists." Then Farmer Brown's boy salutes a passing bald eagle and compares a hummingbird dive-bombing the eagle to a fighter pilot after a big bomber. (Partially reprinted in On the Green Meadows)

June 26 to July 4. Happy Jack scolds Peter Rabbit for eating bark from young trees. Trees are an investment, just like Defense Savings Stamps. Farmer Brown's boy announces the formation of "Happy Jack's Victory Club."

July 6 to July 18. Whitefoot the Wood Mouse makes his bed in a can. When Mother Bear is frustrated by the can she knocks it up in a tree. 

July 20 to July 25. Farmer Brown's boy mounts a keg in a tree for the wood ducks to use as a nesting box.

July 27 to August 8. Farmer Brown's boy must convince a hunter not to shoot Chatterer the Red Squirrel as an egg-robbing pest. Then when a larger (ugly) rival red squirrel begins to dominate Chatterer's territory (creating a "new order") Chatterer finds a fatal solution.

August 10 to August 17. The "Smiling Pool Convoy" (mother duck and ducklings) is threatened by the "Smiling Pool Submarine" (snapping turtle) and the "Air Raider" (peregrine falcon). Farmer Brown's boy is impressed by the convoy's clever defensive maneuvers.

August 18 to August 19. Grandfather Frog's dignity is upset when Prickly Porky eats his lily pad right out from under him. (Reprinted in At the Smiling Pool). 

August 20 to August 22. Two dogs intent on a killing spree are stopped by Prickly Porky. Then Jimmy Skunk puts an end to a dog's hunt for Bobby Coon.  Jimmy's stripes form a "V for Victory."

August 24 to September 14. Mother Coon has quintuplets to care for. She takes them to visit Aunt Sally, teaches them to fish, and protects them from a dog. They learn about toads and tree frogs.

September 15 to September 18. Peter Rabbit thinks Stickytoes the Tree Frog can make it rain. Stickytoes disagrees.

September 19 to September 26. Old Mr. Toad protects the garden. [Even Hitler knows that toads should be protected] Meanwhile Peter Rabbit is a saboteur (and then a prisoner of war). 

September 28 to October 1. The animals are bothered by the loud sounds of fighter planes practicing over the Green Meadow. 

October 2 to October 5. Johnny Chuck wants to know whether crickets fiddle or chirp.

October 6 to October 10. Peter Rabbit wants to know if hummingbirds really ride on the back of larger birds for migration.

October 12 to October 17. Buster Bear loses face when he flees from Flathorns the Moose, but recovers it when he chases away Puma the Cougar. (Reprinted in At Paddy the Beaver's Pond).

October 19 to November 12. Paddy the Beaver digs a canal to avoid leaving the water and exposing himself to predators. When a flash flood bursts the beaver dam, Paddy suddenly finds himself vulnerable. Farmer Brown's boy cuts some trees for the beavers to use repairing their dam. Old Man Coyote gives up trying to break into the lodge after the frost comes. (Partially reprinted in At Paddy the Beaver's Pond).

November 13 to November 25. The foxes eagerly welcome hunting season so they can feed on wounded game. Meanwhile the game birds are worried. Reddy Fox is tempted to go for newly fattened Johnny Chuck but he changes his mind--he's not hungry. (Partially reprinted in On the Green Meadows).

November 26 to December 15. Peter Rabbit learns about spider webs from Madame Orb. Then he visits with Cousin Lycosa the Wolf Spider. (Reprinted in On the Green Meadows). 

December 16 to December 19. Buster Bear decides it's time for bed.

December 21 to December 24. Reddy Fox teases Prickly Porky by reminding him about Pekan the Fisher. 

December 26 to December 31. Desperate with hunger, Reddy Fox and Blacky Crow try to get a dead fish in the middle of the Smiling Pool. 


While Thornton Burgess had been incorporating war references into his stories since the late 1930s, after the United States actually entered the war the references were pretty much non-stop. Indeed, what is impressive about 1942 in particular is the sheer variety of ways Burgess worked the war into his stories. A storm was a "blitzkrieg," ducklings were a "convoy" threatened by a snapping turtle "submarine," a bullying red squirrel created a "new order" in the Green Forest, and a hummingbird after a bald eagle was a "fighter plane" dive-bombing a "bomber."Burgess, using arguments developed by the Food Administration during the first world war, identified food supply as a key factor in the current war, and so meadow mice were "fifth columnists," Peter Rabbit became a saboteur (and then a "prisoner of war"), and Old Mr. Toad was a war hero (endorsed by Hitler?). Jimmy Skunk's stripes formed a "V for Victory." Even the "Good Neighborhood Policy" was promoted via a set of stories about Latin American animals.

The war itself entered the world of Burgess stories through the (disturbing) activity of fighter plane practice over the Green Meadows. And as he had done for during World War I, Burgess established a club, "Happy Jack's Victory Club," through a series of stories explicitly written to persuade readers to invest in Defense stamps and bonds. Unlike the WWI-era "Happy Jack's Thrift Club" there is no evidence that the new club was particularly effective. While Burgess's stories were still popular they did not have nearly the central cultural position they had held 25 years earlier.

The war also allowed Burgess to speak with renewed aggressiveness against the practice of recreational hunting. Here's the opening rhyme for June 8, 1942:
Today's world horror was begun
When man began to kill for fun
--Old Mother Nature
[Burgess revised this for On the Green Meadows. The new version, less tied to the WWII era, went:
When man began to kill for fun
Was frightfulness of war begun
--Old Mother Nature]
To some degree this is old Victorian era wisdom, but it allowed Burgess to tie the despicable activity of hunting to something even more horrible, both rooted in a lack of empathy between humans and their fellow beings on earth. And Burgess's indirect comparisons of hunters with Nazis in previous years became explicit in 1942. It wasn't just beaver colonies that represented "democracy" it was nature generally speaking. Here is a passage from February 27:
There is no dictator in the Green Forest. There is no dictator on the Green Meadows. There is no dictator in the Old Pasture. Old Mother Nature has no place for dictators. She rules, but her rule is not a dictatorship. She is the head of a vast and perfect democracy. Her way is the democratic way. Go where you will you will find it so...Of her countless children man alone ever attempts to be a dictator, and when he does he fails miserably, upsetting the fine balance of life, resulting in disaster, often chaos.
Hunters, particularly hunters who persecuted whole species of animals as vermin, were no better than Nazis. 

Finally it is worth noting that the only animals Burgess excepted from the animals-as-democracy rule were rats. 

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