Monday, December 3, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1949

The Stories

January 1. Peter Rabbit is chagrined to realize he has written his own story in the snow. 

January 3. Flip the Terrier falls through the ice chasing Reddy Fox.

January 4 to January 8. Jumper the Hare dodges predators in the snow.

January 10 to January 11. Gray squirrels talk to each other using their tails.

January 12 to January 17. Reddy Fox and Roughleg the Hawk fight over Danny Meadow Mouse. 

January 18. Tommy Tit rejects bad seeds at the feeder.

January 19 to January 29. Reddy Fox assists a young fox caught in a steel trap. Farmer Brown's boy, reading the story in the snow, comes to the rescue. Later Reddy teaches the young fox how to spring traps. 

January 31 to February 7. A three-legged muskrat meets a three-legged raccoon. Their legs were lost due to steel traps. 

February 8 to February 19. Farmer Brown's boy is only able to save two of the three grouse caught under the ice crust. He leaves the third for Reddy Fox.

February 21 to February 26. Farmer Brown's boy leaves out food for the foxes after he sees Reddy eating frozen apples in the Old Orchard. The foxes, fearing traps, are initially suspicious of the food. 

February 28 to March 7. Peter Rabbit discovers the mystery singer is Whitefoot the Wood Mouse.

March 8 to March 17. Peter Rabbit discovers Prickly Porky's hidden vulnerability. 

March 18 to April 4. Farmer Brown's boy has fun with Trader the Wood Rat. Later Trader drums with his tail. [In this story, Farmer Brown's boy meets with Trader for the first time]

April 5 to April 18. Peter Rabbit compares the tails of many different animals.

April 19 to April 21. Farmer Brown's boy hand delivers feathers to the tree swallows.

April 22 to May 2. Jenny Wren is unfairly accused of breaking a robin egg. Then the birds accuse male mammals of being bad fathers. 

May 3 to May 19. Farmer Brown's boy inadvertently causes panic in the flying squirrel home. He makes the mother flying squirrel take one baby from his hand as a test of her courage. Later he adopts the little flying squirrel, Runty, after rescuing it from Black Pussy. 

May 20 to June 9. Peter Rabbit feels sorry for the chipmunks when Mr. Blacksnake goes after their babies until he learns that chipmunks raid birds' nests. Later a young chipmunk (Little Stripes) visits the Smiling Pool and finds friends (Leaper the Leopard Frog) and dangers (dog and heron) there. 

June 10 to June 16. Old Man Coyote, a "displaced person" (Burgess compares him to a post WWII refugee), is homesick. He tells Peter Rabbit about Grubby the Pocket Gopher. Meanwhile, Peter alerts Miner the Mole that he is being stalked by the coyote. 

June 17 to July 19. Old Man Coyote's reminiscences lead to a set of stories about the animals of the American West, including badgers, kit fox, kangaroo rat and  prairie dogs. 

July 20 to August 15. Swifty the young coyote and Thunderbolt the Golden Eagle try to get young pronghorn antelopes.

August 16 to August 26. Little Kid Surefoot the Mountain Goat avoids Old Grizzly and is amazed by the springy legs of Bighorn the Mountain Sheep. Later he gets acquainted with Little Chief Hare the Pika.

September 5 to September 20. Bugler the Elk locks antlers with a rival. A forest ranger arrives before predators can get them. Burgess ends with a story about "The Old One," an ancient elk who is nearing the end of his "usefulness." 

September 21 to September 24. Peter Rabbit cools down in the Smiling Pool.

September 26 to September 29. Paddy the Beaver plans ahead for winter.

September 30 to October 1. Lightning starts a forest fire, frightening Buster Bear. But then the ensuing rain storm ends the red terror. (Reprinted in At Paddy the Beaver's Pond).

October 3 to October 17. Buster Bear thinks he owns the forest but is proven wrong by skunks, porcupines, and Flathorns the Moose.

October 18 to October 19. Flathorns the Moose confronts a rival. 

October 20 to October 24. Paddy the Beaver and Buster Bear disagree about how to approach the winter.

October 25 to October 29. Squirrels and blue jay compete for nuts. 

October 31 to November 7. Nimbleheels the Jumping Mouse goes to sleep just in time.

November 8 to November 18. Striped Chipmunk eats snails and blacksnake eggs.

November 19 to November 28. Bob White teaches Peter Rabbit about his wings. Then, reunited with his family for Thanksgiving, Bob White invites a new member to his flock whose family had been killed by hunters. 

November 29 to December 6. Peter Rabbit thinks there are signs indicating whether the coming winter will be hard or not. Wooly Bear disagrees. 

December 7 to December 27. Whitefoot the Wood Mouse and Danny Meadow Mouse move into a cornstalk castle but their happiness is short-lived when Farmer Brown's boy pulls apart the corn shock. Nanny must rush to move her babies.

December 28 to December 31. Peter Rabbit feels sorry for Farmer Brown's boy's domesticated rabbits. (continued in 1950).


In 1949 Burgess revisited the American West. This time the stories were initiated not by Farmer Brown's boy going on a trip (as in 1931) but by Old Man Coyote's homesickness. While not a strict rerun of the 1931 stories, the new stories did repeat many of the characters and scenarios from 18 years earlier. One of the most striking episodes (September 20) featured an old elk, once the "Great One" now the "Old One," contemplating a dire future.

He was alone, the "Old One." That is what he was called and that is what he was, the oldest of all the Elk on the High Mountains. He was alone because he could no longer command the respects of others, and he could no longer command their respect because he was old. So they treated him with scorn, or paid no attention to him whatever, even his own children. Young Elk, filled with pride in their first antlers, which as yet were no more than spikes, treated him with the utmost disrespect and scorn. They were the ones who first called him the "Old One." Now everyone did. They made it clear that he was useless and they didn't want him around. 
I don't think this necessarily reflects any bitterness on Burgess's part about his own advancing age. Rather he is matter-of-fact about the reality of old age in the natural world.
He was useless to any one now [in the summer], but then he would once more be of use for a little while, perhaps in the bitter season of mid-Winter starvation, saving the life of some one, or perhaps the lives of several. It is Mother Nature's way. There is no continued place for the useless. 
The only ones who want him now are predators.

It is also worth noting a subtle shift in Burgess's attitudes toward the species of some of his own most popular characters. Rabbits joined meadow mice as animals prone to overpopulation. (He even had Peter Rabbit  agree that maybe there could be "too many rabbits.") Meadow mice could be "useful" but as food for foxes and hawks (not unlike saying mosquitos are "useful" as food for bats). Meanwhile, Striped Chipmunk, ultimately was no better than Mr. Blacksnake, in his taste for bird eggs and chicks. 

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