Sunday, December 9, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1952

The Stories

January 1 to January 7. (continued from 1951) Drummer the Woodpecker is trapped in a hole after an ice storm. Farmer Brown's boy (searching for trapped grouse) rescues him. 

January 8 to January 21. Lightfoot the Deer loses his antlers but is still able, with the assistance of Mrs. Lightfoot, to fight off marauding dogs.

January 22 to January 25. Spooky the Screech owl catches mice and commiserates with Blacky the Crow. 

January 28 to February 5. Many animals, desperate with hunger, are tempted by a baited trap but only a young mink goes for it, losing a leg in the process. 

February 6 to February 27. The flying squirrels move into a birdhouse in the Old Orchard. 

February 28 to April 22. Peter Rabbit discovers, to his chagrin, that the great-horned owls are already nesting. Hooty pursues him but ends up with a talon full of porcupine quills. When Prickly Porky comes to reside in their tree, the owls are initially disturbed but eventually come to appreciate the defense against nest raiders. Later Young Hooty learns that hunting is hard and Sister Hooty gets caught in a trap after discovering chickens. (Farmer Brown's boy bails her out). 

April 23 to May 14. Old Mr. Toad has familiar misadventures on the way to the Smiling Pool (falls in a hole, escapes from snakes). 

May 15 to June 7. Tiny Toad (soon "Little Toad") learns about the dangers of the Great World. Later Old Mr. Toad teaches him how to eat a worm properly. 

June 9 to July 5. Johnny Chuck's clever use of backdoors tricks Reddy and Mrs. Reddy Fox as well as Peter Rabbit. Later Johnny moves in with Peter Rabbit after his home is discovered by a rattlesnake. 

July 7 to August 23. Reddy and Gray Fox play tricks on each other. Later Reddy's son, "Little Mr. Too-Smart," (with the assistance of his parents) must learn to avoid porcupines, skunks and rattlesnakes. Later the young fox has misadventures at the Smiling Pool and berry patch.

August 25 to September 1. The Kingfishers must defend their hole against "Prowler" [a new name] the Blacksnake. Later a young kingfisher is killed by Snapper the Turtle.

September 2 to September 5. Peter Rabbit gets caught in a box and is tormented by Flip the Terrier. Farmer Brown's boy puts an end to it. 

September 6 to September 20. Paddy the Beaver has a life-or-death struggle with Glutton the Wolverine. Then Glutton steals a deer from Puma the Cougar, destroys a trapper's cabin, and disrespects Flathorns the Moose. 

September 22 to September 30. Farmer Brown's boy creates an elaborate test of Striped Chipmunk's intelligence.

October 1 to October 25. Wee Bunny becomes "Ragged Ear" after an unprovoked attack by Chatterer the Red Squirrel. The young rabbit must learn to see through Reddy Fox's deceptions. 

October 27 to November 1. Peter Rabbit discovers that the "young snakes" that he saw being taken into their "Mother's" mouth are actually tiny ring-necked snakes, not babies at all. They are being eaten, not protected.

November 3 to November 11. Peter Rabbit learns about bee swarms (the hard way). 

November 12 to December 10. Wee Mite the Meadow Mouse survives the onslaught of different predators (lncluding a shrew) to become "Mite." After a snow fall he moves into "Mouseville" and raises his own family. After 16 weeks he is already a grandfather. 

December 11 to December 20. After Jimmy Skunk moves into the old woodchuck hole in the Old Briar Patch, Peter and Mrs. Peter Rabbit don't know whether to trust him or not. 

December 22. Tommy Tit taps on Farmer Brown's boy's window to get him to remove the ice from the seeds on the feeder. 

December 23 to December 24. Buster Bear goes to bed under a tree out in the open but is shocked when the tree falls down. 

December 25. Christmas story[?]. Unread. I do not know the title. 

December 26 to December 31. Mrs. Grouse gets out of the snow cover before being trapped by an ice crust and feeds with Tommy Tit in the Old Orchard. 


Thornton Burgess was still going strong in 1952, offering up more elaborate, extended stories than he had in years. His stories included one of his most memorable fight scenes, in which Paddy the Beaver had to contend with the seemingly unstoppable Glutton the Wolverine, as well as an apparent answer to an old obsession--do mother snakes take their young into their mouths for the purpose of protection? [Probably not.] 

In what (to me) might be the most shocking scene in the entire 50 year body of Burgess stories, Chatterer the Red Squirrel tried to kill innocent little Wee Bunny, for no other reason than he was in a bad mood. 
Chatterer jerked his tail angrily. He scolded as only he can scold. He was working himself into a rage. It is a way some folks have of doing. Suddenly he jumped to the ground and ran straight at Wee Bunny. The little Rabbit wasn't prepared for this. He had never been in a fight in his short life. He really was quite helpless. Chatterer leaped on him and bit. He bit hard. It hurt dreadfully. Wee Bunny screamed. He couldn't help it. He struggled and tried to get away, and couldn't. Chatterer's teeth were sharp. They tore his coat. They tore one of his ears. He screamed again. He struggled in vain. He could neither fight, not could he get away. All at once the Great World had become a terrible place. And Chatterer the Red Squirrel had become a monster. 
Burgess's explicit purpose was to show how young animals can never let down their guard, but it is worth reflecting on the transformation of a formerly sympathetic character into a brutal monster. 

Finally, Burgess directly addressed dramatically a theme that he had been discussing for some time--the need for predators to check the population of meadow mice, tracing the short life of one of Danny and Nanny's sons as he matured into a father and then a grandfather in the span of 12 weeks. From the perspective of Wee Mite/Mite the world was a horribly dangerous place, with predators (weasels, cats, shrikes, foxes, kestrels, black snakes, even shrews) slaughtering relatives left and right. But given the reproductive prowess of meadow mice, Burgess made it clear why such predation was necessary. Meanwhile, "Grandfather Mite" simply did his best to survive and reproduce again. 

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