Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1953

The Stories

January 1 to January 8. (continued from 1952). Terror the Goshawk drives the grouse from the Old Orchard. Then he pushes his way into a bramble tangle to try to get Peter Rabbit.

January 9 to January 13. Yowler the Bobcat tangles with Whitey the Snowy Owl.

January 14 to January 27. Glutton the Wolverine returns to the beaver pond and tears apart Paddy's lodge. Later the beavers must work quickly and carefully to fix a leak in their dam.

January 28 to January 31. Farmer Brown's boy feeds the birds. They pay him back for the food. Even Croaker the Raven is a worker of sorts. 

February 2. Johnny Chuck thinks Groundhog Day is foolishness.

February 3 to February 6. Lightfoot can still fight without his antlers, Old Man Coyote learns to his regret.

February 7 to February 18. Reddy Fox contends with Little Joe Otter and Billy Mink for fish. Then Reddy and Mrs. Reddy work together to get hens. Reddy jumps on a passing sled to escape the angry farmer. 

February 19 to February 23. Jumper the Hare and Mrs. Grouse dodge Tufty the Lynx and Old Man Coyote.

February 24 to March 16. Blacky the Crow is unhappy when he discovers the great-horned owls are going to use his nest. Then he and other crow helps a young crow wounded by a hunter using an owl decoy [five other crows perished]. The wounded crow watches a competition between male grouses, broken up by Reddy Fox.

March 17 to April 11. Mrs. Grouse nests under a tree housing a Red-tailed hawk nest.  Mrs. Grouse doesn't think highly of the parenting style of the hawks. Later she tries her best to keep the chicks safe from predators. She is only partially successful. One young grouse gets separated and must fend for herself in a dangerous world.

April 13 to June 1. There are new bear cubs, Totty and Taddy. After some misadventures they are caught by a farmer and placed in a pen. Mother Bear rescues them. Later Taddy has a dangerous encounter with his father, and the bear cubs play with otters and encounter a moose.They learn to eat ants and respect yellow jackets.

June 2 to June 30. Mrs. Lightfoot must protect her children from bear cubs, coyotes, and foxes. Then Wee Spotty gets lost and is adopted temporarily by a boy who thinks she'd been orphaned. Later Mrs. Lightfoot fights off a dog and a rattlesnake, while Lightfoot is bothered by antler buds.

July 1 to July 23. Ragtail, Broadtail, and Brushtail the young gray squirrels must fend for themselves when Mrs. Happy Jack has a new family. Meanwhile Mrs. Happy Jack must move her babies when Mr. Blacksnake discovers her nest. Happy Jack helps draw predators away from her. 

July 24 to July 31. Shadow the Weasel is a good father to his baby weasels. Even his babies aren't afraid of foxes (though one should have been afraid of owls). 

August 1 to August 4. Peter Rabbit tries to understand a rain of worms. Farmer Brown's boy attributes it to a tornado.

August 5 to August 11. Mrs. Grouse tries to outwit Reddy Fox. When that doesn't work she slaps him in the face. 

August 12 to August 14. Sally Sly the Cowbird is back. Farmer Brown's boy intervenes. 

August 15 to August 19. Peter Rabbit watches a wasp bury a grasshopper. Then he learns about walking sticks. 

August 20 to August 29. Greedy Grandfather Frog gets a big fish stuck in his throat. Snapper the Turtle takes care of it. 

August 31 to September 11. Farmer Brown's boy tries a variety of methods to keep animals from his garden, including a young owl. Peter Rabbit and Johnny Chuck are shocked by a new electric fence around Farmer Brown's garden.

September 12 to September 14. Broadwing the Hawk,  a grasshopper eater, is unfairly persecuted by hunters. 

September 15 to September 23. Peter Rabbit says so-long to swallows and bobolinks. Then he meets a little blue heron and a snowy egret at the Smiling Pool until they too have to move along. 

September 24 to November 12. Jerry Muskrat leaves the Smiling Pool to find a new home and has an adventure. Eventually he ends up at a cornfield, where he is chased by a dog, has to fight a young fox, and run away from boys with sticks and stones. When he gets home he builds a home just in time for a flood. Later Young Jerry loses his foot in a trap but can still defend himself. 

November 13 to December 31. Mrs. Quack, who has already lost five children to predators, speaks out against the unfairness of hunters. Meanwhile Reddy Fox and his son Little Too-Smart try to get some young ducks for themselves. Later the young fox (wounded by a hunter) must learn how to trick pursuing dogs. Reddy teaches him the ride-on-a-sheep trick. Then Gray Fox shows the young fox how he climbs trees and frames him as a hen-stealer. The year ends with Too-Smart finding a potential mate. (continued in 1954).


Thornton Burgess continued the use of longer elaborate episodes in 1953, though these tended to comprise rather familiar scenarios. Nevertheless, for the first time Burgess focused attention on the family life of Shadow the Weasel. Even his greatest villain, it seems, was a good father, though his family's happiness, Burgess was clear to point out, came at the expense of others. Glutton the Wolverine, no longer an animal living in the faraway north, came back to seek revenge for his humiliation in the pond of Paddy the Beaver the previous year.  The one animal with the strength to rip apart the beaver lodge during the winter, Glutton's destructiveness was balanced by his effectiveness at foiling the plans of trappers. 

Burgess, many decades removed from the pranks and slapstick of his earliest stories, directly addressed the morality of such jokes in 1953. After Peter Rabbit was shocked (and did a backwards somersault) after touching an electrified fence, he set up his friend Johnny Chuck to have the same experience.
Johnny Chuck moved a bit nearer the fence. He reached forward with an inquisitive black nose and touched a wire that was in the way. Perhaps he thought it was just a vine or a root that he could cut. Instantly, Johnny Chuck turned a back somersault, fat as he was. He fell on his back sprawling, and he was so fat that he had hard work to roll onto his feet again. Peter Rabbit was dancing about with glee. This is what he hoped for. This was what had happened to him the night before.
Instead of playing up the humor (as he would have in 1912) Burgess came down hard against it.
This was his idea of a joke. A lot of people are like this. They think that unpleasant things they cause to happen to other folk are jokes, are something funny to laugh at. They are altogether wrong. 
The callous pranks of the earliest stories have, in fact, been a stumbling block for some modern parents trying to use Burgess books for moral instruction. By 1953 Burgess seemed to realize himself that such things were no longer appropriate. 

No comments:

Post a Comment