Monday, December 17, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1956

The Stories

January 2 to January 6. (continued from 1955). Drummer the Woodpecker breaks the ice blocking the flying squirrel hole.

January 7 to January 14. Peter Rabbit slips into the icy water of the Smiling Pool.

January 16 to January 28. Reddy and Mrs. Reddy Fox reminisce about the good old days when hunting was easier in the winter. Then they plot to take a hen in broad daylight.

January 30 to February 8. Peter Rabbit foolishly forgets about Hooty the Owl and bumps his nose diving into a chuck hole. Then Spooky is renamed "Sooty" after he roosts in a chimney. 

February 9 to February 11. Jimmy Skunk and Bobby Coon meet in the snow and then go back to bed.

February 13 to February 29. Little Joe Otter and family frolic in the snow. Then Mrs. Joe moves into a new home and Little Joe discovers (and springs) some steel traps.

March 1 to March 27. Danny Meadow Mouse discovers the feast of seeds at Farmer Brown's boy's bird feeder and devises a way to get to them without being seen. Farmer Brown's boy puts a stop to it. 

March 28 to May 8. Peter Rabbit searches for signs of spring, chats with Longbill the Woodcock, and gets himself trapped in the sugar house. A singing Whitefoot the Wood Mouse keeps him company amid threats from outside (Prickly Porky, Young Buster Bear, and Reddy Fox) until Farmer Brown's boy returns and he can escape.

May 9 to May 23. Farmer Brown's boy visits The Old Hermit, who lives at the foot of Great Mountain. The Old Hermit tells a series of fables and explains natural phenomena, such as the coloring changes of hares. 

May 24 to June 18. Beauty and Mrs. Beauty take advantage of the wood duck nesting boxes (old kegs) that the Old Hermit has erected for them. Prickly Porky interferes with Bobby Coon's plan to get wood duck eggs.

June 19 to July 11. Chatterer the Red Squirrel, also interested in wood duck eggs, finds himself trapped in a hole after being chased by Stubwing the Cooper's Hawk.  Reddy Fox tries to lure Chatterer out. 

July 12 to July 14. The Old Hermit entertains raccoons and tells one final fable. 

July 16 to August 13. Everyone blames Stickytoes for the drought and then blames him again for a rain storm that swamps the Green Meadows. Happy Jack Squirrel finds himself floating on a log and learns to use his tail to swim to shore. Meanwhile he watches Plunger the Osprey resist the commands of King Eagle.

August 14 to August 25. After the flood, Polly Chuck moves to the Old Orchard and contends with Flip and Bowser. Johnny Chuck, who has moved to the Old Pasture, shows Young Reddy Fox that he is not to be taken lightly.

August 27 to September 8. Nimbleheels the Jumping Mouse uses his jumping skills to deal with (a surprisingly aggressive) Danny Meadow Mouse, Young Reddy Fox, and Hooty the Owl. Then he fattens up for winter. 

September 10 to September 17. Young Reddy Fox learns how not to catch Bob Whites.

September 18 to September 28. Peter Rabbit watches with wonder as Reddy Fox and Gray Fox do a strange dance near an old meadow mouse nest. The reason: bumblebees. 

September 29 to October 18. Peter Rabbit joins the squirrels in collecting nuts but gets a headache when one falls on his head. Meanwhile Hooty the Owl goes after Chatterer the Red Squirrel. Then crows mob Hooty. Later Happy Jack is proud of a hickory tree planted by his great-grandfather and used by squirrels ever since. 

October 19 to October 26. Everyone is at the beechnut party in the Green Forest, even Reddy Fox (an uninvited guest). Later boys come to collect beechnuts but they are all gone.

October 27 to November 19. Bobby Coon has a rough night, pursued by hunters and blamed by other animals (including Lightfoot the Deer and Yowler the Bobcat) for attracting hunters to the forest. Meanwhile hunters split his hollow tree home to try to find him and Mrs. Bobby.

November 20 to December 1. Jimmy Skunk, Bobby Coon, and Peter Rabbit have a vigorous discussion about how to approach the winter. Peter wonders why birds don't hibernate and consults Flitter the Bat. Some bats, it turns out, hibernate and others migrate. 

December 3 to December 9. Peter Rabbit is surprised to see a butterfly (Mourning Cloak) during the winter. Then he encounters Wooly Bear.

December 10 to December 22. Peter Rabbit surveys the animals about winter coats and winter life in general. 

December 24 to December 25. Christmas stories. A young fir tree is happy to be cut down because it make others happy. And Farmer Brown's boy feeds the animals and eliminates fear for a day.

December 26 to December 31. Reddy and Gray Fox have a tough life during the winter. (continued in 1957)


In 1956 Burgess introduced a new character, "The Old Hermit." Like The Old Naturalist from two decades earlier, The Old Hermit was apparently a character originally created for radio and/or television treatments of Burgess stories. The Old Hermit provided an outlet for Burgess to tell Old Mother West Wind-type fables. His appearance also repositioned Farmer Brown's boy from expert teacher to appreciative student, as he taught the boy nature facts that old versions of Farmer Brown's boy surely would have known already. [Unless Farmer Brown's boy is just humoring him--which is how I read it.] The Old Hermit also took on functions that Farmer Brown's boy and Aunt Sally had served, putting up wood duck nesting boxes and entertaining raccoons, respectively. It is not hard to see a little of Burgess in The Old Hermit.

Indeed, Burgess, in a series of stories featuring his fox characters, had Reddy and Mrs. Reddy reminisce about the "good old days" when hunting was easier, attributing their current difficulties to changes in human farming technologies and agricultural practices.
"...In the good old times the corn was left for some time out in the field after it was cut. That always meant good eating for us. It was good eating and easy hunting, for always there were plenty of Mice living in and under the cornstalks. Now when the corn is cut nothing is left. Those big machines come along and when they leave there is nothing left for even a Mouse. So there are no mice for us to eat. Nothing like that used to happen."
Other detrimental (to foxes) changes included fences and stonewalls with no brush or vines ("hiding places for Mice and Rabbits and birds"),  the decline of the use of hen yards, and the proliferation of "two-legged hunters with dreadful firesticks."

Reddy and Mrs. Reddy then proceeded to plan and execute what would be their last real chicken stealing caper together.

Finally it is worth noting an admission on Burgess's part that Peter Rabbit was often curiously surprised by things he had already been shown to have learned in previous years (e.g., a overwintering Mourning Cloak or Welcome Robin). Peter sees Farmer Brown's boy preparing to collect sap for sugar.
Peter Rabbit...could see Farmer Brown's boy hanging pails on the trunks of the maple trees. He watched them full of curiosity. What were they doing that for? He had forgotten that he had seen them do that very thing in other years. 
It was not that Burgess was simply rebooting the character every year. Rather Peter Rabbit really had a dreadful memory. This helps explain his constant (and sometimes irritating) curiosity about everything. 

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