Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1960

The Stories

January 1 to January 8. Old Man Coyote tries to get beavers and grouse but fails. Little Joe Otter leaves fish for him to eat.

January 9. Tommy Tit isn't afraid of Jack Frost.

January 11 to January 16. Peter Rabbit finds himself too far from the Old Briar Patch and is almost caught by Whitey the Snowy Owl. Luckily Terror the Goshawk gets in the way and Peter makes it safely to a bramble-tangle. Peter decides he is getting old and will follow Jumper the Hare's advice to stay in the Old Briar Patch from now on.


The end of 48 years of Burgess Bedtime Stories was relatively abrupt with closure coming in a mere two stories. On January 15, Peter Rabbit, breathing hard from a race with Whitey the Snowy Owl that Peter almost lost, began to worry.
"I guess I'm getting old," thought Peter. "That Owl nearly caught me. I didn't dodge him as well as I used to. If this bramble-tangle had been any farther away I guess I would never had made it. I don't think I'll come over here [Green Forest] anymore..." 
"Somehow I don't feel just the way I used to. I can't run as fast as I once could. I think I can, but when I try to I find I can't. If I should meet Reddy Fox out on the Green Meadows I'm afraid I couldn't get back to the dear Old Briar Patch as I have so many times before. My legs are not what they used to be. No, sir, my legs are not what they used to be. When a fellow's legs play out it's time to stay at home. It isn't that I want to stay at home, because I don't. I like to get about and see what is going on. That is what legs are for." For a long time Peter continued to worry. 
[In his 1960 Life profile Burgess's only complaint about aging was the state of his legs.] January 16, Jumper the Hare came along and helped Peter make a final decision.
"If your legs really are not what they used to be, and you can't dodge as you used to dodge, there is only one thing for you to do," said Jumper. 
"I suppose, you mean, stay in the Old Briar Patch," said Peter. 
"That's just what I mean," replied Jumper. "Hasn't Mrs. Peter told you that?" 
"More times than I can remember," replied Peter. "She hardly ever leaves it."
Moreover there was an ethical reason why Peter should stay put:
"...If as you say, you are getting old, it is time to stop taking chances. You had better get back to the dear Old Briar-patch and stay there. You will save yourself a lot of trouble and danger, and perhaps save some other people, too. If it hadn't been for your being over here, Whitey the Snowy Owl and Terror the Goshawk would not have had a fight. And Terror wouldn't have lost two tail feathers." 
"I don't care if he did. I'm glad of it," said Peter. "Those two don't belong down here anyway." 
"But they are here. You don't want to forget that, Peter. They are here, but not over in the dear Old Briar-Patch," declared Jumper. 
And that was the end. It appears that there was supposed to be at least one more story. Previewed for the following Monday was "Peter's Last Race." And indeed, in the story above Peter had not yet returned to the Old Briar Patch, he was still in the bramble-tangle. He would need to make one more race in order to get there. But as far as I can tell that story was never published. One would assume Burgess intended for Peter to arrive safely but one wonders, given Burgess's trend toward naturalism, whether Peter might have illustrated the principle that animals in the wild rarely die of old age...

On Monday January 18, instead of "Peter's Last Race," there was a story from January 7, 1935, titled "A family gathering." It was run under the heading, "Nature Stories" (Burgess's preferred title for his series since the mid 1930s) and ran without an accompanying Harrison Cady illustration. For the rest of 1960, newspapers carrying Burgess stories continued the 1935 repeats. The series continued in repeats, primarily from the 1930s, until 1965. Burgess himself would die in June of that year. 


  1. While speculative, the suggestion that Burgess's intended last story might potentially have had a downer ending is quite sobering.

    Either way, it's been a good run. As someone who grew up reading Burgess's books, I'm extremely happy and appreciative that you compiled and recorded all this info about his work in an accessible format. Now to actually go through the newspaper archives and read it all...

  2. Thanks! (And I really like the TV Tropes page you've compiled).

    My goal was precisely to open this material up for future readers. As long as Google News maintains the Lewiston Daily Sun and Saskatoon Star-Phoenix archives, most of these stories are quite accessible.