Friday, August 31, 2012

Little Stories for Bedtime 1913

 

 

The Stories

Illustration for "How a breakfast flew away" (Jan 9 1913)
January 6- January 9. A short episode featuring Mrs. Grouse. Peter Rabbit wonders about her unusual "snowshoe" tracks. (Meanwhile Jimmy Skunk and Billy Mink argue about rabbit tracks). Mrs. Grouse goes to sleep under the snow and surprises Granny and Reddy Fox when she bursts out.
Illustration for "Peter Rabbit visits the Smiling Pool" (Jan 10, 1913)
January 10- January 13. Peter Rabbit visits the Smiling Pool, learns what ice is. Scares Jerry Muskrat from above. Little Joe Otter makes a snow slide.
Illustration for "Peter Rabbit gets a new coat" (Jan 14, 1913)
January 14- January 20. Peter Rabbit (astoundingly, as he is a cottontail, not a hare) turns white. Learns to use it to hide from predators, fool Jimmy Skunk.
Illustration for "Jerry Muskrat at home" (Jan 21, 1913)
January 21- January 23. A big mink (not Billy) drives Jerry Muskrat from his comfortable home under the ice. Jerry is able to fight off the mink from the narrow passages of his "secret castle."
Illustration for "Peter Rabbit and Danny Meadow Mouse live high" (Feb 12, 1913)
January 24-February 15. A long episode, reprinted in the The Adventures of Danny Meadow Mouse. Danny narrowly escapes predators, ends up in Peter Rabbit's briar patch. Rescues Peter Rabbit, who has been caught in a snare.
Illustration for "Farmer Brown's boy chops down a tree" (Feb 24, 1913)
February 17 - March 3. A long episode, reprinted in The Adventures of Unc' Billy Possum. Unc' Billy gets trapped inside Farmer Brown's henhouse. A snowfall allows an escape but reveals his trail to Farmer Brown's boy, who chops down a tree he mistakenly thinks he is in. 
Illustration for "Sammy Jay gets even with Peter Rabbit" (March 7, 1913)
March 4 - March 7. Two short episodes featuring Sammy Jay (reprinted in The Adventures of Sammy Jay). In the first Sammy thinks he has tricked Chatterer the Red Squirrel but finds himself tricked. In the second he pays back Peter Rabbit for making fun of his vanity by imitating red-tailed hawk.
Illustration for "Gentle Sister South Wind arrives" (March 11, 1913)
March 8- March 19. Spring has arrived and Peter Rabbit spreads the news. He visits Johnny Chuck, who is awake though very thin. Jimmy Skunk escorts Peter home to protect him from Reddy Fox. Reddy tries to get even by framing Jimmy as a chicken stealer but Peter subverts the plan by telling Billy Mink about the chicken.

March 20- March 21. Peter Rabbit and Johnny Chuck search for the singers at the Smiling Pool. Turns out to be hyla (spring peepers), not birds singing underwater.
Illustration for "Peter Rabbit makes a discovery" (March 22, 1913)
March 22- March 24. Peter Rabbit discovers owl pellets at the foot of a tree. Hooty is nesting in branches above.
Illustration for "A new home at last" (April 4, 1913)
March 25-May 12.  A very long episode, half of which was published in The Adventures of Johnny Chuck. Johnny Chuck, no longer a boy, feels adventurous. Leaves his home and proves himself a fighter. He falls in love with Polly Chuck, shows his worthiness by fighting off a dog, and the two settle down to home-making.

Sammy Jay reveals where their home is to Farmer Brown's boy.  Johnny Chuck is a proud father of three babies and once Sammy Jay sees them he has a change of heart and tries to protect them. Johnny Chuck teaches the youngsters about dangers but one day a little chuck "who didn't mind" gets caught by Farmer Brown's boy.

Johnny Chuck's three friends, Peter Rabbit, Jimmy Skunk, and Unc' Billy Possum each try in turn to see what happened to the baby chuck. Peter is chased off by a cat ("Thomas," not yet Black Pussy), Jimmy gets his head caught in a can and is almost caught by Farmer Brown's boy, and Unc' Billy is discovered by FBB in the hay loft.

Now Unc' Billy is also a captive. After Sammy Jay (feeling guilty) spots them, Jimmy Skunk holds a meeting. It is decided that Prickly Porky should gnaw through the boxes they are held in. Reddy Fox tries to disrupt this plan but fails. Unc' Billy escapes but the baby chuck refuses to come. He prefers being a pet.
Illustration for "Peter Cottontail" (March 15, 1913)
May 13- May 17. Peter Rabbit is discontented. His name is too common. Decides to use name "Peter Cottontail" and puts on airs. Skunk and coon decide to burst bubble of pretension and play a trick on him. There's nothing like the old name after all.
Illustration for "A hunt for trouble" (May 24, 1913)
May 19- June 9. Another long episode, reprinted in The Adventures of Jerry Muskrat. The denizens of the Smiling Pool discover the water level is going down. Five (muskrat, frog, mink, otter, turtle) decide to go upstream to investigate. They discover a huge wall with a pond behind it. Grandfather Frog suggests it's the work of a beaver. Jerry ruins dam during the day but finds it fixed the next morning. He finally meets the beaver and explains his problem. Paddy the Beaver (new character) agrees to take down the dam (it was just temporary anyway) and decides to live in the area.
Illustration for "The clever plan of Granny Fox" (July 5, 1913)
June 10-July 9. Another new character--Old Man Coyote (reprinted in The Adventures of Old Man Coyote). The green meadow community is disturbed by mysterious sound at night. After some investigation, they learn it is a coyote. Granny Fox tries unsuccessfully to drive coyote away: she provokes a fight between Old Man Coyote and Prickly Porky, and she leads Bowser the Hound to the coyote's napping site.
Illustration for "Peter and Little Miss Fuzzytail Quit Old Pasture" (August 2, 1913)
July 10-August 9  A very long story, much of it reprinted in Mrs. Peter Rabbit. Peter Rabbit is lonesome, visits the Old Pasture in search of mate. He finds "Miss Fuzzytail" but must wrest her from her overprotective, bullying father, Old Jed Thumper.
Illustration for "Mistah Mocker lends his voice to Sammy Jay" (August 14, 1913)
August 11- August 23.  Sammy Jay is falsely accused of stealing Drummer the Woodpecker's eggs. Jay joins up with Mockingbird (who has also been tricked) to set trap for real culprit, Chatterer the Red Squirrel. This story features the first illustrations by Harrison Cady (still uncredited).


Illustration for "Peter Rabbit's four babies in their nursery" (August 29, 1913)
August 25-September 26. Peter Rabbit and Mrs. Peter move back to the Old Briar Patch and start a family of four bunnies, one of which they name "Little Pete." They teach the children about danger. This doesn't keep Little Pete from being careless and getting lost. After some adventures, he is finally rescued by his father in Farmer Brown's garden.
Illustration for "Reddy Fox loses his temper" (October 2, 1913)
 September 27-October 2. Danny Meadow Mouse has narrow escapes from several predators.

Illustration for "Spotty the Turtle plays a doctor" (October 13, 1913)
October 3- October 31. A long episode featuring Grandfather Frog (reprinted in The Adventures of Grandfather Frog). After other animals try to pull pranks on him and the "worldly" Mr. Toad pays a visit, Grandfather Frog decides he wants to see the Great World.  He ignores the hazard of this plan and is chased by Bowser the Hound and captured by Farmer Brown's boy. He's able to get away thanks to the intervention of the Merry Little Breezes but immediately gets into more trouble before he is able to get back to Smiling Pool.
Illustration for "Farmer Brown's boy visits the Green Forest again" (December 6, 1913)
November 1-December 8. A long episode featuring Paddy the Beaver (reprinted in The Adventures of Paddy the Beaver) Paddy tells everyone he plans to build a dam and will need to shut down the Smiling Pool and Laughing Brook temporarily. Some protest but most delight in the elaborate construction process. Farmer Brown's boy and Old Man Coyote pose threats. Realizing how smart the beaver is, Farmer Brown's boy vows to protect him and the dam.
Illustration for "Shadow the Weasel enjoys himself" (December 11, 1913)
December 9-December 31. A very long episode featuring Chatterer the Red Squirrel (portions of which were reprinted in The Adventures of Chatterer the Red Squirrel.) Shadow the Weasel drives Chatterer out of the Green Forest so he needs to build a new home in the Old Orchard. Discovers Farmer Brown's corn crib and devises a way to get in. (continued in 1914).

Notes

In 1913 Thornton Burgess continued what he was doing in the second half of 1912, offering long continuous narratives featuring the adventures of a single character. Burgess's 1913 newspaper stories would be the source of 9 separate classic books in the Burgess oeuvre. Harrison Cady became the regular illustrator in August, though he didn't sign his name until later in the year.

While pranks and tricks and sheer adventure were still important aspects of the stories, Burgess was beginning to focus more and more on nature study, seen best in his meticulous descriptions of beaver dam/lodge construction in the Paddy the Beaver episode. Peter Rabbit and Johnny Chuck, the boy characters of 1912, became parents in 1913. Seasonality became a firm guide as to what stories were told when. And moral instruction became more and more explicit.

The "abducted baby chuck" story (April 17- May 12) apparently caused some consternation among parents and young readers, as Burgess delayed the resolution of the story for almost a month. I know of no other Burgess story with a more fairytale-like structure (three characters, one at a time, attempt a rescue) and the ending, in which the baby chuck refuses to be "rescued," is truly surprising.

Burgess also made his most glaring natural history error during 1913, in his January stories featuring Peter Rabbit and his new coat. Cottontails do not get white coats in the winter. Only hares do. This is a point that future Burgess (perhaps in compensation for his earlier mistake) would take great pains to emphasize. Surprisingly, however, instead of burying this embarrassing set of stories, Burgess would reuse them in minibooks published by John H. Eggers in the 1920s.

Farmer Brown's Boy

Farmer Brown boy in 1913 was still a nemesis of the Green Meadow and Green Forest communities, especially when it came to animals he regarded as pests and/or sources of food (bullfrog, oppossum) and income (beaver). At the same time, Burgess began to soften the character. While Farmer Brown's boy does forcibly abduct the baby woodchuck, he does it so that he can raise it lovingly as a pet. While he continues to carry stones in his pocket to throw at bullfrogs, he also fondly tickles Mr. Toad under the chin for being a help in his garden. The animal characters begin to doubt whether he is "all bad." Farmer Brown's boy's conversion into a friend of the animals generally can be said to have begun on December 6. In response to Paddy the Beaver's intelligence, he posts signs forbidding trespassers to interfere with the beaver and beaver lodge/dam.

Next: 1913 Advertising for Little Stories

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

School children find a new make-believe world

The New York Globe was the flagship paper for "Little Stories for Bedtime" but the Kansas City Star was in many ways its spiritual home. The special connection between TWB's stories and the children of Kansas City was recognized as early as September 17, 1912.

All in Reddy Fox roles

School Children here find a new make-believe world

A visitor passing a South Side playground yesterday heard pupils calling each other by the "Bedtime Stories" hero names.

The "Bedtime Stories" by Thornton W. Burgess, which are being published in The Star, are gaining in popularity among the children of Kansas City. Every day telephone calls come and letters arrive at the office asking about the queer little animals that Mr. Burgess has succeeded in making so real to his youthful readers, and to grown-ups too, for that matter.

The slight interruption in the series a week or so ago brought an unusual number of inquiries and only their resumption ended the deluge of solicitude expressed for the safe return of Reddy Fox and the other inhabitants of the Green Forest.

A man was passing a South Side school ground the other day.

"Where's Reddy Fox? He has to be here or we can't play," a voice said.

"Somebody c'n go 'n get him. Let me go, Peter Rabbit," a fat boy, who, it developed, had been dubbed Johnny Chuck, spoke up eagerly.

"Naw, you stay here," Peter Rabbit said, " 'sides nobody knows where he lives."

"What's his name and I c'n find him," persisted Johnny Chuck.

"Reddy Fox is all the name he's got," and, strange to say, Peter Rabbit was right; nobody knew the missing Reddy Fox by any other except his chosen name.

"And has everybody got new names?" the listener interposed. The youthful scorn of ignorance was apparent. Peter Rabbit looked him up and down.

"Get wise, mister," he said, "we've all changed our names. There's Jimmy Skunk, and there's Bobby Coon," and Peter Rabbit pointed out successively a half dozen different characters that appear regularly in the Little Bedtime Stories.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Little Stories for Bedtime 1912 (Part 3/3)

  

August 8, 1912 to January 4, 1913. (Stories 160 to 251)

 (Note: the story count reflects a four day period (August 30-September 3) when there was no story (Burgess was reportedly ill) and the fact that, as far as I know, there was no 1912 Christmas story.)
Illustration for "Jerry Muskrat's secret door" (August 13, 1912).
August 8-14. Jerry Muskrat begins construction of his house. Other animal characters laugh at him until they learn that Mother Nature herself tells him when upcoming winters will be hard. Burgess provides very specific details about the construction of muskrat homes. Other animals help out (they are happy to be able to work so hard). The entrance to the house is underwater and there is a secret muskrat hiding place that TWB suggests readers write in to learn.
Illustration for "Billy Mink becomes a boaster" (August 15, 1912).
August 15-21. Billy Mink boasts that he can do anything that other mammals can do. Grandfather Frog bets he can't and schedules an exhibition. Billy succeeds until Grandfather Frog reveals his special guest, Flitter the Bat. Grandfather Frog tells a fable about the origins of bats' power of flight.
Illustration for "Reddy Fox grows careless" (August 23, 1912)
August 22-October 12. The longest single narrative yet, reprinted, in part, as the Adventures of Reddy Fox. Reddy, full of false pride, takes Farmer Brown's boy's pet chicken in broad daylight and his carelessness allows the boy to shoot him. Reddy, who cannot walk because of his wounds, is nursed and defended by Granny Fox, though other animals, showing sympathy bring food for him. Farmer Brown's boy continues to hunt for Reddy, tracking him to his home. By the time he returns with a shovel to dig him out, the foxes have already moved. This is how the book version ends.

In the newspaper version, however, the story continues. After a brief episode that has Prickly Porky blocking the entrance to Reddy's hole (and inadvertently sheltering him from Bowser the Hound), the story moves on to describe the turmoil that Farmer Brown's boy continuing search is causing in the Green Forest and Green Meadow communities. Billy Mink calls a meeting and the animals decide to "give Reddy Fox up." Peter Rabbit, who is conflicted but feels duty-bound to follow the will of the community, is called to lure Bowser the Hound to the new fox home. A foot injury keeps Peter from carrying out the mission and the foxes, realizing their home has been revealed again, move far away to the "Old Pasture" near the mountain's edge.
Illustration for "The mischief-makers" (November 1, 1912)
October 14-November 16. Another long story, reprinted as the Adventures of Mistah Mocker. Members of the Green Forest community complain that Sammy Jay and Stickytoes the Treefrog are singing all night and keeping them awake. Unc' Billy Possum, who has already figured that this involves an old friend of his, meets with him and arranges an elaborate prank that has his friend use the voices of various Green Forest folk to spread bad word-of-mouth about others in the community (with praise reserved for Unc' Billy). When the plan is discovered, everyone pretends not to see or hear Unc' Billy, but the possum makes amends by holding a coming-out party for his friend, Mistah Mockingbird. Peter Rabbit demands a story from Ol' Mistah Buzzard explaining the origin of Mistah Mockingbird's beautiful voice.
Illustration for "Why Ol' Mistah Buzzard has a red head" (November 19, 1912)
November 18-November 20. Peter Rabbit pesters Ol' Mistah Buzzard for fables about turkey vultures and black vultures.
Illustration for "Happy Jack Squirrel's sad mistake" (November 30, 1912)
November 21-December 4. Happy Jack Squirrel and Chatterer the Red Squirrel fight over hickory nuts and Striped Chipmunk benefits by getting the nuts for himself. Happy Jack suspects the chipmunk and spies on him; Striped Chipmunk pretends that his storehouse is in an old stump. When Happy Jack raids the stump, he is attacked by Chatterer, whose storehouse it really is. To settle the conflict, Striped Chipmunk invites both of them to a Thanksgiving dinner. Happy Jack regrets his greed.
Illustration for "What happened to Bobby Coon" (December 9, 1912)
December 5-December 19.  Bobby Coon is seen by Farmer Brown and his son raiding the cornfield. They are able to track him down though while his son is searching for clubs to kill the raccoon with, Farmer Brown intentionally scares Bobby away. As in the Reddy Fox story, Farmer Brown's boy keeps hunting for the raccoon, causing Bobby (and the community) problems. Granny Fox, finally, appears and intentionally leads Bowser off of Bobby's trail. Farmer Brown's boy realizes the dog will never follow the raccoon's trail with a fox around and gives up his search.
Illustration for "Happy Jack Squirrel is too busy to talk" (December 24, 1912)
December 21-January 4.  Peter Rabbit, who has evidently never experienced winter before, is surprised to find his friends preparing for winter (Johnny Chuck has gained pre-hibernation pounds, Grandfather Frog is already asleep in the mud, Jerry Muskrat is too busy to talk, and Ol' Mistah Buzzard flies south). After consultation with Unc' Billy Possum, Peter Rabbit decides that he too will sleep during the winter.  Peter learns his lesson when Unc' Billy enters his sleeping chamber and scares him. After a beautiful snowfall, Peter is glad he stayed awake.

Notes

Passing the first six month mark the stories are immediately more like the Burgess we would know for the next 48 years. There are clear moral messages about the dangers of pride, greed, and carelessness and the benefits of hard work. And there are clear nature study lessons about muskrat homes, mink abilities, mockingbird talents, pre-winter behaviors, etc.

On the other hand, animals are still doing impossible things, such as tipping hats and ripping skirts and using vines to trip one another...
Illustration for "Happy days on the Green Meadow" (October 14, 1912)
  While they will still occasionally burst into verse, that verse is becoming more and more aphoristic.
"Billy Mink feels uncomfortable" (August 16, 1912)
 Burgess, now more in control of story scheduling than in the first six months, can pay attention to seasonality. There is a Thanksgiving story (published 4 days late--though this may be due to the four-day story gap in August and September) and winter is clearly on its way. Note that the idea that muskrats have a way of knowing the severity of the coming winter will be criticized repeatedly as a myth in later Burgess stories.

The long Reddy Fox episode is the first great Burgess Bedtime story, exhibiting mastery over point of view and presenting the reader with some ethical conundrums. Reddy certainly deserves punishment (he gets it in the form of banishment from the community) for his overweening pride and hen-stealing ways but the reader quickly becomes sympathetic to his plight after he is shot by Farmer Brown's boy (Peter Rabbit, of all characters, is the model for the sympathetic attitude).  The later section of narrative, in which the community comes together to "give Reddy up," expresses a negative aspect of the (small town?) forest community (once again Peter Rabbit is a moral holdout).

Farmer Brown's Boy

The character of Farmer Brown's boy remains a nemesis of the animals. Indeed, Farmer Brown's boy repeatedly terrorizes the forest and meadow communities with his terrible gun and hound dog. In the words of Jimmy Skunk,
Boys with guns...get terribly careless, dreadfully careless. They don't seem to thing anything about the feelings of those likely to get hurt when the gun goes off
At the same time, Farmer Brown's Boy is admirably resourceful and observant. He is the kind of boy who "uses his eyes" (something that "many little boys and girls never learn to do"). His father, in a twist, is far kinder than his son. He has a "big heart" and "loves the little meadow and forest people."

Next: Burgess is popular!

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Little Stories for Bedtime 1912 (Part 2/3)

The  official "Little Stories for Bedtime" header (only adopted in some markets

 Little Stories for Bedtime May 6 to August 7, 1912. (Episodes 79-159).

Illustration for "Who's a coward?" (May 20, 1912)
May 6-11. A new character: Unc' Billy Possum, who has come up from Ol' Virginny. Forms partnership with Jimmy Skunk to raid Brown farm hen house. Farmer Brown's Boy cannot figure out who is stealing the eggs. Sits and watches skunk entry hole but Unc' Billy enters from the roof and Farmer Brown's Boy does not see him.

May 13-18. Grandfather Frog is towed around on lily pad by Little Joe Otter. Their fun is disrupted by a stone thrown by Farmer Brown's Boy. Grandfather Frog tricks Farmer Brown's Boy by making him think he's caught a large trout (actually Jerry Muskrat). Farmer Brown's Boy sets traps (catching Jerry Muskrat's tail). Jerry's mother brings together a convention at the Smiling Pool to discuss what should be done about the traps. Unable to reach a consensus they agree to ask the "oracle" of the Smiling Pool, Grandfather Frog. He says he will provide his answer the following morning. (He never does.)

May 20-25. Unc' Billy Possum challenges Reddy Fox to a game of chicken involving Bowser the Hound. Unc' Billy plays dead and Bowser chases Reddy. Later Farmer Brown's Boy finds a "dead" possum in the henhouse and carries in into the barnyard. Reddy Fox thinks Unc' Billy is actually dead and spreads the news. Meanwhile Unc' Billy returns and decides to send for his family.
Illustration for "Bobby Coon takes his own medicine." (June 1, 1912)
May 27-June 1. Unc' Billy Possum kicks Bobby Coon out of his home (where Bobby accidentally fell asleep). Then Bobby falls into the water trying to reach a shiny piece of tin. Little Joe Otter and Billy Mink make fun of his neatness. Then Bobby Coon pranks Johnny Chuck and Skunk. They prank him in turn.
Illustration for "The runaway cabbage" (June 8, 1912)
June 3-15. A long episode (reprinted in the Adventures of Unc' Billy Possum) in which Peter Rabbit plans a surprise party for Unc' Billy Possum's family. Reddy Fox, Shadow the Weasel, Sammy Jay, and Blacky Crow are not invited and plan to disrupt the party. Mr. Toad overhears their plan and gets Prickly Porky to trap Shadow and Reddy in their hiding place in a hollow log. Meanwhile there is an extended scene of slapstick as a cabbage rolls down a hill and leaves destruction in its path. Mrs. Possum shows up with eight children in her pocket. Farmer Brown's Boy, still looking for the henhouse raider, sees the eight children clinging to their mother and is so surprised he forgets to shoot.
Illustration for "Digger the Badger shames Johnny Chuck" (June 25, 1912)
June 17-25. A new character: Digger the Badger, from the West. He defeats Bowser the Hound in a fight and avoids Farmer Brown's Boy, who has been led to the badger hole by Reddy Fox. Johnny Chuck is jealous of Digger because he digs faster, but is ashamed when Digger treats him fairly despite his rudeness.
Illustration for "Grandfather Frog loses a race" (June 26, 1912)
June 26-27. Grandfather Frog loses a race to Mr. Toad (because Peter Rabbit tells Mr. Toad a snake is coming). Grandfather Frog loses a rematch but is in a better mood after realizing it was a joke.
Illustration for "Reddy Fox gets a scare." (July 1, 1912).
June 29-July 10. A long episode (reprinted in the Adventures of Peter Cottontail) in which Reddy Fox tries a variety of methods to try to catch Peter Rabbit, including teaming up with Shadow the Weasel and Sammy Jay. He even pretends being dead, which is effective until Prickly Porky makes him sneeze. Johnny Chuck tricks Reddy into running into a hornet's nest. Peter is almost caught when he expresses sympathy for Reddy.
Illustration for "Ol' Mistah Buzzard tells a story" (July 15, 1912).
July 11-17. A new character: Ol' Mistah Buzzard. Initially everyone in the Green Meadows is afraid, thinking he is a bird of prey (he's actually a turkey vulture). He greets his friend Unc' Billy Possum and tells everyone a fable about why his head is bald. Then he and Digger the Badger have a quarrel about gophers.
Illustration for "The lost baby" (July 18, 1912).
July 18-August 7. The longest single narrative episode so far. One of Unc' Billy Possum's children is lost.  Reddy Fox leads the hunt and Peter Rabbit follows secretly behind. After several unsuccessful attempts by Reddy Fox to charm the baby possum out of a tree, Peter Rabbit is able to coax the possum down and they run away.  Peter teaches the possum to use water to break his scent trail and they end up at the bank of the Laughing Brook. Mistaking Snapper the Turtle for a rock, the baby possum takes an unintentional journey to the other side. Reddy Fox is just about to pounce on the baby possum when Snapper grabs his tail. When the baby possum finally returns home (guarded by Prickly Porky) he refuses his mother's pocket. He has proved himself able to care for himself.

Notes on the second 13 weeks

Burgess is beginning to tell longer sustained narratives during this period and the Reddy Fox character, while still a hapless would-be predator, becomes a devious charmer as well. The series, however, is still operating in fable mode, Peter Rabbit's surprise party and the big convention at the Smiling Pool being glaring examples.  Animal characters still carry things in their arms, tip their hats, and make impossible gestures, such as Grandfather Frog "actually" shaking his fist at Mr. Toad (June 27, 1912).
Many stories still revolve around pranks and tricks, and after Unc' Billy Possum's arrival, the characters are often depicted breaking into song.  This, indeed, may be the most difficult period of Burgess for contemporary readers, as many of songs are clearly modeled after those in minstrel shows (TWB himself penned at least real one song for such shows).  A low point is reached on May 25, when Unc' Billy Possum sings the following:
This, sadly, is not the only example.

The character of Unc' Billy Possum is from the south, joining Prickly Porky from the north (who tells stories about Indians). Digger the Badger represents the west. In fable mode, the presence of a badger (not native to Massachusetts) is acceptable, but later Burgess would have to go out of his way to justify the character's presence in the Green Meadows (and eventually Digger would be forgotten).

The animal characters (with the exception of Snapper the Turtle, who will become a major villain later) are depicted in ways that express, in general ways, characteristic settings and behaviors, though the teaching of nature facts is still not a priority. Burgess is still not rigorously careful in the facts he does present. Baby Possum, for example, is depicted hanging down trying to steal eggs from the nest of a pair of great-crested flycatchers. This is unlikely given that great-crested flycatchers are cavity nesters (a fact Burgess in future years will take pains to emphasize).

Farmer Brown's Boy

Farmer Brown's Boy continues to be a nemesis of the animals during this period, setting steel traps at the Smiling Pool and the hen house and carrying his gun with the intention of killing animals he considers pests. He is also, however, depicted as a knowledgeable tracker, able to identify species by their footprints and dwellings. In explaining why FBB would gratuitously throw a stone at Grandfather Frog, Burgess (May 13, 1912) gives the reader the following passage:
He was a good natured boy, and everybody liked him; everybody but the little people of the Green Meadows and the little folks of the Green Forest. They hated him because they were afraid of him, and they were afraid of him because he was always trying to frighten them. It wasn't because he was hard hearted  but because he was thoughtless.
Farmer Brown's Boy is not evil but also not yet enlightened. There is still hope for him.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Little Stories for Bedtime 1912 (Part 1/3)

In the 1919 American Magazine article referenced last post, Thornton Burgess described the earliest days of "Little Stories for Bedtime."
 The first six months went hard. The newspapers began by using the stories once or twice a week, and with no very great enthusiasm. But by the end of six months every paper on the list was using a story every day.
Indeed, of the four papers in the Associated Newspaper family I've been using to read the earliest stories, only one (Omaha World-Herald) actually published "Billy Mink loses a race" on its intended date-of-publication, February 5, 1912. The Salt Lake Evening Telegram started with "Johnny Chuck is left alone," running it on February 13, 1912 (a week late), while the Kansas City Star's and Boston Daily Globe's first Burgess stories ran on March 13, 1912 and November 16, 1912 respectively. And as Burgess suggests, even when the newspapers began running the stories they did not necessarily run them consistently, run them on the intended dates of publication, or even run them in the right order. The Omaha World-Herald, for example, frequently ran the exact same story on two consecutive days.

Cross-referencing stories between papers, and using the dates listed in Wayne Wright's TWB book bibilography, I've been able to construct a tentative list of stories, titles, and dates from the first three months. I still appear to be missing about four stories from this period so my listing here needs to be considered incomplete. I've grouped the stories into episodes below. (Please contact me directly if you want the complete list). [August 2013 Update: Even the Associated Newspaper flagship New York Globe and Commercial Advertiser was an irregular publisher of the story during the feature's first few months]

Little Stories for Bedtime, February 5 to May 4 1912 (Stories 1-78)

Feb 5: "Billy Mink loses a race."

Illustration from "Johnny Chuck is left alone." February 6, 1912.
Feb 6-20. A long multi-part episode featuring Johnny Chuck and Peter Rabbit. Peter gets Johnny Chuck to run away from home. Adventures include escape from Whitetail the Marsh Hawk and Granny Fox. They encounter Mr. Toad, who boasts of courage but is scared off by a belt. Peter and Johnny watch (the real) Mr. Blacksnake shed his skin and Peter plans to use the skin to play a trick on Danny Meadowmouse, but Danny catches wind of Peter's plan and alerts Cresty the Great-crested Flycatcher who takes the skin to use in his nest. Johnny comes to learn that his mother has officially turned him out of his home so he begins to dig his own, advising Peter Rabbit about the importance of backdoors. Peter disregards the advice and regrets it after an encounter with Bowser the Hound.
Illustration from "Chatterer makes a call." February 23, 1912
Feb 21-26. This episode begins with a fable about blue jays. Happy Jack Squirrel discovers his nut collection is missing, initially blames Chatterer the Red Squirrel but comes to learn the culprit is Sammy Jay. Chatterer, offered a half share of the nuts as a reward, tracks down Sammy Jay's nest with the help of Bobby Coon and threatens Mrs. Jay into handing over the nuts. After secretly stashing a third of the nuts, he holds a race among the animals to return the rest of the nuts to himself and Happy Jack. But when he returns to his hidden stash, it is missing. The culprit? Striped Chipmunk.
Illustration from "Billy Mink plays a joke." February 28, 1912.
Feb 27-March 9. Jerry Muskrat and Little Joe Otter, encouraged by Billy Mink, build a slide on the banks of the Smiling Pool. Everyone enjoys it, even Grandfather Frog. Peter Rabbit is tricked into sliding but gets even by pushing a large rock from the bank and scaring Billy and Little Joe. Billy Mink plays tricks on Reddy Fox and Grandfather Frog, who also learns to avoid Farmer Brown's Boy's frog-fishing lure. The residents of the Smiling Pool, advised by Grandfather Frog, spring Farmer Brown's Boy's traps and steal his bait.
Illustration from "The digging match." March 19, 1912.
March 11-19. Hooty is mobbed by crows but later gets his revenge by harassing Blacky the Crow at night. Blacky, in bad shape after a poor night of sleep, gets caught in a snare when feeding on Farmer Brown's corn. Jimmy Skunk bites through the snare and releases him. Peter Rabbit tricks Jimmy into jumping on Reddy Fox; Reddy Fox chases after Peter Rabbit but runs into Bowser the Hound and Farmer Brown's Boy waiting in the cornfield. Reddy escapes from Bowser by leaping onto the back of a sheep. After boasting about his quick wits, Reddy loses a digging contest to Johnny Chuck.

March 20-21. The animals watch as Mr. Toad struggles to shed his skin. They leave too early to learn that he disposes of the old skin by eating it.
Illustration from "Bumble the Bee proves a friend indeed." March 25, 1912.
March 22-25. Johnny Chuck hears that his mother has been captured by Farmer Brown's Boy (though she later gets away). He watches from his back door Reddy and Granny Fox waiting to catch him. Arranges with Bumble the Bee to sting them.
Illustration from "Bowser the Hound stays at home." April 1, 1912.
March 26-April 11. Happy Jack narrowly escapes from Terror the Goshawk and is tricked by Old Grandfather Chuck. He and Peter Rabbit discover strange needles (porcupine quills) on the forest floor. This introduces Prickly Porky the porcupine, a brand-new Burgess character. He makes friends with the other animals after he's attacked by Bowser the Hound. After removing the quills from Bowser's face, Farmer Brown's Boy takes his gun and searches for Prickly Porky but finally decides not to shoot him. Reddy Fox decides to use Prickly Porky to help raid the Brown henhouse but Prickly tricks him by blocking the exit. Peter Rabbit and Johnny Chuck meanwhile figure out a way to use loose porcupine quills to guard their homes from the foxes and Bowser the Hound.
Illustration from "Peter Rabbit's big cousin." April 12, 1912.
April 12-15. Jumper the Hare, another new Burgess character, comes for a visit. The animals make fun of his timidity. He shows his bravery by defending Peter Rabbit from the foxes.

April 16-18. Granny Fox teaches Reddy how to use train trestle to escape from dogs but the trick fails when Reddy tries it on Bowser the Hound.
Illustration from "The sky parlor of Whitefoot." April 26, 1912.
April 19-May 4. Johnny Chuck defends Danny Meadow Mouse from Reddy Fox. Danny Meadow Mouse worries that his tail is too short. Mr. Toad takes him to see Whitefoot the Wood Mouse, who complains that his long tail makes him more vulnerable to predators. Whitefoot is afraid that Shadow the Weasel has visited his home. Johnny Chuck accompanies him to ask Grandfather Frog for advice. Grandfather Frog suggests that he should build his home in a place that looks abandoned. Whitefoot chooses an old red-winged blackbird nest, and watches as Shadow loses his scent because of Johnny Chuck's trail. Shadow raids Billy Mink's storehouse but is discovered and beaten. When Mrs. Grouse's eggs disappear, Jimmy Skunk is the chief suspect (discovered with egg from the henhouse on his fur) but after some detective work, he finds evidence that Shadow is the guilty party. Shadow then gives himself away in front of the animal community.

Notes on the first 13 weeks

Burgess is still operating largely in Mother West Wind-style fable mode. There are many stories about boys having fun and playing tricks on each other and the characters still have extended families (Johnny Chuck's mother and grandfather, e.g.) Johnny Chuck's mother uses a basket to gather vegetables from Farmer Brown's garden (a clear Beatrix Potter influence) and Peter Rabbit laughs at Reddy Fox with his hands on his hips (Uncle Remus).

On the other hand, Burgess has started sprinkling his stories with his favorite nature facts: great-crested flycatchers do indeed use snake skins in their nests and toads do indeed consume their old skins. The predator-prey relationships are appropriately high-stakes (though Peter Rabbit's porcupine-needle defense strategy is pure cartoon).

Burgess has not yet become careful about the accuracy of all his nature facts. Bumble the bee, with his gruff voice, is a boy (male bees don't sting).  Gray squirrels don't hoard nuts in one place, they bury them in many places (unlike red squirrels). And the idea that a fox would ride on the back of a sheep to escape a dog is a piece of "nature-fakery" straight out of Ernest Thompson Seton.

Farmer Brown's Boy

One of the things I've tried to do in my reading of the 15,000 Burgess stories is to keep track of the character of Farmer Brown's Boy. He will evolve to be a great advocate for the animal characters but in 1912 he is still their nemesis.

In the stories from the first 13 weeks, FBB shows up in several stories, but plays significant roles in two. As a prospective fur trapper, he tries to catch the otters, minks, and muskrats at the Smiling Pool (they spring his traps, though not before Little Joe Otter has lost a claw). And after his dog is hurt by Prickly Porky, he heads out to the forest, gun in hand. In the first story he is motivated by avarice (he counts his furs before they're trapped) and is both oblivious to any suffering he might cause and ignorant about the resourcefulness of his targets. In the second story, however, we see a slightly more sympathetic character. He is motivated to avenge his beloved dog but when he finally meets the porcupine is so impressed by his impudence that he leaves him be. Needless to say, he will not yet put his gun away.

Next: Little Stories for Bedtime 1912 (May-July)

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Story #00001 Billy Mink loses a race

Original illustration for "Billy Mink loses a race" Artist unknown.
In a 1919 article in The American Magazine, Thornton Burgess recounts the origins of his daily newspaper story.  After failed negotiations with two newspaper syndicates (unnamed), he received a letter from a third (Associated Newspapers)
asking for my stories under the title of "Little Stories for Bedtime." I went to New York and signed a six months contract at a very modest figure. It bound me to write six Bedtime Stories a week. If they were a success, I was to have a full-year contract at a moderate advance."
I remember that on my return from New York with that contract I said to my wife: "I have contracted to write three hundred and thirteen stories. I wonder where they are all coming from...."
On Monday, February 5, 1912, The New York Globe published the first one. It was titled "Billy Mink loses a race." (My copy is from the Omaha World-Herald). Here it is in its entirety.

"I'm the fastest swimmer in the Smiling Pool," boasted Billy Mink as he lay sunning himself on the Big Rock.
"You're not either," retorted Jerry Muskrat.
"You can't beat me," said Billy Mink.
"Perhaps I can't but I know who can," replied Jerry, stretching himself.
"Who?" asked Billy Mink, sitting up abruptly.
"Little Joe Otter!" exclaimed Jerry Muskrat triumphantly.
"He can't!" snapped Billy Mink.
"He can, too; he can swim circles around you," said Jerry Muskrat.
"Pooh! He can't swim a little bit. I could swim circles around him with my legs tied," boasted Billy Mink.
"Who's that you can beat, Billy Mink?" asked another voice.
Billy Mink and Jerry Muskrat whirled about to find Little Joe Otter just climbing up the Big Rock.
"He says he can beat you swimming with his legs tied," said Jerry, pointing at Billy Mink.
Little Joe Otter laughed until he showed all his white teeth. "Perhaps you can, Billy," said he, "but I doubt it. Tell you what, I'll race you this afternoon for the championship of the Smiling Pool, and you needn't have your legs tied either."
Now Billy Mink is a fast swimmer, a very fast swimmer indeed, but for all his bragging, right down deep in his heart he didn't want to race Little Joe Otter. However, it was too late to back out so he agreed to race that afternoon. They agreed to swim from the Big Rock out to Grandfather Frog's big, green lily-pad and back to the Big Rock, and Grandfather Frog was to be the judge.
The Merry Little Breezes carried the news all over the Green Meadows and everybody hurried over to the Smiling Pool -- Peter Rabbit, Reddy Fox, Bobby Coon, Jimmy Skunk, Striped Chipmunk, Sammy Jay, Old Mr. Toad and all the other little meadow people.
Spotty the Turtle was starter. "Are you ready? Go!" he shouted.
Splash! Billy Mink and Little Joe Otter hit the water together. For a minute nothing could be seen but two little rows of bubbles. Then Billy Mink's little brown head bobbed up in the lead.
"Go it, Billy!" shouted Reddy Fox, dancing up and down in his excitement.
Billy went it! He Was the first to touch the big, green lily-pad on which sat Grandfather Frog. Then he started back for the Big Rock. Half way there Little Joe Otter was even with him. Then Little Joe Otter dived. A bubble came up just in front of Billy Mink's nose. Then another and another, each a little farther ahead. All the little meadow people on the bank were shouting themselves hoarse. Billy was almost to the Big Rock and nothing had been seen of Little Joe Otter.
"Good boy, Billy!" shouted someone.
Everyone looked up tot he top of the Big Rock. There sat Little Joe Otter kicking his heels and grinning. He had swum under water clear around the Big Rock and climbed up the back side.
"How about swimming with your legs tied, Billy Mink!?" shouted Jerry Muskrat.
But Billy Mink hadn't a word to say; he was too much out of breath.

A couple of comments. First, this is a direct descendent of two stories from Old Mother West Wind, "Billy Mink's Swimming Party," and "Jerry Muskrat's Party," the only difference being a mildly didactic tone--its admonition against boasting--whereas the originals were pure diversion. It is a kind of story Burgess told every once in while, more about a comical woodland scene than the prospects of any one character in particular. Second, the story is self-enclosed, not part of a continuing story line. This was wise during the early period when newspapers were more inclined to use the stories on a spot basis rather than committing space six days a week. Third, aside from the fact that minks and otters are fast swimmers, there's really little meaningful natural history information here, though nothing terribly inaccurate either. The strong natural history focus was yet to come.

Next: The first 13 weeks of "Little Stories for Bedtime" (Feb-April, 1912).