Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1932

The Stories

January 1. (continued from 1931). Mrs. Reddy kills a foolish young grouse.

January 2 to January 5. Who is happier during the winter, Peter Rabbit or Prickly Porky?

January 6 to January 13. Farmer Brown's boy shelters Reddy Fox in his barn from hunters. When the hunters complain he lectures them on the usefulness of foxes and the delusions of hunters.

January 14 to January 16. When Yowler the Bobcat, desperate with hunger, attacks the deer family, Lightfoot fights back fiercely, even without antlers. 

January 18 to January 19. Jumper the Hare and Peter Rabbit foolishly envy each other.

January 20 to January 28. A desperately hungry Old Man Coyote makes Paddy the Beaver uncomfortable but Little Joe Otter has fish to spare.

January 29 to February 4. Peter's curiosity gets him trapped in the skunk den.

February 5 to March 3. Farmer Brown's boy is thrilled when barn owls nest in the barn and start eliminating rats. When the rats move away, "Monkey-face" goes after Chatterer the Red Squirrel.

March 4 to March 18. The sap is running and Tapper the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker is there to take advantage. Meanwhile Chatterer the Red Squirrel's greed lands him in a sap bucket.

March 19 to March 29. Farmer Brown's boy accidentally brings Mrs. Whitefoot and her babies into the sugar house. The wood mice "drum" to find each other.

March 30 to April 13. Farmer Brown's boy protects Whitefoot from Shadow the Weasel (Chatterer the Red Squirrel gets in the way). Later Shadow irritates Yowler the Bobcat.

April 14 to May 20. Rising water concerns the beavers and leaves the muskrats homeless. Jerry parts ways with Mrs. Jerry and finds himself at the beaver pond, where he gets acquainted with Paddy the Beaver. After saving a young gander from Yowler the Bobcat, Jerry decides to make his way home over land, narrowly escaping Buster Bear and Old Man Coyote along the way.

May 21 to June 9. Old Mr. Toad experiences familiar troubles (a hole and a snake) on the way to the Smiling Pool but the Smiling Pool also proves to be a dangerous place. Grandfather Frog, "the glutton of the Smiling Pool," eats a frog and screams when he is almost eaten in turn by a watersnake.

June 10 to June 20. Bluffer the Adder changes his suit, to the delight of Cresty the Great Crested Flycatcher. Then Farmer Brown's boy teaches a companion that there is no need to fear Bluffer.

June 21 to July 7. Peter Rabbit and Jimmy Skunk commiserate when they are kicked out of their homes during child-rearing time. Mrs. Jimmy teaches her little skunks how to be safe and gives a dog a lesson in politeness. Unfortunately headstrong little Two-Stripes doesn't mind and gets eaten by an owl.

July 8 to July 23. Inky the young black skunk joins with Grunty the young opposum and Quilly the young porcupine to ward off predators. Farmer Brown's boy, wondering which animal is best equipped for defense, lifts Inky off the ground and pokes Quilly with a stick. 

July 25 to August 19. Chucky the young woodchuck learns how to defend himself.

August 20 to August 26. Flip learns not to chase Peter Rabbit after getting sprayed by Jimmy Skunk.

August 27 to September 15. Sally Sly the Cowbird makes her annual visit to the Old Orchard. This time egg hungry Striped Chipmunk inadvertently helps out the vireos and Mr. and Mrs. Chippy end up raising the cowbird chick. Farmer Brown's boy keeps the real chipping sparrow chicks from harm. 

September 16 to September 19. Peter Rabbit learns about dragonfly metamorphosis.

September 20 to September 30. Reddy and Mrs. Reddy try unsuccessfully to find Mrs. Lightfoot's fawn.

October 1 to October 19. A grouse hunter trespasses on Brown land and kills three "heedless" young grouse. Mrs. Grouse saves another who's been wounded from dogs and Reddy Fox.  Later the brother of the wounded grouse gets caught by Terror the Goshawk because he hadn't been practicing "tree dodging" diligently.

October 20 to October 25. Peter Rabbit witnesses an army of caterpillars marching across the Green Meadows. Farmer Brown and his son stop them before they can get to the cornfield.

October 26 to November 14. Mrs. Peter tries to keep five little bunnies (Headstrong, Timid, Obedient, Heedless, and Wilful) safe after being forced from the Old Briar Patch because of army worm damage. They stop at the Old Stone Wall, where Peter Rabbit and Johnny Chuck discuss the virtues of Reddy Fox and discover that he likes to eat grapes. Later Wilful Bunny runs away and is killed by Hooty the Owl.

November 15 to December 2. It's beechnut time in the Green Forest and the squirrels and deer and bear compete for nuts. Buster is impressed when Lightfoot tries to trample Buzztail the Rattlesnake.

December 3 to December 12. Bobby Coon gets caught in a steel trap. Farmer Brown's boy nurses him back to health.

December 13 to December 17. Peter Rabbit learns about the amazing journey of Mrs. Eel.

December 19 to December 31. Little Joe Otter and his family arrive at the Smiling Pool and fend off Old Man Coyote. (continued in 1933).


1932 was another grim year in the world of Burgess, with the grouse family singled out for special punishment. Five were killed, some in relatively graphic detail, by hunters and predators. A young rabbit and a young skunk were also "never to be seen again." Other characters (including Grandfather Frog and Chatterer the Red Squirrel) were saved in the nick of time because Farmer Brown's boy just happened to come on the scene.

In general, though, 1932 was a rather familiar year, as Burgess continued to repeat certain situations and scenarios, some rather specific (teasing Bluffer the Adder, rescuing Old Mr. Toad from a hole, Sally Sly visiting the Old Orchard,  poachers hunting grouse on Brown land, Bobby Coon being nursed by Farmer Brown's boy) others markers of particular seasons (Lightfoot's antlers fall off, the sap starts running, the beechnuts open and drop).  This does not necessarily represent a loss of creative inspiration on Burgess's part, rather his stories had slipped into a kind of seasonal rhythm, the main patterns repeating but specific details changing.

The anti-hunting theme returned strongly in 1932, beginning with a direct confrontation between Farmer Brown's boy and hunters pursuing Reddy Fox. This was an opportunity, once again for Burgess to defend the virtues of certain animals labeled as "vermin" (this problem persists to this day in certain parts of the country) and confront so-called "sportsmen" with their own unfair practices. Farmer Brown's boy had been portrayed in this situation previously but this was his most forceful statement yet.   Goose hunters and (of course) grouse hunters were also subject to special criticism.

In the 1930s Burgess led a successful movement to have steel traps banned in Massachusetts. The figure of the suffering raccoon caught in a trap was a key image in the campaign, giving the 1932 Bobby Coon episode special meaning.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1931

The Stories

January 1 to January 6. Jumper the Hare and Thunderer the Grouse dodge predators in the snow.

January 7 to January 12. Whitey the Owl tells Jumper the Hare about lemmings.

January 13 to January 20. Farmer Brown's boy goes ice fishing but his fish keep disappearing.

January 20 to January 28. Billy Mink and Reddy Fox are too wise to eat the poisoned food left by a hunter. [A shrew, a red squirrel, an owl and a crow are less lucky]

January 29 to January 31. Mother Brown's mouse turns out to be Flitter the Bat. Her son asks that he be allowed to stay in the barn over the winter.

February 2 to February 7. Farmer Brown's boy finds a hibernating jumping mouse, brings it back to life, and then lets it go to sleep again.

February 9 to February 19. Farmer Brown's boy looks for spruce gum. Later Peter Rabbit is fooled by the scent of skunk spruce.

February 20 to March 7. After Farmer Brown's boy stumbles upon Buster Bear's sleeping place, Buster Bear and Yowler the Bobcat swap dens.

March 9 to March 10. Yowler tries to raid Hooty the Owl's nest and regrets it. (Reprinted in The Crooked Little Path).

March 11 to March 20. Mr. and Mrs. Redshoulder the Hawk build a nest and are indignant when Redshoulder is blamed for the crimes of Sharpshin and shot at. (The nest-building section is partially reprinted with heavy editing in The Crooked Little Path. Redshoulder replaced with Red-tailed Hawk)

March 21 to April 2. Reddy Fox figures out where the marsh hawk hest is but gets more than he bargained when he tries to take advantage of that knowledge.

April 3 to April 4. Farmer Brown's boy is surprised when a garter snake falls from the roof. It turns out Redshoulder dropped it.

April 6 to May 2. Yellow Wing the Flicker fights off a rival, and with Mrs. Flicker reclaims his nest hole from Speckles the Starling, and defends chicks from Black Pussy. Sharpshin the Hawk still manages to get a foolish young flicker.

May 4 to October 24. Farmer Brown's boy and Flip the Fox Terrier take a trip on the man-bird to the West. Stories about encounters between Flip and/or Farmer Brown's boy and native animals are interspersed with tales told from an animal's perspective. The trip moves from the southwest desert (elf owls, desert foxes and gila monsters) and the prairie (prairie dogs, gophers, and pronghorn antelopes) to the mountains (pika, mountain goats, and elk).

October 26 to November 13. Peter Rabbit falls in love with a younger rabbit, Molly. Molly doesn't feel the same way (he's too old) and Peter rekindles his love for Mrs. Peter. 

November 14 to November 19. Danny and Nanny Meadow Mouse quarrel with Chicoree the Goldfinch over sunflower seeds.

November 20 to December 25. The adventures of Runty the young possum, adopted, temporarily, as Farmer Brown boy's pet when he is caught in the hen house. Learns to ride on the back of Flip the Fox Terrier. 

December 26 to December 31. Reddy and Mrs. Reddy hunt after a snow storm (continued in 1932).


The centerpiece of 1931 was the long trip Farmer Brown's boy (and Flip) took to the American West. While Farmer Brown's boy would take other trips (most notably to Trinidad), this was the most extensive. The trip allowed the boy and his dog to encounter first hand many animals (such as Yap Yap the Prairie Dog) that had been previously discussed second hand. The animals of the Green Meadows and Green Forest, who were distressed when they thought the man-bird had eaten Farmer Brown's boy, rejoiced upon his return.

The most shocking story of 1931, indeed perhaps the strangest Burgess story of all time, portrayed Peter Rabbit as a philanderer with eyes for another female. This was a move toward a more naturalistic depiction of the relationships between cottontails--in the wild they are completely opportunistic breeders with no enduring relationships--but Burgess was ultimately not willing to sacrifice the marriage between his two popular characters. Revealingly, Peter Rabbit was rejected as being too old (there is no evidence linking this story to Thornton Burgess's biography); we are a very long way from the boy character of 1912.

The anti-hunting theme was subdued in 1931, though a new threat to animals was introduced--poisoned bait--which Burgess identified as a highly criminal act, already illegal in Massachusetts. When it came to pests, however, Burgess made it clear that mass poisoning could be justifiable. This was addressed explicitly in a story about California ground squirrels (part of the American West adventure). In the story the "Twitchtails" return to their colony and are horrified to find all of their neighbors either dead or dying. Burgess explains:
Of course, the Twitchtails couldn't know that this killing of their friends had to be. It did, however. Otherwise the Squirrels would in time have become so destructive that there would have been no crops left and the people who owned the ranch and had planted the crops would have had to leave. Things like this happen all over the Great World and cannot be helped. It is too bad, but it is so. It always has been so and it always will be so. 
Indeed, the control of ground squirrel populations is still a hot issue in California environmental circles and poisoning is still common, despite the objections of animal rights organizations.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1930

The Stories

January 1. Farmer Brown's boy makes a new home for Happy Jack (continued from 1929)

January 2 to January 29. When Farmer Brown's boy finally figures out how to stop Chatterer the Red Squirrel from getting in the corn crib, Chatterer employs the talents of Timmy the Flying Squirrel.

January 30 to March 1. When Hooty the Owl steals Blacky the Crow's nest, he organizes a mob, with deadly consequences [two crows dead]. Later Mrs. Hooty must protect her owlet after it falls from the nest.

March 2 to March 15. Whitefoot the Wood Mouse makes his home in a surprising place--an old wasp nest.

March 17 to March 20. Farmer Brown's boy nurses Dipper the Grebe back to health.

March 21 to April 1. Flip the Fox Terrier learns about porcupines, the hard way. Later Paddy the Beaver gets pricked after a visit by Prickly Porky.

April 2 to April 26. The mallards arrive and Mrs. Quack relates her sorrows to Peter Rabbit. Later predators search unsuccessfully for mallard eggs and Mrs. Quack loses a duckling to Snapper the Turtle.

April 29 to May 1. Peter learns about wildflowers but is distressed when people come and pick them.

May 2 to May 28. After losing two children to Killy the Sparrow Hawk and Mr. Blacksnake, Danny and Nanny Meadow Mouse decide to move but get separated. Nanny ends up in an old oil can, accidentally tossed out of sight by Farmer Brown's boy. When he discovers what he has done he mounts the can in a tree. 

May 29 to June 3. Carol the Meadowlark is very tricky when it comes to hiding his nest.

June 4 to June 13. Peter Rabbit learns all about Starnose the Mole. Farmer Brown's boy accidentally ruins the mole's home.

June 14 to July 9. There are nine new muskrat children who must learn to be safe. Unfortunately, three of them don't learn quickly enough.

July 10 to July 23. Peter Rabbit learns about egrets and little blue herons. When an egret is shot, Farmer Brown's boy nurses it back to health.

July 24 to August 9. Farmer Brown's boy adopts Blacky the Crow's venturesome son and names him Jim. He proves an adept thief. Later the wild crows sentence him to death.

August 11 to October 6.  Impy the black chipmunk fights for a mate (Miss Frisky), outwits Shadow the Weasel, kills a snake, and becomes friends with Buster Bear.

October 7 to October 16. Lightfoot the Deer and a rival get their antlers locked. Farmer Brown's boy fetches a saw and saves their lives.

October 17 to November 10. Bobby Coon joins Jimmy Skunk as a guest to the Brown's shed. Farmer Brown's boy pets both of them. Later Bobby Coon enters the shed to escape from poachers. 

November 11 to November 24. Whitefoot the Wood Mouse sings.

November 25 to December 31. A young muskrat gets caught in a steel trap and must twist his foot off to escape. Now known as "Stumpy," he learns to live with three feet. Later he is horrified when his heedless sister is killed by Little Joe Otter.


In 1930 things got grim in the world of Burgess.  No more near misses for the foolish, heedless, and slow. In succession Burgess mowed down two young crows (Hooty the Owl), a mallard duckling (Snapper the Turtle), two young meadow mice (Killy the Sparrow Hawk, Mr. Blacksnake), three young muskrats (Hooty the Owl, Reddy the Fox, Whitetail the Marsh Hawk), and one more young muskrat (Little Joe Otter) for good measure. Stumpy was faced with gnawing off an entire foot not just a toe. Mrs. Quack's sorrows deepened (three of her grown children were killed the previous fall). And the court of crows passed a death sentence (not carried out) on poor Jim Crow, guilty of deserting crow kind for the community of humans--the enemies of crows. [The distasteful name, "Jim Crow, " was apparently what Burgess called a crow he kept as a pet when he was young.]

It is unknown why Burgess finally let a full dose of tragedy into his stories after nearly two decades restraining himself, but it certainly fit the spirit of the times. Burgess himself had lost much of his fortune (he had reportedly been one of the wealthiest citizens of Massachusetts [see comment]) in the stock market crash and August 1930 saw the end of the Radio Nature League. Burgess meanwhile had been frustrated in his attempts to sell a sponsored radio show to NBC, who rejected him because of the perception he was just for young people.

A reader of the 1930 stories would be justified in thinking that they were reading "The Adventures of Farmer Brown's Boy." The only major story lines in which he did not appear were the tales of the muskrat children, Impy the black chipmunk, and Whitefoot the singing Wood Mouse.  As in previous years, Farmer Brown's boy's behavior was not uniformly admirable, his curiosity about the appearance of star-nose mole babies leading him to damage the moles' home. Generally, though, he was his usual helpful, generous self, and a fierce defender of his family's property from hunters (who increasingly seemed to be able to tell when the Brown family was away).

Egret the White Heron (great egret) made his first appearance in the north (he had talked with Danny Meadow Mouse in the Sunny South a few years previous). This was a sign that the egret population was rebounding and returning to traditional ranges after the end of the plume trade. Nevertheless, his presence allowed Burgess to rehearse the sorrowful history of plume hunting and Egret was eventually shot ("the more rare and the more beautiful a bird is, the more some people want to kill it," thinks Farmer Brown's boy) as a reminder of the bird's continuing vulnerability.

Finally it is worth noting that the young trapper responsible for maiming Stumpy repented when he saw the pain and suffering he had caused (and the grim evidence of the muskrat foot left in the steel trap) and promised never to set another trap. And Burgess suggested that there would be no steel traps set in the Smiling Pool ever again. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Burgess Bedtime Stories 1929

The Stories

January 1 to January 12. Peter Rabbit must enter Farmer Brown's barn to escape from Reddy Fox and Hooty the Owl (continued from 1928).

January 14 to January 19. Reddy Fox loses a toe to a steel trap. Farmer Brown's boy is able to use that fact to exonerate Reddy from the accusation that he had stolen a neighbor's chicken.

January 21 to February 4. Spooky the Screech Owl moves into Farmer Brown's barn after a snow storm, to the dismay of the house mice.

February 5 to March 2. Danny and Nanny Meadow Mouse move from place to place to raise a family and to avoid predators (including Roughleg the Hawk and Blacky Crow). The fate of the eight meadow mice children is revealed--most of them were eaten by predators.

March 4 to March 20. The Wanderers (Evening Grosbeaks) tell Peter Rabbit about animals from distant regions, including Howler the Wolf, Billy the (burrowing) Owl, and Blackfoot the Ferret.

March 21 to April 2. After Farmer Brown's boy removes a jar from his head, Jimmy Skunk is suspected of stealing chickens (in fact rats are the culprits). Jimmy is a hero when he stops human thieves from stealing chickens from the hen house.

April 3 to April 12. Peter Rabbit helps Lightfoot the Deer avoid Buster Bear after Lightfoot loses his antlers.

April 13 to April 26. Honker the Goose and his flock arrive at the beaver pond. A "willful young gander" is almost caught by Yowler the Bobcat.

April 27 to May 15. The Wood Ducks arrive at the beaver pond and raise a family. A "disobedient duckling" is nearly eaten by grandfather frog.

May 16 to June 1. Peter Rabbit learns about Dipper the Grebe and his family. [Note: Burgess does not indicate the species of grebe but Dipper is probably intended to be a pie-billed grebe and not the red-throated grebe in Cady's illustration] (Partially reprinted in At the Smiling Pool).

June 3 to June 8. Welcome Robin battles his own reflection in the window. Farmer Brown's boy must figure out a way to stop him.

Newspaper layout artists could be surprisingly careless.
June 10 to June 19. The house wrens make their nest in a bag full of clothes pins. Later the wrens search for a chirping insect and discover it is a centipede with squeaky legs.

June 20 to June 28. Happy Jack Squirrel fights off Robber the Rat but his heroism is short-lived.

June 29 to July 1. Watersnakes are eating all the fish in the Smiling Pool.

July 2 to July 20. Peter Rabbit watches the Bob White family as it trains to avoid predators.

July 22 to July 31. Peter Rabbit meets Logcock the Pileated Woodpecker. (Partially reprinted in The Crooked Little Path).

August 1 to August 10. Cubby Bear, not longer under his mother's care, must fend for himself. He discovers a bee tree but is terrified when Buster Bear finds it too.  Even Farmer Brown's boy (watching the whole thing) gets stung.

August 12 to August 17. Peter Rabbit learns about dobson flies and frog hoppers.

August 19 to September 30. Introducing a new central Burgess character: Flip the Fox Terrier. Flip, a runaway from the city, makes typical city-slicker mistakes, leading to bee and wasp stings, skunk spray, a woodchuck confrontation, and toad poisoning. He also tries out Little Joe Otter's slide and chases Peter Rabbit.

October 1 to October 10. Peter Rabbit meets Thalessa the Ichneumon Fly. 

October 11 to October 23. Flip saves Striped Chipmunk from Shadow the Weasel. Shadow returns to the barn to slaughter rats.

October 24 to October 31. Flip saves the grouse family from a poacher. Meanwhile Sammy Jay proves a hero when he alerts the Bob Whites from the poacher even while being shot at. 

November 1 to November 12. Hunting season begins and this time it is Peter Rabbit who gets shot. Peter manages to avoid Reddy Fox and a hawk while running on three legs.

November 13 to November 27. Unc' Billy Possum tricks Flip the Fox Terrier and plans (unsuccessfully) to spend the winter in the hen house feasting on eggs.

November 28. Lightfoot is chased from the Green Forest by hounds and must avoid hunters on the Great Mountain until finally making back to the safety of the Green Forest for Thanksgiving. 

November 29 to November 30. Hooty accidentally hits Buster Bear in the back of the head while hunting.

December 2 to December 21. The foxes make elaborate plans to take domestic turkeys from a local farm but must deal with Hooty the Owl, Yowler the Bobcat, and a farmer with a gun.

December 23 to December 31. Spooky the Screech Owl takes over Happy Jack Squirrel's house in the Old Orchard.  (continued in 1930). 


In 1929 Farmer Brown's boy got a new dog, Flip the Fox Terrier. In a single stroke, Burgess changed the texture and balance of his stories forever. Bowser the Hound would recede to the background and the impetuous Flip, a dog with a whole lot to learn, would take center stage. In many ways Flip was a stand-in for the perspective of city folk (a large percentage of Burgess's readers).  But the adventures of Flip furthered pulled the focus of Burgess stories, for a while at least, into the world of the human.

1929 was also the year that Reddy Fox lost a toe to a steel trap. From this point on his tracks would reveal his identity, a fact that helped Farmer Brown's boy exonerate him when a neighboring farmer blamed Reddy for stealing chickens. Farmer Brown's boy's detective work in defense of accused animals would become its own genre of Burgess story in years to come.

Generally speaking, Farmer Brown's boy (thanks in part to the appearance of Flip), returned to center stage in 1929, involved in most of the story lines for the year, if sometimes just as a witness (and sometimes, as in the Bob White episode, an unknowing but potentially disruptive presence). 

The realities of predation also began to creep into Burgess stories during 1929. While "disobedient" and "willful" animal children still largely managed to escape with their lives, this kind of grace would soon end. A warning shot was Burgess's matter-of-fact accounting of the ultimate fates of Danny and Nanny Meadow Mouse's eight children, the survival of which had been the focus of stories for the previous couple of weeks. Only two survived, five were the victims of Roughleg the Hawk, Hooty the Owl,  Reddy Fox, Old Man Coyote respectively, and the status of two were unknown (Burgess the newspaperman just reporting the facts...).  Rather than something to be regretted (Danny and Nanny could have cared less--they already had new children to worry about), this helped Burgess (via Farmer Brown's boy) defend his predator characters. Without their help the Green Meadows would be over-run with meadow mice.

There were poachers on Brown family land again in 1929 looking for grouse, bob whites, squirrels and even rabbits. Peter Rabbit was the only shooting victim. The Thanksgiving story featured Lightfoot the Deer chased by dogs, a scenario that Burgess would return to repeatedly in future years. Even in the 1920s it was illegal to allow dogs to chase deer. Future stories would not end as happily.