Thursday, July 28, 2022

Walter R. Brooks, Freddy Goes to the North Pole (1930)

This was originally titled More to and Again.  What the HECK, man?!?

I’ve gotta be up front here: after being not-super-impressed by Freddy Goes to Florida, I kind of thought I’d have to have some degree of patience to get to where the series really got good.  I was prepared to dig in a little.  

But guess what?  Freddy Goes to the North Pole fucking bangs.  I am STAGGERED by how much better it is than its predecessor.  No idea what happened in Brooks’ head, but it was a good thing.  I don’t know if I can even articulate this, but I shall try.

To start with, the characterizations are much better.  Not for everyone, but you can definitely see Freddy, Jinx, and Mrs. Wiggins (the latter two being I believe the second and third most prominent series characters) becoming much more distinct.  For one thing, Freddy learns to read (from Jinx, who allegedly learned it from sitting on Mrs. Bean’s lap while she was reading magazines), and there’s a lot more of his poetry (which there was a little of in the first book).  That’s one of the main things about him.  He’s supposed to be a kind of intellectual (and the thing about Jinx teaching him is sort of retconned later in the same book, where we get the impression that he’s been reading to everyone for a long time).  

This is also a much more narratively ambitious book than Florida.  Here, we start with an extended section about the farm animals starting a company to offer guided tours to other animals, which is fairly delightful.  Speaking of tours for cows: “One place was a meadow on an abandoned farm that had very thick sweet grass, and another had historic interest for cows because over a hundred years ago a very famous cow had fought and killed a bear.”  THAT IS GREAT.  But it weighs on Freddy, allegedly:

Freddy had become very serious during the past year, and rather dignified.  Once he had been a carefree, light-hearted young pig, always playing jokes or writing poetry or inventing new games, but the cares of business had weighed him down, and nowadays he almost never even smiled.  Which was too bad, since a pig’s face is built for smiling, and Freddy never looked so handsome as when he was squealing with laughter.

This is a weird character thing that comes up a few times but then never pays off in any way, and definitely does not alter his character moving forward.  I dunno.

At any rate, at some point they decide to go to the North Pole.  What?  It has to be admitted that there’s a different sense of reality here: going to Florida might be kinda implausible, but we have leapfrogged directly into the realm of the flatly impossible.  And Brooks isn’t fucking around with this “North Pole” business; they have to cross the Arctic Ocean and everything.  Freddy and a few others go first, but when they seem to have disappeared, a crow, Ferdinand, returns to warn everyone that they have apparently maybe sort of been kidnapped by sailors, and a rescue party has to be formed, which ultimately—after a few adventures—reaches the North Pole, and finds that our friends have not been captured; rather, they’re just chilling out at Santa Claus’ place up there.  What?  Oh, yeah, and I should mention that on the way they find a pair of human children, Ella and Everett, and rescue them from their abusive guardians.  I think they will feature…very little in later books.

(There are actually a bunch of new characters introduced here that could become regulars but most of whom I think are just gonna disappear: in addition to Sebastian, there’s a goat named Bill; another horse, Hank’s Uncle William, who used to be in the circus; a hedgehog named Cecil; and a bear who refuses to say his name because it sounds funny until he decides he’s going to be named “Peter.”  That has the feel of a joke with no punchline.  Oh, and also, there is a mention of Robert having brought two young alligators(!), Armando and Juanita (Cuban alligators?), Back up from Florida.)

Anyway, yeah, Santa Claus.  I feel like in general, later books wouldn’t reach quite this level of goofiness.  Still, it’s well done.  A lot of the traditional Santa things, like elves and Mrs. Claus, are missing, but there is a pretty damn good sense of festivity.  Not quite on the level of The Wind in the Willows, but hey.  

So what’s the conflict?  Well, remember those sailors who allegedly had kidnapped our pals?  Well, they’re not really villains exactly, but they have their own ideas about how a business should be run, and they’re forcing their philosophy on Santa.  You may be wondering: if there are no elves, who makes toys?  I’m glad you asked:

You see, these people that make the toys come from all over the United States.  They’re people who used to work in offices and factories, and who have got too old, or are not well enough, to work so hard.  When Santa Claus hears about anybody like that, he sends for him and brings him up here.  He used to let these people work when they wanted to.  If they wanted to stop for a while and play games or read or rest, why, they just did it, and then by and by went back and worked some more.

GOD, that is such a utopian, humanist vision.  I love it.  But there’s a problem: thanks to the sailors putting ideas of efficiency into practice…well:

Then the people in the workshops used to make the toys any way they wanted to.  If they wanted to paint a top rabbit pink and give him a tail like a squirrel’s, they did it.  But now each kind of toy has to be made in just one way, and one workman cuts it out, and then next paints the body and passes it on to the third, who paints in the eyes, and so on.  Each workman does just one thing.

Let me ask you: is Walter R. Brooks a Marxist?  Not saying he is and not saying he isn’t, but he sure is perfectly describing the Marxist concept of alienation here.  Dang, man.

Anyway, eventually the sailors are chased off and the animals return to the farm and bob’s yer uncle.

One thing you do note here is that, while Brooks really does a great job of creating a world where you don’t think about the real-world implications of anything that’s happening, there’s this weird, unresolved tension about predator and prey animals.  This was also present in Florida, with Jinx not eating any of the mice because he promised not to, making it very clear that in the past he ate the shit out of sentient mice, and would again in the future given half a chance.  As one of them says to him here: “You’d be touchy if your father and six aunts and fourteen uncles and nine brothers and sisters had been eaten by cats.”  Jeez, dude.  And you’re just chillin’ with him here?  And there’s another part, where Robert and Jinx have been kidnapped by wolves (no, I don’t love wolves being used as villains, but what can you do?).  And Charles is hungry, so he’s pecking in the dirt until he finds some ants, and he eats some before realizing, hey, maybe they can help us!  So he enlists their help, being unhelpfully vague about what happened to some of their number.  Yikes.  These are the things you cannot think too hard about.

Is it not clear why I like this so much?  Oh well.  This from a part where the farm animals are giving lectures to wild animals to raise money.  That’s probably about as nutty as it sounds.

Of course Charles couldn’t do all the lecturing.  “He gives himself too much,” said Henrietta.  So Uncle William talked on “Life Under the ‘Big Top’,” which was recollections of his year with a circus, and Bill had a humorous talk, “Here and There in Rural New York,” which was very well received, and Jack spoke on “Our Civilization: Whither Bound?” which was rather philosophical and not so popular among the younger animals.  After a time he gave that up and talked on “How to Live with Human Beings,” a good many of the facts for which he got from the mice.  Ferdinand talked on “Life in a Southern Tree-Top,” and Mrs. Wiggins had two topics: “The Inside of the Dairy Business” and “From Cow-Barn to White House,” which told of her trip to Washington, where she shook hands with the President.

THAT IS JUST AWESOME.  Well, admittedly, “Our Civilization: Whither Bound?” does kind of like one of those old (and new, alas) books about how the African and Asiatic hordes are going to overwhelm white culture, but what the hey.


Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

The orginal titles sound like he was trying to jump on Hobbit bandwagon...

I am somehow suprised I never heared about these books before. I google it and only few where published in Poland long time ago, with the Pig being named "Fryderyk" (The first book about Flroida is in fact tile here "Wakacje Fryderyka" - Fryderics Vacation) I'm suprise that for a series with this many books it never got - from what I can see - animated or movie adaptations.

Looking forward to more of your reviews of this series. I would love to explore it one day :)

6:46 PM  
Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

Ok, Ok! "Farmer Bean" do sound tad familiar but that maybe just a popular generic American Farmer name in childreen fiction.

7:01 PM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

Yeah, I was going to note at some point: it's VERY odd that, as far as I can see, the Freddy books never were made into movies or cartoons or anything. You JUST get the books, as far as I can see. Which is kind of refreshing it's so unusual, but...weird.

8:13 PM  

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