Monday, August 29, 2022

Walter R. Brooks, Freddy and Mr. Camphor (1944)

Freddy's tired of lying around in the heat one summer, so he responds to a wanted ad in the Bean Home News to take a caretaker position at the estate of Mr. Camphor, a rich guy (how he got rich is never explained).  It's all very idyllic, but there are two problems: first, Simon and his family have taken residence in the attic and are chewing up Camphor's paintings.  Second, and more importantly, remember The Man With The Black Mustache and His Dirty-Faced Son (“he stays dirty and throw stones because his father tells him that's the manly thing to do.”  Masculinity doesn't get more toxic than that)?  They made a tiny cameo appearance in Perilous Adventure, but here they're more consequential.  Their names are Zebedee and Horace Winch.  They sort of barge into the estate, aided by the fact that the cook is Zebedee's estranged wife, and what's worse, they frame Freddy for theft and get him fired.  Oh no!  Will this problem be solved?  And will Zebedee and Horace be at least semi-reformed by the end?  Probably.  There's also a pair of toads, Elmo and Waldo, who have been displaced from their home and whom Freddy has to help. 

(As a side note, I want to point out that, throughout the series, Brooks leans REALLY hard on the “if you want to get someone to do something, pretend you want them not to do it—the whole “Tom Sawyer painting the fence” business.  It's fine, but it IS kind of comical how often it comes up.)

There's also another little subplot, which only comes up in the second half of the book and feels a bit tacked on, where Mr. Webb is exhorting all the insects to aid the war effort by not eating farmers' crops this year, and there's a horsefly named Zero, who had made brief appearances in previous books, who's trying to sabotage the whole thing—not, as far as I can tell, for any ideological reasons beyond nihilistic vandalism, but that's enough.  He's a fairly unpleasant character, until Waldo eats him.  Yup.  I'm fairly sure this is the first active participant in the action of these books who actually dies.  But it's kind of weird, because this takes place at a big insect meeting, and dude, you expect the toads will be satisfied with ONE fly?  Hmm.

On that note, Charles is also present, and “roosters occasionally like to vary their diet of grain with a nice fat bug, and there were many present who had lost friends and even had close relatives gobbled up in this heartless way.”  The word “heartless” is the most interesting thing to me, because previously, you could have argued that, well, sure some animals get eaten, but that's just in the nature of things.  In one of the previous books, I should've made a note of this, one character says that they don't blame another for trying to eat them because “it's his nature.”  But when you characterize this behavior as “heartless,” you're really just emphasizing the reading of it where eating other animals really IS murder.  Weird.

“If more poets would seek the advice of cows, they would be less criticized for impractical behavior.”  How true that is.

One other thing: this doesn't really mean anything, but there's a structural error in the book's layout that might be worth noting.  I mean, it's noticeable anyway, if not notable, and it may or may not actually be worth noting, but I'm DOING it.  So there.  The illustrations in these books are very standardized: in addition to the cover painting, there's a small line drawing at the start of each chapter and a full-page one at some point during the chapter.  Naturally, each of these illustrates something therein.

Except here, where most of the title illustrations go with the previous chapter.  The problem is, the pictures for chapters three and four—the first of Freddy lying on the upper deck of the houseboat, the second of Freddy, Elmo, and Waldo confronting Simon—are actually both illustrating chapter three.  So then the one for chapter five goes with chapter four, and so on.  The picture accompanying the last chapter, seventeen, comes from chapter sixteen, and seventeen doesn't have its own bespoke picture.  SHRUG.

Oh, and if it's not clear, I really liked this, although, as noted, I thought the “patriotic bugs” thing felt REALLY tacked-on.  But OMG, when Freddy's framed?  My heart was in my mouth!


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