Monday, August 01, 2022

Walter R. Brooks, The Story of Freginald (1936)

So, to speak first of the titles: there's this one, then there's The Clockwork Twin, and then Wiggins for President, and after that all the titles start with “Freddy.”  Wiggins for President became Freddy the Politician, but for some reason, the other two have seemingly been change-resistant: they were reprinted as Freddy and Freginald and Freddy and the Clockwork Twin, but you never hear those alternate titles, and the current Overlook Press reprints use the originals.  Who knows?

Well, it's interesting, sort of, to see Brooks branching out, even though, when you come down to it, it's basically more of the same.  Freginald is a young bear.  He has a kind of lonely childhood because his parents named him “Louise” (because their grandfather suggested it and they were required to take his advice).  He spends a lot of time writing poetry.  Then he joins a circus, because what would possibly draw more crowds than a bear named Louise?!?  This extremely dubious idea is repeated at length (as you'd expect, soon enough he changes his name to Freginald, after his parents' respective wishes for him to be named Fred and Reginald).  This is the introduction of Mr. Boomschmidt's circus, which will feature heavily in the series going forward.  This is also the first book where animals and humans can talk to each other—just casually introduced like it ain't no thang, but it was definitely a good idea for the series going forward; it opens up A LOT of story possibilities.

So, a bunch of circus stuff happens.  Well...sort of circus stuff.  Boomschmidt's circus has TONS AND TONS of animals.  I noted the ones that are mentioned down, just for fun: lions, tigers, leopards, elephants, rhinos, hippos, monkeys, snakes, buffaloes, seals, zebras, kangaroos, eagles, gnus, alligators, reindeer.  “This circus is more an animal circus than anything else,” he notes with dry understatement.  As is the usual way, there's not a huge amount of story.  Freginald mainly hangs out with Leo the lion, with whom he has a relationship more or less analogous to Freddy and Jinx.  There's one somewhat eyebrow-raising plot point where the two of them meet a farm full of neo-confederate animals.  Not in any way an embellishment: “they formally swore undying allegiance to the Confederacy and agreed to defend this planation, the last unconquered territory of the C.S.A., even from the armed forces of the Federal Government.”  There's not anything particularly ideological about it, although they do imply that because Leo is from Africa, he might make a good slave.  Also, at one point the imprisoned Freginald and Leo antagonize them by singing “Marching through Georgia.”  True, weird story.

So that happens and a few other things.  Freddy doesn't show up 'til near the end, to help solve a mystery, and actually plays a minimal role in the proceedings.  He could easily have been cut out.  Also, not to keep harping on this, but there's a part near the end where Freginald writes a poem about a Leopard who likes eating ham all the time, and Freddy gets offended by this, and eventually he rewrites it to add anti-ham sentiment and they're friends again, but DUDE!  What about the Leopard?  You've gotta see him as, like, a serial killer, but the implications are never even lightly hinted at.  WEIRD.

I'm not actually sure if I read this one as a child.  I remembered nothing of the plot; I DID remember a poem Freginald writes where the refrain goes “Boomschmidt Boomschmidt boom boom boom” (was Brooks influenced by “The Congo” here?  I always want to add “a roaring epic ragtime tune from the mouth of the Congo to the mountains of the Moon”), but it's entirely possible that this is reprised in another book.  If not, then I definitely read this one, or more accurately, my dad would've read it to me, if he did.  If so, who knows.  I enjoyed it, but I do think Brooks is better off focusing more on his cast of farm animals.


Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

You made me google "Marching through Georgia". Very fun tune.

12:42 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

Much like the Tintin comics [from the 30's annd 40's] I can imagine that these stories may be seen as interesting little time capsules that today gets an extra layer of representing the mindset and values of the time. You still enjoy what's good about it but you look at certain things from the distance and use it to get perspective about the piriot.

12:50 AM  
Blogger GeoX, one of the GeoX boys. pontificated to the effect that...

I quite agree. Even the weird stuff is culturally interesting.

My grandmother mostly had okay politics, but she referred to the Civil War as the "War of Northern Aggression" (which is what Neo-Confederates who want to pretend it had nothing to do with slavery call it), and she absolutely HATED "Marching through Georgia"--which, come to think of it, is probably the only thing she had in common with General Sherman.

11:21 AM  

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