Thursday, September 01, 2022

Walter R. Brooks, Freddy and the Popinjay (1945)

So the “popinjay” in question is actually just a robin, name J.J. Pomeroy.  He's near-sighted, so Freddy suggests that he have the local optometrist make him special custom-sized glasses.  Then, he and his wife stumble into their own business, where they're all dolled up with extra feathers and things, and they sit on the hats of ladies who want to be chic (because you see there's a law against having dead birds on hats, but nothing wrong with live ones).  In the meantime, the B plot—which is actually probably the A plot, in spite of the title—involves Mr. Bean's neighboring farmer, Zenas Witherspoon, and his son Jimmy.  Witherspoon was mentioned a few times in previous books, but not much characterized or anything.  Here, he's miserly to an extreme degree, terrorizing his family.  His son Jimmy has become mean and maladjusted due to being ostracized by the other kids for always looking like a hobo.  He spends his free time throwing rocks at the Bean animals, to everyone's distress.  But through a gradual process, he learns to be nicer, and his dad eventually learns that he should be at least somewhat less stingy.  There's also a C plot, involving a wildcat named Mac: the animals don't trust wildcats, not least because when Mac's children were in a school (taught by Peter the bear's brother, Joseph), they ate some of the rabbit pupils (no, we have never before seen animals eating other animals presented quite this explicitly).  But Mac claims that they're reformed, and wants them to have another chance.  The Pomeroys realize that they've been getting a bit up themselves with their newfound celebrity, and decide to be normal ol' robins again.  And that is that.

One thing that you do have to give this book: all the plots are thematically unified in a way you rarely if ever see—can and should people/animals change their natures?  Michael Cart declares this one “a tad too moralistic,” and “one of my least favorite titles in the series,” and I can kinda see where he's coming from, but I think there's still a lot to be said for it.  I don't love the “know your place” message of the Pomeroys' story, and the stuff with Mac ends so indeterminately that it's hard to know what to do with it (I don't if he'll reappear in future books--'twould be interesting), but I think Brooks actually shows considerable emotional intelligence in Jimmy's story.  It has a poignancy to it.  His father's reform—which is gone through rather hurriedly near the book's end—isn't psychologically realistic, but Brooks effects the change in a fairly reasonable manner:

Well of course when a man has been stingy for forty years he doesn't turn into a spendthrift overnight, and Mr. Witherspoon didn't just untie his purse strings and invite his family to help themselves.  But he did change a little.  For after he has bought Jimmy that shirt, and the haircut, he found that he felt different.

Anyway, Ebenezer Scrooge's conversion isn't realistic either, and no one complains about that but weirdo libertarians.  Let's be serious here.

Check this out: “By and by the pig woke up.  He had been dreaming that the two boys, Adoniram and Byram, were still living on the farm.”  I'm kind of amazed Brooks brings them up at this late juncture.  You might have thought, oh, Brooks just kind of retconned them out of the story, and they will never be spoken of more.  But nope!  He wants you to know that he hasn't forgotten about them; he merely declines to tell his readers what happened to them.  

Gotta love this:

Let us march this very moment.  And I, Charles, will lead you.  Let us, beneath the banner of Bean, descend upon the stronghold of the Witherspoons and destroy it utterly, so that not one stone shall remain upon another.  Let us—

I don't think any of us expected this series to turn into a medieval epic poem.  Love the Biblical allusion, though.

For no particular reason: “Raymond was the head woodchuck on the Bean farm.  It was a pretty responsible position.”  Well, obviously.

“So then Mrs. Church laughed out loud for quite a long time.  But at last she said: “You always could turn a neat phrase when you wanted to, William Bean.  Though it's thirty years since I've heard you turn one.”  Item!  Mrs. Church and Mr. Bean were a hot ticket in their youth!

2 Comments:

Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

All I have to say is: While I was reading this review and I stopped and wnet "Huh, I wonder should I mention there is a New Testament quote thrown into mix there or will it make me sound like a zelot in Geox ears?" and then you came to the same conclision, so I'm not overinterpreting there :) This line feels obscure by modern popculture standards.

2:47 PM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. pontificated to the effect that...

There's a good song by Wovenhand--aka David Eugene Edwards, formerly of 16 Horsepower--called "Not One Stone."

9:04 AM  

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