Saturday, September 10, 2022

Walter R. Brooks, Freddy the Magician (1947)

(Doesn't that cover look sort of wrong?  Like they accidentally pushed the "by Walter R. Brooks" too far down?  I'm sure the 'y' isn't meant to be dangling into the illustration like that.  Weird.)

Freddy is impressed by a magician, Signor Zingo, working in Mr. Boomschmidt's circus.  In spite of being a good magician, he's a pretty dodgy guy, and when he's fired for embezzlement, his estranged (...or IS he?!?) rabbit, Presto, agrees to teach Freddy some tricks.  Zingo in the meantime is hanging around in Centerboro and being a real prick, using sleight-of-hand tricks to blackmail the hotel owner into not charging him (because if he does, Zingo will reveal that, allegedly, there are bugs in the food) and messing up Freddy's own magic show.  But, natch, Freddy gets his own back when he and his pals work to sabotage Zingo's own show.  And that is approximately it.

Zingo is definitely the most hatable villain to appear in the series so far.  He is NO GOOD.  And all the magic stuff is fun; while I don't suppose it would get much of anywhere on Penn and Teller Fool Us, it's still clever, though it's the usual paradox in these books: a lot of Freddy's tricks involve the cooperation of small animals, which in the real world would fool people, but in this world you feel like everyone should be aware of the possibility that mice or insects are involved.  Be that as it may, the climactic magical showdown is a real highlight.

However, I do think the book has a few somewhat unsatisfactory aspects which keep it out of the top tier of the series.  Firstly, there's Presto the rabbit: yes, maybe he's a villain after all, but his character gets absolutely no resolution: when no longer needed, he simply disappears from the narrative, which isn't great.

A bigger issue, though: this book also features the return of Jinx's sister Minx.  Who is obnoxious!  Kind of.  To an extent.  You know, I didn't think she was actually THAT bad in Freddy and the Ignormus, and here I feel like, when the other animals try to shut her up by tricking her into thinking she's been turned invisible by magic, we haven't really seen enough of her being insufferable for it not to feel a bit unmotivated and even mean-spirited.  But even if you don't agree with that—well, she really needs an arc, and she doesn't get one: after she realizes what's happened, she briefly betrays the animals by helping out Zingo.  After that, you feel like she needs to do something redemptive, but she never does; she just, again, vanishes from the narrative.  Even if you think that's not a big deal for Presto, it seems like it really IS for her.  Why even bother including her if you're never going to do anything meaningful with her?  I don't remember if she makes future appearances, but if she does, I am hoping for something more substantial.

Random observation time!

“The more you pat him off, the more determined he is to buy.  It's like being in love.”

Mrs. Wiggins said: “I've never been in love.”

“Well, neither have I,” said Freddy.  “But the principle's the same.”


These books are really not concerned with romance, notwithstanding that stuff about valentines in Pied Piper and a few of Charles' and Henrietta's daughters getting married.  So WHY did you bring this up, Brooks?  One never felt the characters' lack of romantic attachments as a problem until you decided to highlight them!  Also, this emphasizes how mysterious it is that the definitely unmarried Wiggins is named “Mrs.”  Maybe it's just a cow naming standard, but it's still weird.  Maybe she—and her sisters, apparently—all got divorced after loveless marriages?  Only why would they keep the “Mrs.” in that case?  Clearly, this is a fruitful line of thought to pursue.

“Burglary?” said Jinx.  “Boy, I've always wanted to burgle.  Runs in the blood; my father went into burgling when he lost his voice and had to give up singing.”  You probably wouldn't think much of this, but it's cool because it actually provides continuity: in a previous book (<i>The Bean Home News,</i> I think), Jinx made a throwaway comment about how his father had to stop singing after being hit in the neck with a brick or something, so now we're learning what happened next.  Brooks does have pretty good command over his world.

“We let 'em out,” said Quik.  “Poor things, they were almost suffocated.  I hope it was all right to do that, Freddy.  We thought it was cruelty to animals or something.”

“Cruelty to bugs,” said Freddy.  “Which is just as bad, though lots of people don't think so.”

I love Freddy's humane attitude, which is clearly based on Brooks' own!  Right on!

“Would have let you have it before [the pistol], but I wanted to try it out,” said the owl.  “Figured if I could get the hang of the thing, 'twould simplify hunting.”  Old Whibley wants to be able to shoot mice with a gun. pretty bizarre.


Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

Perhaps Mrs. Wiggins is a widow? A type that is glad her husband kicked the bucket?

7:33 AM  

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