Tuesday, September 06, 2022

Walter R. Brooks, Freddy the Pied Piper (1946)

At the beginning, there's love in the air, maybe: “Today was St. Valentine's Day, and he had hoped the mailman would bring him some valentines.”  Woo!  Then again, maybe not: “It was a nice dream.  He was opening stacks of valentines, and each valentine had a dollar bill in it.  It was rather like Christmas, only better because there were no names signed to the valentines and so there wouldn't be any thank-you letters to write.”  That is very mercenary of you, Freddy.  Also, the series seems to be gradually opening up to the idea of the animals, at least potentially, having more money: when the bank was established, it was kind of understood that none of them had anything more than occasionally lost coins that they found, but now it's a little more open.

So the idea here is that Mr. Boomschmidt (whose first name, we here learn, is Orestes—that's fun) wasn't able to operate his circus during wartime conditions, and as a result there was a kind of diaspora of animals, which definitely sounds extremely dangerous and illegal, but given the way we act with regard to firearms, I guess it's not too bad, relatively speaking (it's kind of strange that Freginald makes absolutely no appearance here—I think Brooks wrote him out because he was too similar to Freddy himself, but you'd think he'd still rate at least a cameo).  Anyway, when the rhinoceros, Jerry, brings news of this to the Bean farm, it's up to them to rescue Leo from an evil pet shop owner.  After that, it's time to save the circus, so money must be raised: there's a plague of mice occupying Centerboro houses, and not enough cats, so Freddy comes up with the idea of bringing a bunch of cats from out of town and renting them to people who want to get rid of mice (“the cats were nervous when they saw him, but they all came in, with the exception of a scrawny brindled cat named Louis, who ran off and never came back.”  Louis I hardly knew ye).  However—and I'm pretty sure this is as close as the series will ever come to addressing the issue of animal-on-animal violence—the Bean mice are really mad at Freddy about this (although they seem to just be mad about the mice being chased out; the cats eating some of them never comes into it).

“But my goodness, these mice in Centerboro aren't like you boys.  They used to be pretty well behaved.  They stuck to crumbs and no squeaking after ten p.m. And no chewing the furniture and so on.  But this last year they've sort of gone wild.”

Is that mouse-racist?  Maybe.  But it's a good illustration of the animals' duel identities in these books: if, as we've seen, the mice can talk and have human intelligence, then you could talk to and reason with them.  But this somehow isn't seen as an option; they're like ordinary mice in that they infest your house and what can you do?  Well, Old Whibley figures out an equitable solution, though it may not be wholly satisfactory:

Cousin Augustus said grumpily that it was better than nothing.  At least the mice wouldn't starve or freeze.  “But at the best,” he said, “it's nothing but a concentration camp.  And you're making a lot of money out of it.”

Do we have to point out the difference between denotation and connotation here?  Denotatively, a concentration camp is just a place where people are gathered, or concentrated.  And, yet the connotations in a post-World War II world, and especially in 1946...ya mighta wanted to rephrase that, Brooks.  I'm not saying; I'm just saying.

Speaking of eating mice, Jinx has this to say:

I gave up birds years ago.  Feathers tickle your nose and make you sneeze so you can't tell what you're eating.  Mice now—they're really tasty.  But I gave them up too.  I like 'em personally, you understand, and it don't seem right to eat 'em.  Kind of abusing their friendship, isn't it?

Kind of.  But this begs the question (yes, I said “beg the question” in a non-logical-fallacy context; deal with it): if it's not mice and it's not birds—what DOES he eat, exactly?  There's never any mention of generic cat food in these books, and it's impossible to imagine that that would be a farm cat at the time's diet anyway, so what?  You've dietary-restrictioned yourself into a corner, man!

ANYWAY, all of this leads to the last part of the book, where Freddy & co have to convince Mr. Boomschmidt to accept the money, which he's too proud to do.  So there you go!

It's kind of not normally how these books go, to have one problem that's solved and then the B-plot is just added on after.  Definitely feels outside the norm.  Still, it works pretty well.  I do have to say it, though: more of the farm, less of the circus is my preference.  You can't say that Boomschmidt is like a Cousin-Oliver-type character, given that he was introduced right near the beginning, in the fourth book, but still—I'd say a little of him goes a long way!

There's also a short, somewhat superfluous plotline where a duck named Edward from the Witherspoon farm comes over to try to court Alice and Emma, and starts acting all obnoxious and annoying Uncle Wesley, until Freddy chases him off by telling him that the Witherspoons want to eat him.  I dunno; just straight-up lying to a dude doesn't seem like a very clever trick.  I only bring this up because later the animals sing a song about this incident to the tune of “Froggy Went A-Courting,” including this rather morbid bit:

The last that came was old Witherspoon, o dear!

With an axe in his hand came old Witherspoon 

And chopped off his head by the light of the moon, o dear! H'm-h'm.

Seems like kind of an excessive reaction to a mildly annoying dude, but sure, why not?

At one point, Freddy write a poem that's a series of limericks, but then he throws it out, and “that's why you will look in vain for this poem in The Complete Poetical Works of F. Bean.”  But I am here to tell you that I checked, and this poem is indeed included in The Collected Poems of Freddy the Pig.  Busted!

And to give Brooks his due, at one point the characters are talking about bad luck superstitions: “We ought to look for good signs instead of bad ones.  You ought not to go around being scared all the time; you ought to be hopeful.  But I can't think of a single thing that's supposed to be good luck.”  But goshdarnit, no one can think of any, and I'm yelling, four-leaf clovers, dammit!  Ya missed a trick, Brooks!  Only to read a few lines later: “I don't know why none of them thought of four-leaved clovers.”  Okay, Brooks, you win this round.

One last thing while I'm rambling.  These sentences, both in the first chapter: “He certainly wouldn't try to buck those drifts in his old Ford today”  “Here's some Kleenex Mrs. Bean brought me.”  Brand names!  Two of them!  I think they're the only ones in the book, but they really stood out to me, as that sort of thing is not typical, I think.  What does it mean?


5 Comments:

Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

Oh. I asumed from the title this one will be about Freddy traveling to fairy tale land or something.

7:39 PM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. pontificated to the effect that...

The closest you'll find to fairy tale land in these books is in Freddy Goes to the North Pole when they visit Santa Claus, although the string of science fiction books later in the series DO bring about their own new level of reality.

4:50 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

So no story where Freddy learns the dark arts? Huh. For whatever reason I asumed at some point this series will go crazy and introduce magical elements (faries, wands etc.) I honestly don't know why...

1:37 PM  
Blogger Gregory pontificated to the effect that...

"The Complete Poetical Works of F. Bean" is interesting because it makes Freddy's relationship with Mr. Bean explicitly familial, although who knows how much is supposed to be read into that.

6:08 PM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. pontificated to the effect that...

He's referred to as "Frederick Bean" at a few points in the series, which, yeah, is a little weird, especially when you compare that to "Mrs. Wiggins." What do these different lineages mean?

4:28 AM  

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