Monday, September 19, 2022

Walter R. Brooks, Freddy Plays Football (1949)

Well, he does play football--good ol' Murkin football, natch, not yer Euro commie soccer--but that is very much the b plot of the book, almost completely segregated from the a plot, which involves Mrs. Bean's alleged long-lost brother, Aaron Doty, who has suspiciously reappeared to claim the half of the inheritance that he's supposed to get (also we learn for the first time that Mrs. Bean's first name is Martha; if I haven't mentioned it, which I don't think I have, Mr. Bean is William).  But is this guy, who's constantly telling tall tales about his greatness and demurring when called on to demonstrate any of his amazing skills, actually who he says he is?  Boy, THERE's a poser for you.  So there's that.  In the meantime, Centerboro's high school football team is always losing to their rival, Tushville, which has a bunch of flagrantly non-high-school-age ringers on it (people joke that CHS stands for (“Can't Hope to Score,” which seems believable).  So Freddy enrolls in the school so he can join the team and helps them out.  He's briefly wanted by the law when he steals the five thousand dollars that the Beans are supposed to pay to Doty—because it would ruin them—but then he gets exonerated and gets to play, joined in the climactic game by a bunch of other animals.

There's an amusing part where the Webbs hitch a ride with a woman on her way to Hollywood, where “they met several prominent West Coast spiders” and Mr. Webb appears in a movie; when they come back, they learn the truth about Doty's nefarious plan (in which he is aided by the also-nefarious Mr. Garble).  Also, two brief appearances from characters from Freddy and the Popinjay which excited me to an unreasonable extent: Jimmy Witherspoon hadn't appeared since but here he's identified as CHS's punter.  Also, we see Mac the wildcat playing a football-like game with the other animals; apparently he really was reformed, which is nice to see.  And I loved the shit out of this bit, the context of which is that there's a manhunt on for Freddy, and the police are detaining random pigs thought to be him:  “The troopers were sore too because they got kidded a lot; people would watch them drive by and call out: 'Oh, look at the two pigs!' or 'Which one is the trooper?' and such things.”  Dang!  These Centerboroans are antifa!

Still, I wouldn't place this in the upper tier of Freddy books, because the way the central conflict is portrayed just doesn't work for me.  Right, so the Beans are feeling really bummed about having to give this money to Doty (“Wouldn't it be awful if he had to sell Mrs. Wiggins!” Freddy exclaims at one point, which raises some pretty darned troubling questions).  But Doty isn't portrayed as being in an adversarial relationship with the Beans.  They may be annoyed that he sleeps late and doesn't want to do any work, but to the extent that we see them together, he's still keeping up the image at least of a fraternal relationship with his supposed sister.  So...like, how is this working?  He's pretending to like them, so how is that going to work when he destroys their lives?  Wouldn't the Beans be likely to say, look, we can't pay you the whole thing now, so how about we do it slowly in installments?  And if he objected to that, the jig would probably sorta be up?  Whenever I think about it, it makes yet less sense.

Also, there's this idea Brooks emphasizes pretty heavily, that even though the animals don't trust Doty, he's actually kind of a fun guy a lot of the time, and they can't help but like him.  Brooks is fairly big on the idea of reformed villains—you've got Aunt Effie, the Winches, the Witherspoons, Aunt Minerva, Mac, and—one could argue—Uncle Wesley, so you kind of expect something like that here.  Not that Brooks HAS to do that, but it would be much more edifying than a letter from Doty at the very lend that makes all the animals conclude, who knows, maybe he wasn't all bad, whatever.  It's not a very satisfying denouement, I've gotta tell you.

And I have to say, the climactic football game is a much smaller deal than I remembered it being.  That can happen with books you first encounter in childhood.  Still, for years I retained the following verse from one of Freddy's poems:

Blackbeard the Tush-villain

Had a wife and two chillun

took them out to see the game

Brought 'em back sore and lame

And it turns out my memory was largely correct (it's actually “Brought 'em down to see the game/went back sore and lame”).  I'm so cool!  Ain't that the truth!  Ha ha ha!

3 Comments:

Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

Not sure did I got your complain about Doty right. Is your problem that the story tell us that the guy is a villian, but dosen't realy do anything that villanus and is overall a nice guy, or that he is a villain but the story makes him way to likable/Sympathetic? But if he is only pretending to be nice to butter-up Mrs. Bean then can we count him as trully likable? Or is the book all-over-the-place how we should feel about him? Hmmm... I think I got tad confuse what's the issue there and I had to re-read this part of the review few times to get the point.

Also -- one thing I noticed from your reviews is that Freddy being framed for some crime seams to be a theme in these stories.

Also -- your description of soccer made me laugh out loud (even if I don't know where one would get this impression comrade)

8:53 PM  
Blogger GeoX, who is here to stay, like it or not. pontificated to the effect that...

The soccer thing was just playing on this sort of lunkheaded American attitude about the rest of the world.

It's true that Freddy is frequently framed (FFF), but in fairness, that's not the case here: he DOES take the money, even if he has noble reasons.

The issue to me with Doty is that Brooks repeatedly does this "oh, in spite of everything, he's kinda likable" thing, but then he doesn't really pay it off in any but the most cursory way. It doesn't feel satisfying.

3:47 AM  
Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

Ok, now I fully get the Doty thing. I guess Brooks wanted to make him more complex but handle it poorly.

And I did got the context Soccer joke, I was just being ironic about it ;)

It is funny how there are tones of European (and from what I seen Brasilian) Donald Duck comic stories where he obssesed with soccer and HD&L are on school soccer team etc. It would be odd for kids here if they didn't care for it, but in USA the impression is propably "Why is Duckburg into this and not baseball or REAL footbal!?"

9:14 AM  

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