Thursday, September 29, 2022

Walter R. Brooks, Freddy Rides Again (1951)

This is notable as the first actual sequel to a Freddy book.  Oh, I suppose if you wanted, you could argue that the first two make up a diptych—characters going to and, indeed, again—and I can't stop you!  You can argue that if you want!  But I really don't think it's the same thing.  This takes place right on the heels of Freddy the Cowboy, and everyone is still in the grip of cowboy mania (and Freddy, as a cowboy troubadour, sings the smash hit songs “Believe Me if All Those Endearing Young Pigs” and “The Old Pigs at Home”—your song-parody skills could use some work, dude!).  The main conflict this time is that this rich family, the Margarines, have moved in near the Beans, and they're throwing their weight around and annoying everyone with their fox-hunting ways (paging Mr. Trollope!), although apparently the only fox in the area is John, and he doesn't seem very huntable.  The son and mother get reformed and become less prickish (in a predictable yet still satisfying way); the father, Elihu, seems to basically just get overwhelmed; whether he starts sucking less remains to be seen.  There's actually a climactic duel between him and Freddy; notwithstanding the fact that we know no one is going to be killed or even seriously injured here, it still manages to feel fairly tense.  A Morricone soundtrack would be appropriate.

There are a few interesting things to be noted about this book.  The first is the appearances of an unnamed rattlesnake in the area.  And rattlesnakes turn out to be one of those rare species—along with rats and wolves—with which Brooks is having no truck.  He is extremely definitive that we DO NOT WANT rattlesnakes in the area; now GET OUT (this is a very NIMBY attitude: seriously, if not here, where do you expect him to go?  He has to live somewhere).  Cy does confuse the issue a little (“mostly rattlers aren't so bad; they don't bother you unless you bother them first.  And they always rattle a warning before they strike.  But this is a bad hombre”), but that doesn't have any effect on the characters' and author's general anti-rattlesnake attitude.  But what's interesting is that a number of times, rattlesnakes are negatively compared to milk snakes, whom we like.  But Walter: eastern milk snakes and timber rattlesnakes have essentially the same diet.  They both eat small mammals!  What are you DOING?  Well, obviously, we don't like rattlesnakes because they have a bad reputation on account of being poisonous.  Doesn't seem fair, really.  Well, regardless, Brooks is so vehement in his dislike that this is one of the vanishingly rare characters he actually kills: Old Whibley eats him.  Yeesh.

Still, regardless of these occasional unseemly prejudices against one animal or another, one good thing about this series is the way it really emphasizes the complexity of people, that even ones you think of as 'bad' more often than not have good sides—and not in an overly condescending or pedantic way.  I really, really do think they generally have very good messages for kids, who probably absorb them without realizing it.  If only more Republicans had read them as children, maybe we'd be in a better place.  But at ANY rate, I say that by way of noting that there's a good example of that here: the Margarines have a cat, Arthur, who wants to move in to the Bean farm, not having enjoyed his treatment from his previous owners.  Everyone is kind of skeptical about this: Jinx is trustworthy with the mice, maybe, but how can you trust some strange cat?  And Brooks does this whole thing about how ostentatiously nice Arthur is to all of them, really setting you to think that the other shoe is going to drop.  But doesn't, and you realize that the things that made you think it would aren't what you thought they were.  At one point, he saves the mice from the rattlesnake, after which

he accepted their thanks with his usual saintly air.  “It was nothing, nothing,” he said.  “Perhaps my deed will in some slight measure make up for all the wrongs that mice have suffered at the paws of cats.  I am genuinely happy to have been of service.

And, I mean, you have to admit, that sounds really insincere, a fact which is not lost on the mice:

“It just goes to show,” said Eeny, when they were safe in their cigar box again under the stove, “that people aren't like you think they are.  Well, I mean, you can't judge 'em by the way they talk.  All this noble stuff about the dear little mouse-friends, stuff that makes you kind of sick—well, he really means it.  He means it so much that he'll fight a dangerous snake for it.  I don't get it.”

So there you are.  Arthur is good, and the heart is warmed.

Also, at the end the animals get to have a real rager:

Usually Mr. Bean came out at nine-thirty and sent them off to bed.  But that night he didn't come out till midnight, and even then he didn't send them to bed.  He sat on a box, smoking his pipe, and watching the dancing, for nearly an hour; and when he went in, he only said: “Don't keep it up too late.”  From Mr. Bean, that was equal to telling them to keep it up all night.  They got to bed at two.

Nice!  Great book, though I should note that the ebook version has a bit of a fuck-up with the pictures: the full-page illustrations are reproduced in smaller form; they don't take up the full screen, which has never happened before.  I demand a refund!


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