Thursday, September 15, 2022

Walter R. Brooks, Freddy Goes Camping (1948)

Well, a certain amount of camping does occur in this book (you get the impression that Brooks himself was an enthusiast), but it's not really about sleeping in the woods. Mr. Camphor is back! And he needs help, because his two aunts, Elmira and Minerva, have moved in with him and are driving him crazy. Elmira is lugubriously gloomy all the time (“What's she interested in?” “Sorrow,” said Mr. Camphor. “Misery. Grief, woe, and tribulation”), Minerva typically spiky and mean. They usually stay in a hotel when they visit their nephew, but this time, the hotel seems to be...haunted? Freddy's got to figure out what's up with that as well as deal with aunt trouble.

Well, the aunts are a pretty minor problem: Elmira really isn't much of a character at all, and Minerva is satisfied by people complimenting her (as Mr. Bean does—his totally unexpected suave side is pretty funny), which makes her less cantankerous and more likable and she gradually starts needing less compliments to be that way. What? Yeah, the psychology is questionable, but it's all good fun. And I must say, although the mysteries in these books aren't exactly known for their intricacy, this one is pretty engaging—though I did get sort of stuck on this line of reasoning, which I just find endlessly baffling:

“I'm pretty sure he lives in Centerboro,” Freddy went on, “because—look at these.” And he drew out the slips of paper he had found in Eha's coat. They were checks for meals that someone had eaten at Dixon's Diner. “He must eat at the diner often,” Freddy said, “because he wouldn't be able to sneak every check he got into his pocket and walk out without paying, which is what he must have done. For how else could he have got them?”

I feel like that could've used a rewrite!

The book is really great, though, one of my favorites, including two really great set-pieces, one involving the animals defending the Bean farm and the other where they try to drive the villain into submission by preventing him from sleeping. The former of these two involves the active participation of the Beans, which is unique thusfar in the series and cool to see. Also, we learn that Mr. Bean's grandfather was named Bazaliel. Fun, fun.

Also, Simon dies:

He saw Simon galloping along in the lead, and as he looked, the old rat climbed up on a fence post. “We'll be back, pig!” he squeaked defiantly.

And then...

Boom! went Mr. Bean's shotgun. And Simon toppled and slid slowly to the ground.

There was a minute's silence.

“You know,” said Freddy, “I'm kind of sorry to see that. Old Simon!”

“He was a liar and a sneak, and he got what was coming to him,” said Jinx shortly.

“Maybe. But he wasn't a coward. That's more than you can say for most crooks—Hey, what's that?” A faint cry for help had come to them.

...not really. I'm just funnin' you. Obviously.   But that's certainly what it looks like for a moment, and if he did, you can easily imagine it being very much like this, minus the cry for help at the end.  And damn, man, Jinx is ice cold.

On that note: “Freddy spied Simon, and with a lucky snap of his jaws caught him by the back of the neck, but was immediately attacked from behind by two other rats, who climbed up on his shoulders and bit savagely.” I dunno—somehow, Freddy biting his foes like that seems kind of bizarrely against-character. I mean, sure, that's how a real pig would probably do it, but still...

So in Freddy the Ignormus, offhand mention was made of Freddy having a garter snake friend named Homer, and I expressed skepticism that this alleged friend would ever be mentioned again, let alone make an actual appearance. And that skepticism seemed justified. But now, eight years later, well, fuck me, I guess: “It was certainly an odd expedition that started from the farm at four o'clock. Freddy and Jinx and Georgie, a snake friend of Freddy's named Homer, the four mice, and a large flat carton lined with moss, containing the insect volunteers.” He has dialogue and plays a reasonable role in the action and everything! And “like a good many snakes, he thought that a good joke never wore out.” Sure, sure. I'd love to know how Brooks was keeping track of all these characters and things; what his working process was like.

“One side, woman!” he shouted. “I wouldn't like to strike a lady.”

“I wouldn't like to strike a gentleman,” said Miss Minerva. “But I guess there's no danger of that.” And as he tried to brush past her, she lifted the frying pan and brought it down with a loud dong! on the top of his head.

That's pretty badass.

Good lord, one other thing.  While googling around, I came across the cover for the edition of the book that I read/was read to me as a kid:

...thanks, I hate it.  GOOD GOD that is unattractive.  I mean, it  clearly didn't put me off the series, but I cannot imagine what maniac thought that was a good look for Freddy, even if it didn't wildly clash with Wiese's style.  It's great that his illustrations are still included, but WHAT ABOUT HIS COVER?  Even if it's included as a frontispiece (I don't know), in that case it would be in black and white.  Jeez, people.


Blogger Pan Miluś pontificated to the effect that...

So is it like a Scooby-doo hoax? (or is that a Spoiler)

Also - My guess would be that the creator was simply rereading his old books and was like "Oh, right I mentioned a spider named Homer. That's a fun idea, I may explore him".

Another possibility is that perhaps he was geting letters from childreen all the time (before reddit there was once this thing called mail) and maybe he got questions from young readers to learn more about non mention character.

O simply like any good creator he had big love for the universe he created and simply had good memory of stuff like this. Who knows?

2:08 PM  

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