The Story of the Fierce Bad Rabbit – Beatrix Potter

More in the Series – Beatrix Potter
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 point
Variety of characters: 1 point
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points.

One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about Beatrix Potter is that she doesn’t shy away from the realities of being a bunny in the world. In Peter Rabbit, we find out that his father was baked into a pie. And in this book, there is “a man with a gun”.

I think we have a tendency to think that kids can’t handle concepts of death and the fact that death is a part of the natural order, but that has never been my experience. I have a pretty sensitive kid, but he has no problem talking about these things.

All that aside, though, this book is not Potter’s best work. The narrative is a bit stilted, the language lacks her usual charm. I get the feeling tht maybe she was trying to pitch it at a younger audience (it has that “run, Spot, run” feel to it), but it doesn’t really work.

And at the end of the day the “man with the gun” doesn’t kill the “bad rabbit”, he just shoots his tail off.Before we got to that page, I asked C what he thought was going to happen, and he said, “I think he’s going to shoot him dead. He shouldn’t have stolen the other bunny’s carrot.” That’s some hard-core five year old karma.

No Bechdel pass, since there are no female characters (apart from one mention of the good bunny’s mother, but she doesn’t actually even make a appearance) and the only human in the book is the “man with a gun” who is a pretty standard white British dude.

So not a lot going on here, I have to say. Perhaps stick to her better known works. They’re better known for a reason, it turns out.

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The Tale of the Pie and the Patty Pan – Beatrix Potter

More in the Series – The Railway Series
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 1 out of 10.

Bechdel: 1 point
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  0 points
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points.

Well, there’s a good reason this isn’t one of Potter’s better known works. It does pass the Bechdel! Since it’s about two female characters – a cat called Duchess and a dog called Ribby – who have tea. Duchess makes a delicious mouse pie that Ribby doesn’t want to eat because she isn’t fond of mouse, so she concocts a plan to switch it for a veal and ham pie. Hijinks ensue, Ribby ends up eating mouse after all. There is a patty-pan, and some confusion about whether Ribby ate it. It’s all terribly farcical and could be quite funny, except that it is written in very dated language.

C gave it a thumbs down, which I think is only the second book he’s done that for so far. He said, “I just didn’t like it, Mommy.” I couldn’t get more out of him, but I really think that it basically boiled down to the fact that the archaic language meant he didn’t get it. I tried to stop and explain what was happening, but it lost him.

I think, at her best, Potter is pretty timeless, but this one was just weighed down by the language of manners and frippery around the patty pans and so forth. I was very midlly amused, but I think it fails as a children’s book for modern kids. It’s just so far removed from their experience, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing (being exposed to unfamiliar things is one of the joys of reading, after all), in this case there’s not a lot to encourage them to take the trip.

Very meh.

The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle

More in the Series – Beatrix Potter
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

Bechdel: 1 point
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points.

I have to admit to having a very deep personal soft spot for this story. My grandmother had this book when I was a child, and it conjures up very strong sense memories of her house, smelling like roast lamb and mint and the tick-tocking of her clock in the study/library.

That being said, this one does actually pass the Bechdel. Lucy and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle have quite a lot of dialogue, most of which is about laundry, not a man. I mean, they’re talking about laundry, so it’s not exactly a feminist coup, but nevertheless, it passes the Bechdel test, and that’s been rare enough in this project to be note-worthy.

That’s its one shining light, though, I am afraid. The rest is a very standardly British tale in which there is no sign of any diversity. Mrs Tiggy-Winkle is a washer-woman, and as such much of the tale is exceedingly gendered. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the human protagonist is Lucy and not, say, Bob.

Like all things Potter though, the illustrations are charming and detailed, and C was suitable enthralled, although he was a bit confused by the clothes mentioned – petticoats and handkersniffs are not really part of the landscape of a modern five year old growing up in New Zealand.

It doesn’t score high – it is a product of its time, after all. But I did get that strong  nostalgia while reading it, and that is a powerful thing.

The Tale of Two Bad Mice – Beatrix Potter

More in the Series – Potter
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 2 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 point
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points.
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points.

This is an interesting little tale because it kind of does a double-take, and backtracks on itself.

But before we get to that, there is no Bechdel pass, despite quite a number of named female characters (the fact that two of them are dolls, and therefore can’t speak probably contributes to this). There is also no diversity – like pretty much all the BP books, this one is firmly rooted in white British culture, and there is not a whiff of any other sort.

Ideologically it’s on somewhat iffy ground. the mice are, in fact, pretty bad – stealing things and making a mess of and breaking the things they can’t steal. The title is clear about that. But at the end of the book, the narrator does a bit of a turnaround claiming they’re not as bad as all that because they go and help out after the fact – cleaning the dolls-house and putting money in the dolls’ stockings.

I’m not convinced though – this all feels a bit “too little, too late” to me. So I asked C to get a five year old moral perspective. He said he thought they were quite naughty even though they tried to make up for it because stealing is always wrong, and because they broke things and that was bad. So there you have it.

Having said that, the book is an interesting one for starting that kind of conversation. I am a fan of kids’ books that deal in moral greys, just because I think absolutes are always dangerous, and the real world is almost never morally absolute. So it was kind of cool to have a forum for having that conversation with C: people (or in this case mice) who do bad things also sometimes do good things and it’s not always possible to work out if someone is a “bad guy” or a “good guy”. Mostly, people are a bit of both.

 

 

The Tale of Benjamin Bunny -Beatrix Potter

More in the Series – Potter
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

Bechdel: 1 point
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points.
Discretionary ideological points: 0 points.

The Tale of Benjamin Bunny is basically a sequel to Peter Rabbit, in which Peter and his cousin Benjamin return to the scene of the crime – Mr. McGregor’s garden – in order to reclaim Peter’s lost clothes and steal some onions. As with the first story, they very nearly don’t make it out alive, facing off against (well, hiding from) the cat, and being rescued by Benjamin’s father.

Technically, the book passes the Bechdel with the only piece of conversation uttered  by a woman when Peter’s mother tells Cotton-Tail to go get some chamomile. (Perhaps, technically, Cotton-Tail should respond, but I’m going to let that slide on this occasion.) Apart from that though, this is very much a boys’ tale.

As with the other Potter books, this one is very much entrenched in a certain kind of British country life, and as a result has not a whiff of diversity in it.

Having said all that it’s a perfectly entertaining story. The illustrations have the well-known Potter charm, the tale rollicks along at a decent pace. C enjoyed it. It was fun to read.

I mean, it’s not one of my favourite of her books, but it’s perfectly passable, for what it is. It does much what its predecessor does, but with arguably less charm for being a revisit. (I will admit I enjoyed the meta moment of the narrator saying that she couldn’t draw the bunnies under the basket because it was dark and smelled of onions, but I am a sucker for metatext.)

 

 

The Tailor of Gloucester – Beatrix Potter

More in the Series – Beatrix Potter
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story:  2 points.
Discretionary ideological points:  1 point.

This is an odd little tale that has really not aged very well. A lot of it is very much of its time, and the terminology used by the tailor and the cat, Simpkin, comes across as quite archaic. That being said the basic gist of the story is a pretty timeless one to do with good karma and being kind to those less powerful than you having unlooked for rewards.

No Bechdel, alas. There are a couple of mice in the illustrations who appear to be female, but no named characters, and no dialogue. Similarly, all the characters present as very white and very British. So not a lot of diversity.

The basic story involves a tailor needing to finish a terribly important coat that will change his life, but he becomes sick and cannot do it. luckily he has kindly released some mice that his cat, Simpkin, was keeping captive and the mice get together and in true Disney style, finish off the coat.

It’s good solid fairytale fare, and would be perfect except that a lot of the language hasn’t really stood the test of time. There was a lot of stuff C just didn’t understand and I was hard pressed to explain some of it. (What the hell is “twist” anyway?), but the general shape of the story is still solid.

I gave it one discretionary point, because I am in favour of tales that recommend being kind to creatures smaller and less powerful than you. I’m also in favour of the idea of paying kindness forward. This story has both of those going on.

It’s probably not the greatest tale in the Potter canon, but it’s still pretty neat.

What do you think? How do you feel about reading stories that are very outdated to kids? What’s your favourite Potter?

The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin – Beatrix Potter

More in the Series – Beatrix Potter
“More in the Series” scores the other books in a series where one (or more) of the books have made it into the 1001 Books list. Mostly because I’m a bit of a completionist. 

POINTS: 3 out of 10.

Bechdel: 0 points
Variety of characters: 0 points
Good story: 2 points.
Discretionary ideological points: 1 point.

Squirrel Nutkin has no female characters at all, and nothing that looks remotely like diversity. Just squirrels and an owl. 🙂 Having said that, it is still a pretty awesome little tale about the dangers of being rude to those you should respect.

The squirrels bring Old Brown gifts so that he allows them to gather nuts on his island in peace and safety. But Nutkin is a bit of a little shit and instead of dealing with the owl with respect (they are on his turf after all), he taunts him with riddles and rhymes. He gets his come-uppance, and frankly he’s lucky it’s not worse.

It’s a neat little tale about respecting the person whose space you’re in, and recognising who it is and isn’t okay to mess with. But it’s also a cool tale about just, you know, generally not being a dick. Nutkin is definitely a bit of a prat, and gets what’s coming to him. There’s no redemption, really – he doesn’t seem to learn his lesson – just a simple tale of consequences.

Sometimes when you’re a jerk, the person to whom you are being a jerk rips off your tail. And  you frikkin’ deserve it.

C and I both enjoyed it. C laughed at the funny squirrel noises (though perhaps I get some credit for that). There’s something satisfying about someone who is being a jerk getting what’s coming to them. He seemed not in the least bit concerned; in fact all he said was, “I think he was lucky the owl didn’t eat him up!”.

Awesome tale. Nice work, Ms. Potter.

What do you think? Am I being too hard on poor little Nutkin? What’s your favourite Beatrix Potter book?