Freddy and the Bean Home News
by Walter R. Brooks
  

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

illustrated by Kurt Wiese

Knopf: New York, 1943
230 pages
 

Overlook Press: New York; 2000
230 pages

February 2002

  
The creative turn with farm animals

Freddy and the Bean Home News is one of Walter R. Brooks' greatly enjoyable Freddy the Pig series of children's novels. It was the tenth to be published, in 1943; but can be read independently. See the series discussion at Troynovant for some background material.

"Ain't any harm in reading," said Hank [the old white horse], "long's you don't believe any of it. I read a lot of fairy tales last winter, nights when my rheumatism wouldn't let me sleep. Liked 'em too. But you don't see me goin' off with my sword at my side, looking for the Sleeping Princess, or jumpin' off the barn, thinkin' I can fly, like Pegasus. Though maybe I could fly — I dunno. I never tried it."

One of the creative turns that Brooks made when assembling his cast of animal characters was to play up those which are distinctively farm animals. Cats and dogs are common in households as well as farms, and horses we now associate more with recreation than farm-work. (Incidentally, Brooks also wrote the stories about Ed the talking horse that were the basis for the Mr. Ed television series. The Freddy series is vastly better.)

In the Freddy the Pig novels, of the above animal types only a cat has a major role. Jinx the cynical black cat, a bit rough-mannered but handy in a fight, is the character most often at Freddy's side for various adventures. Mrs. Wiggins, brightest of the cows and full of common sense, can't gallivant around as easily as Freddy and Jinx. Charles the rooster is often distracted by his vanity and speech-making until the chips are down. Freddy of course is a pig, intelligent, personable, and something of a poet; although we must add, prone to laziness, and not one to clean something today that could be left till next year.

And after a couple of early forays that brought boys into the plots, in the bulk of the series Brooks left children mostly on the periphery — perhaps realizing that he didn't want to write a Huckleberry Finn or Penrod and Sam with talking animals added. Brooks is quite comfortable with his material at this point in the series.
  

Starting your own newspaper

But now — having established that we're reading about farm animals based on the Bean Farm, Brooks tilts the playing field in Freddy and the Bean Home News. The action shifts largely into the town of Centerboro, where the rich and unpleasant Mrs. Underdunk has gained ownership of the local newspaper, and her mean brother Herb Garble is now running the paper. One of the hallmarks of Brooks' villains is that they dislike animals, often intensely. Earlier, when Mrs. Underdunk had her picture near Freddy's on the front page of the newspaper, and townspeople claimed they couldn't tell which was the matron's and which the pig's, she acquired a focused antipathy for Freddy. Animal-related news is now definitely out.

In alliance with the former proprietor of the Centerboro newspaper, Freddy starts a rival paper for the animals in the county, The Bean Home News. Animals and even Centerboro people begin subscribing. But soon they wind up putting in Centerboro news as well, for Freddy has great sources in town, pets and mice. So a newspaper war heats up. This even involves the sheriff, a great friend of Freddy's, but now opposed by Mrs. Underdunk because the sheriff refuses simply to sweep the town free of "wild" animals.

Freddy and the animals have fun with their newspaper, but through defending the animals and the sheriff, wind up with more political content than they'd intended. Brooks wrote for a number of magazines, including "Talk of the Town" items for the still-young New Yorker in 1932-1933. He is quite aware of editorial and production challenges — get the story and put a title on it and make it fit for size and tone — of the kind that James Thurber details in The Years with Ross.
  

Town folks, farm folks, & some wild folks

The sheriff is in a number of Freddy the Pig novels, and he, the Centerboro jail, and the inmates (the latter scarcely on-stage here) are among Brooks' most individual creations. And, still rather against type for the series, Georgie the little brown dog, and Hank the old white horse, both have stronger parts in Freddy and the Bean Home News than in most of the books. It's particularly nice to see quiet old Hank dragooned into the skulduggery with the rest of the animals.

But so our cast doesn't become too domestic, we also have Jerry the ant, here taught to read by Freddy — he crawls along the printed lines. And one of Brooks' funny and pointed human-animal courtroom scenes, with learned Old Whibley the owl ably defending Freddy.

Lots of fun and adventures; one of the best of the series.

  

© 2002 Robert Wilfred Franson


  
Annotated list of Walter R. Brooks'
Freddy the Pig series
  

  
Juvenile at Troynovant
for a younger audience
  


 

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