Freddy and the Ignormus
by Walter R. Brooks

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

illustrated by Kurt Wiese

Knopf: New York, 1941
286 pages

Overlook Press: New York, 1998
284 pages

April 2010

What's in a name?

The title of Freddy and the Ignormus contains the most obvious play on words by Walter R. Brooks in the titles of his Freddy the Pig series of children's novels. It was the eighth to be published, in 1941; but can be read independently. See the series discussion at Troynovant for some background material.

Children as they learn English must of course work their way through a fitfully lit forest of synonyms and antonyms, homonyms and confusonyms. There are more possibilities for confusion than rabbits on the Bean Farm — which Freddy had to number to keep track of. When I first read Freddy and the Ignormus I rated myself clear on the difference between enormous and ignorant, but I was doubtful if there could be such a thing as an Ignormus. I probably hadn't noted the meaningfully insulting descriptor ignoramus; and I'm sure I hadn't yet trekked into view of enormity — a word that tenaciously baffles many adults.

In fact, the book has quite a lot to say about words and their usages: rhetoric and propaganda and keeping-silent, but most visibly about poetry. In fact it begins with an idyllic writing session:

If you went up the lane back of Mr. Bean's barn, you came to a little bridge that crossed a brook. ... you went through a pasture and along beside the woods, and then you went right up into the woods themselves where everything was dim and cool, with only the chuckle of the running water and the occasional whistle of a peewee to break the stillness. And in a few minutes you came to a little pool.

... a smooth grassy bank sloped down to the water. Most days if you went up there you wouldn't find anybody but a frog, named Theodore, who lived there. But if you went up there on a good hot summer day, you would most likely find Freddy, the pig, reclining on the grassy bank, engaged in the composition of poetry.

If you are going to write poetry, you need two things. You need quiet and you need coolness. You can't have a lot of people talking to you, and you can't be all hot and sticky. Of course you also need paper and pencil. So Freddy always took these along, and he would lie on the bank and write a little, and then think a long time, and then write a little more. Sometimes he would do so much thinking and so little writing that Theodore thought he was asleep. But Freddy said no, he was just thinking very hard.

The looming threat of the Ignormus

In Freddy and the Ignormus, the Bean Farm is threatened by a mysterious entity in the Big Woods just across a country lane from the Bean woods. The Ignormus, or rumors of it, has long frightened the animals of the Bean Farm: they're all been scared of it for years, without ever having seen hide nor hair of it themselves — yet.

Now at last the Ignormus seems to be moving into the open, levying tribute upon the farm which the animals are compelled to collect. The fear is coalescing into threat, and looks to be hardening into danger.

Freddy's talents as a detective are called for, to decipher a number of obscure events. But the problems which seem to be simple crime have a larger context, and even the Bean Farm animals' cohesion and patriotism, in the form of their First Animal Republic, may be tested.

Freddy and the Ignormus was published in 1941; and if you believe that Brooks had not looked askance at the Munich Agreement and the other bullying and appeasement leading to World War II — by then underway in Europe — I have a "last territorial demand" that I'd like your signature on, and it's not the Sudetenland.

The fun of challenges

I don't want to give the impression that Freddy and the Ignormus is fictionalized wordplay or even fictionalized politics or morality. What it is, is a fine adventure story for kids: with an engaging cast of characters, mysteries and crimes calling for detection work, a physical setting that always feels solid underfoot, and plenty of country fun too.

Characteristically, Freddy is understandably reluctant to face up to adventures and other hard work:

Freddy didn't want to go back in the detective business much. Detectives have to do a lot of hard thinking. Of course, in writing poetry he had to do a lot of hard thinking, too, but if a poet doesn't think hard enough to make his poem come out right he can always tear it up and nobody knows about it. But if a detective doesn't think hard enough, he doesn't catch the criminal, and everybody says he's no good.

A rather pointed plot, in a novel that's fun to read as a child, and as a grown-up.


© 2010 Robert Wilfred Franson

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