Freddy the Politician
by Walter R. Brooks

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

illustrated by Kurt Wiese

Knopf: New York, 1939
253 pages

Overlook Press: New York, 2000
253 pages

February 2002

Freddy the Pig hits his stride

Freddy the Politician is one of Walter R. Brooks' greatly enjoyable Freddy the Pig series of children's novels. It was the sixth to be published, in 1939; but can be read independently. See the series discussion at Troynovant for some background material.

In Freddy the Politician, the Bean Farm animals set up the First Animal Republic, while local rats and some others attempt to establish a dictatorship. The original title was Wiggins for President; Mrs. Wiggins is the smartest of the cows, a likeable and modest homebody who is quite strong in simple wisdom and common sense. She is Freddy's partner in the detective agency, and a brake on his freewheeling style.

To me this is the novel where the Freddy the Pig series hits its stride. The plots become reasonably complex, the writing consistently witty, the characterizations more interesting and often subtle. I'm sure the gathering storm in Europe deepened the author's conception of what small-town and farm life in America was about, but still he treats it lightly. Brooks has fun here with speeches, flags, and election campaigns.

Brooks' animal society versus George Orwell's

Inevitably, not all animal books are equal, even well-intentioned ones. A reader who comes to George Orwell's justly famous Animal Farm (1945) after the Freddy the Pig books is likely to conclude that Animal Farm is a humorless parody of Walter R. Brooks' creation.

Brooks does a better job than Orwell. Brooks provides humor and wit as well as casually interwoven moral lessons, and shows notably more individual interest in his characters. Heroes or villains, major players or walk-ons, Brooks obviously cares about his people, both the human ones and the animal ones. They are neither ciphers nor symbols.

And Brooks did not have to pass through the eras of the Soviet Communist show-trials or the Spanish Civil War to learn empathy for all kinds of creatures — an empathy rather thin on the ground in Animal Farm. Orwell's revolutionary-pigs turning into plutocrat-pigs exploiting the other animals, is Marxist social-realism. Animal Farm is anti-Stalinist satire, but there seems little that is humane about it. We may be excused for feeling that it still is Communist, all-too-Communist. Or as Freddy might say, it's rather un-animal. With the labels and slogans switched back around to Soviet-approved ones, the Communist censors should have liked it just fine.

In another kind of irony, it is the leftist and anti-establishment intellectual Orwell who became a darling of the Western literary establishment. Orwell's heavy satires became best-sellers, and assigned as required reading for captive school-children. While Brooks, the celebrator of real values, eventually was allowed to go out of print, even as the libraries' copies were rebound until they disintegrated, worn out from hundreds of readings per copy.

In a very American tradition, Brooks obviously is wary of the utopias that promise everything, and which in the decades after World War I, as Utopias in Power frightened and then devastated millions of people. Read Freddy the Politician as an antidote to the heavy utopias and their often too-earnest counterparts, the disutopian satires. It's funny and humane, and you'll be glad you did.


© 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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