Beatrix Potter, Master of the Macabre

Potter

Tessa just commented on the We Recommend for a three-year-old Beatrix Potter. And I know that I've written quite a bit about fear and books, and how some books are just too scary, even for me. So I am hard pressed to explain my great affection for Ms. Potter.

But there it is. We LOVED these when the kids were little. Peter Rabbit, sure, but even more the really wacked out ones like The Tale of Jeremy Fisher, The Tale of Samuel Whiskers, or the Roly Poly Pudding. Mrs. Tittlemouse, with her tiny, neat house and the invasion of the messy bee, were also compelling. Oh and Squirrel Nutkin, and Tom Kitten, and all those naughty animals. And then there's The Tale of Ginger and Pickles, which is excellent for teaching the budding retailer about credit and cash flow.

Diana especially loved them, but they both did, really. The drawings are truly amazing, and the stories are as well—it's something about the realness of the characters. Everyone is slightly particular, there is a marked absence of mawkishness and adorableness, a dry wit that makes them really fun to read. And the violence, yes there is that, mostly of the nature red in tooth and claw variety, but somehow it never frightened anyone. I am at a loss to explain why or how, I only know that it was true. Maybe it was the drawings? Maybe everyone was too young to have any idea what was really going on? I don't know. But they were really fun to read to little people, and the children were fascinated by all of them.  And yes, Tom kitten was tied up and about to be eaten and all that, but what are you going to do? I don't think it harmed anyone to know about farmers wanting to put bunnies in pies (yum); for us, these books were a pleasure.

4 thoughts on “Beatrix Potter, Master of the Macabre

  1. I adored these as a child, except for the one with the badger and the fox– I cannot remember the name of it– “Two Very Unpleasant Persons” was either in the title or the description. The dark house, the bunnies already IN the pie shell, IN the oven… it was all too much, as was the denoument where the two villains rolled down the hill locked in combat, clearly about to kill each other. Ginger and Pickles mystified and unsettled me, but Mrs. Tittlemouse and Mrs. Tiggywinkle will be beloved by me for all time. The ones I liked were the ones where you could solve the problems without killing anyone– the others distressed me (as did the loss of Squirrel Nutkin’s tail). But even when they disturbed me, I still loved them, and I also don’t think it’s a bad thing for children to be introduced to the dark side of the world in this way (and Beatrix had nothing on the Brothers Grimm, many of whose stories not only make me ill but also angry).

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  2. Oh, yes. I loved them when I was little, but I think I loved them even more when I read them to my own children. And, of course, they also loved them!

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  3. You know, I was thinking about this question recently when we watched “The Fantastic Mr Fox.” There was a discussion here recently (though I can’t remember the actual topic) where someone pointed out that the best children’s books teach that life isn’t always easy, that there are hard times and difficult decisions and sometimes things just plain suck. And my kids adored that movie, way more than I had expected, and I realized that was a lot of it. Roald Dahl was more of the “people are insane and sometimes creepy” vein, but I think kids are slightly reassured by the knowledge that it’s not their imagination, but that the world is actually a scary place sometimes. Especially when it’s done in theat Beatrix Potter way, so matter-of-fact that it seems silly to get all upset about the possibility of being caught by the farmer, because really, that’s just one of the risks that come with being a rabbit.

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