The Terrifyingly True Tales of Beatrix Potter

Welcome to the June edition of the Character Assassination Carousel, the crazy project initiated by Nicole from Ninja Mom! Last month, we were treated to a thoughtful analysis of The Boy Who Cried Wolf  by dbs over at ThinkStew.

Now it’s my turn. And, oh, is it ON.

It’s Potter Mania at my house. And I’m not talking about Harry. Where the rest of the world dons robes, we choose pinafores. Sorting hats? Fuggedaboutit. We prefer a good bonnet. Death Eaters and magical nemeses? No thanks. We’ll stick with sinister pie-making farmers and enormous rats who argue about recipes. The name is Potter.Beatrix Potter.

When Nicole generously invited me to participate in the Character Assassination Carousel, I jumped at the chance, even with the certainty that another blogger would have already snatched Beatrix ahead of me. Are her stories not a childhood rite of passage? Do we not all aspire to the 23 book set with the adorable child-size volumes, foot-smashing rectangular storage box and maddeningly interchangeable dust jackets? To my shock and amazement, however, my mistress of the barnyard menagerie had not yet been claimed. I knew, in that moment, she would be mine.

To those of you who may only be familiar with Peter Rabbit, I entreat you to move beyond fluffy bunnies (and their naughty, thieving forays) and discover some of the more meaningful life lessons we can teach our children, using Potter’s complete works. The morals to her stories are as relevant today as they ever were.

Exhibit A:  The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit

Plot: Cute bunny is eating a carrot his mommy gave him.  Bad rabbit comes and snatches it like milk money.  Doesn’t say “please” and leaves cute bunny with a nasty scratch.  Not being a confrontational type, cute bunny runs and hides in a hole.

Bully in action.

Luckily, a man with a gun appears, blows the a%& off the bad rabbit as he enjoys his plunder in the open, and the bad rabbit is seen high-tailing it into the distance.


Revenge is sweet.

Moral:  Bullies take note – payback is a bitch.  Also, don’t shoot where you eat.

Bonus points for ballsiness to Potter on this one, for making it “especially for very young children.”

Exhibit B:  The Roly, Poly, Pudding

This is one of the more advanced Potter books, and has a pretty complicated plot, but I’ll try to boil it down for you.  Tom Kitten’s mother, Tabitha Twitchit, needs to do some baking, and this means she needs her kittens off her back, so she plans to lock all three of them in the cupboard (whether or not it is “under the stairs” is not known).  You may think this sounds like Muggle torture, but I have baked with my kids (when I should have locked them in the cupboard, instead) and this is what happened.

So I have some sympathy for Tabitha’s cupboard plans.  Anyway, it doesn’t work, because Tom becomes wise to the threat and escapes before Twitchit can shut him in there with the comparatively stupid obedient Moppet and Mittens.  Testing my theory that he is smarter than his siblings, Tom decides that the chimney would be a great place to hide…even with a fire burning.

Hm. Whatever could it mean?

While climbing the chimney and choking on smoke, he finds some mutton bones that have been “gnawed upon.” For those of you who are wondering about Edwardian English farm houses, NO, it was not normal to keep your sheep in the chimney.  Additionally, Tom Kitten (forensic catologist) notices a “funny smell…like mouse; only dreadfully strong.”  As a fan of CSI, I have to point out that these data points might have been a huge red flag to our intrepid kitten.

Undaunted, however, he proceeds, and finds himself, shortly, in a scene reminiscent of that of the cannibal house in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.  Two enormous rats proceed to tie him up and prepare him to be baked in a pudding.  Here’s the part I have to like, though. They argue about what ingredients are best used and how he should be prepared.

What would Lidia Bastianich say?

Well, thankfully Tom Kitten is rescued just in the nick of time.

This should ensure night terrors for…well…EVER.

And I’m not sure whether I am horrified or have admiration for the fact that crazy Tabitha decides to re-use the dough he was almost roasted in, even though it has “smut” in it.

Moral:  “If You Find Mutton Bones While Climbing Up Your Chimney, Turn Back.”

Exhibit C: The Pie and the Patty Pan

This little doozy features the same Type A mother cat from The Roly, Poly Pudding, so you know it’s going to be a neurosis-fest.  Tabitha Twitchit invites her dog friend Duchess (yes, cats and dogs can be friends) over for dinner. Duchess is in the middle of making a pie, but in the great tradition of female passive aggressiveness, she accepts the invite and proceeds to lament the possibility that she will now have to eat a pie made out of mouse…when everyone who watches dog food commercials knows that pups eat stuff like veggies and lamb and rice.  Not mouse.

Let the fun begin.

Instead of just going with a small lie like “I’m allergic to mouse” or “I have ethical issues with the conditions under which mice are raised,” Duchess concocts an elaborate plan in which she will commit the felony of breaking and entering Twitchit’s house in order to secretly stuff her own veal pie (hellloooo being unethical, anyway) in the cat’s oven.  Because, like, Tabitha will never notice she’s eating veal instead of mouse.

As you can imagine, hilarity ensues.

Crime never pays!

Moral: Tie between “Lies are simpler than breaking and entering” and “If you have special dietary restrictions, just don’t accept invitations.”

Exhibit D: The Tale of the Flopsy Bunnies

The pile of wee flopsy bunnies gorge themselves on soporific lettuces from the evil Mr. McGregor’s compost heap.  Calling into question whether or not lettuce may actually contain tryptophan, they all sink into a deep sleep.

I have, personally, witnessed such puzzling and sudden fits of exhaustion, sometimes brought on by meals.

Very soporific. Also, musical.

This is bad, though.  While they are enjoying the sweet sleep of the innocents, the detestable Mr. McGregor (of Peter Rabbit infamy) discovers them, bags them, and takes them away to nearly certain death.

Uh oh.

McGregor and his nasty wife are seen back at their house, with the sack, arguing whether the baby bunnies should be sold to provide him with cancer-causing tobacco, or if they should be skinned to provide a lining for the old lady’s cloak.  Basically, a politically incorrect nightmare.

More night terrors ahead.

Luckily, their argument is rendered moot.  In a clever maneuver (that makes me think Tabitha Twitchit should swear off eating mouse pie) Ms. Thomasina Tittlemouse manages to help rescue the baby bunnies  from the clutches of the farmer and his wife.  As they escape, the youngest wee bunny is hit in the head by some rotten marrow hurled by the farmer’s wife, but they escape otherwise unhurt.

Moral:  Kids fall asleep in strange places.  It’s your job to keep them from being bagged and removed.

I, myself, have found a wee babe sleeping in the garden, and I’m very glad I learned the lesson of the Flopsy Bunnies at a young age.

Quick! McGregor will put you in a pie!

So it is that I leave you with this to consider:  should we not be sharing these tiny volumes, which are so full of big wisdom, with our children?  I, for one, am grateful to know that the tough world of the barnyard has happy endings…even for those of us who are stupid enough to climb up a chimney with a fire burning.

The lessons are not over!  Check in at Suburban Snapshots next month to see another favorite children’s author admired…er…destroyed…by Brenna!

18 Replies to “The Terrifyingly True Tales of Beatrix Potter”

  1. It’s brilliant! I snorked out loud!

    Amazing what horrors slip by in children’s lit. I was reading some of Little House to Bee. The first chapter is almost eclusively a lesson in pig butchery. Complete with a blown up pig’s bladder as a child’s plaything. What fun!

    You have elevated the CAC dear. Good show.

      1. Yes, Little House in the Big Woods. I got it to readvto my girls, never having read it before. I’m not giving up, mind you. But my oh my the things they could accomplish with one pig.

  2. I have the Roly Poly Pudding from my childhood and was startled when I began reading it to my son — totally didn’t remember how crazy it was. But somehow he likes it. Go figure.

    1. Definitely. I actually don’t remember any of these books causing me the least concern. I think we underestimate what kids can process. I just remember great stories! It was only as an adult that I became mildly horrified by them. But it’s a love hate relationship.

  3. i am going to have nightmares now. Thanks. These creepy bunny images are burned into my retinas. And what publisher thought it would be nice for kids to see a kitty cat soft taco? freaky.

    1. I read The Road for the first time when I was already a parent of two boys and I am quite sure that a handful of scenes from it will haunt me until my dying day. I see you can relate!

  4. I think we still have that boxset in the back of Elliot’s closet. Someone gvae it to us when he was born. I don’t think we’ve ever opened any of them, except maybe Peter Rabbit. And probably won’t, either. Thanks for the good read!!

  5. Hilarious! I forgot how much political incorrectness was in the beloved children’s classics! *winks* Ah, them were the days…

    And those adorable pixs of your wee ones spontaneous naps made me laugh out loud! It comes full circle once you reach my Season of Life… where you can spontaneously conk out in the midst of something… must mean I’ve finally entered my 2nd Childhood and I’m lovin’ it!

    Dawn… The Bohemian

  6. Josephine Rabbit is my parenting role-model. She’s not coddling those bunnies, she lets them run free because, dammit, she’s got stuff to get done!

    PS: I gave away our copy of The Cat in the Hat after reading it as an adult and realizing it’s all about the creepy uncle-type who comes over uninvited, lays on the guilt when you don’t like his destructive ways and then tells you not to tell your mom. Yick!

  7. Terrifying children is a long standing tradition in folk tales and story telling. It’s how people got kids to behave and not do things like get into bed with a wolf dressed as a granny. Now kids are spoon fed Dora-nation and believe that they and their friends can go off together in the jungle with no harm done. I think my kids are getting away with too much so I’ve decided to change the endings to some beloved stories. eg: Frog and Toad went for a walk. All of a sudden, a snake swallowed Toad. He will now endure the slow and presumably painful process of snake digestion. All this because he woke up grumpy. Goodnight, Kids!

    1. Yes – did you know there is a very old version of Red Riding Hood where she does a striptease for the wolf? I did research once on just this topic – gender roles, etc. Really interesting.

      1. I took a folklore class in college (don’t you just love liberal arts education?) and we read all sorts of effed up stuff about all those stories. It was a story about rape. A wolf dressed as a grandmother raping a child. ‘Night, night kids!

  8. While spending a semester in the UK, I traveled to the Lake District and signed up for a Beatrix Potter bus tour. I was the only one registered. When the driver asked me if I was a big fan, I told him the truth: not at all. I’d only signed up to have fairly cheap way transport around the area to other literary sites. Unfortunately, I still had to visit every Potter-related because the tour had to follow a strict schedule.
    You know what I learned? Potter didn’t even like kids. She wrote the books to make money. Explains a lot, doesn’t it?

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