Saturday September 4, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Peter Rabbit

On this Day:

In 1893, the English author Beatrix Potter first wrote the story of Peter Rabbit for a 5 year old boy.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit is a children’s book written and illustrated by Beatrix Potter that follows mischievous and disobedient young Peter Rabbit as he gets into, and is chased around, the garden of Mr. McGregor. He escapes and returns home to his mother, who puts him to bed after offering him chamomile-tea. The tale was written for five-year-old Noel Moore, son of Potter’s former governess Annie Carter Moore, in 1893. It was revised and privately printed by Potter in 1901 after several publishers’ rejections, but was printed in a trade edition by Frederick Warne & Co. in 1902. The book was a success, and multiple reprints were issued in the years immediately following its debut. It has been translated into 36 languages, and with 45 million copies sold it is one of the best-selling books in history.

Since its release, the book has generated considerable merchandise for both children and adults, including toys, dishes, foods, clothing, and videos. Potter was one of the first to be responsible for such merchandise when she patented a Peter Rabbit doll in 1903 and followed it almost immediately with a Peter Rabbit board game. Peter Rabbit has remained popular amongst children for more than a century and continues to be adapted and expanded through new book editions, television and film.

The story focuses on a family of anthropomorphic rabbits. The widowed mother rabbit warns her four rabbit children, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail, and Peter (the oldest rabbit child) not to enter the vegetable garden of a man named Mr. McGregor, whose wife, she tells them, put their father in a pie after he entered. Her triplets (Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail) obediently refrain from entering the garden. Peter’s little sisters (Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail) were good little bunnies and went down the lane to gather blackberries. But Peter enters the garden to snack on some vegetables.

Peter ends up eating more than what is good for him and goes looking for parsley to cure his stomach ache. Peter is spotted by Mr. McGregor and loses his jacket and shoes while trying to escape. He hides in a watering can in a shed, but then has to run away again when Mr. McGregor finds him, and ends up completely lost. After sneaking past a cat, Peter sees the gate where he entered the garden from a distance and heads for it, despite being spotted and chased by Mr. McGregor again. With difficulty, he wriggles under the gate, and escapes from the garden, but he spots his abandoned clothing being used to dress Mr. McGregor’s scarecrow for crows and other pesky critters.

After returning home, a sick Peter is bedridden by his mother. His mother wonders where Peter’s clothes are. She is very cross at Peter for going into Mr. McGregor’s garden and losing his jacket and shoes. It is revealed that it was the second little jacket and pair of shoes Peter lost in a fortnight. She also takes note that he was not feeling too well, and deduces that he had definitely been to Mr McGregor’s garden. To cure his stomachache, Mrs. Rabbit gives him chamomile tea which is revealed to be one teaspoon and gives a dose of it to Peter. Peter’s little sisters (Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail), meanwhile, receive a scrumptious dinner of milk, bread and blackberries. However, only Mr. McGregor knew where Peter’s clothes were as they were used to frighten the crows like a scarecrow.

Writing in Storyteller: The Classic that Heralded America’s Storytelling Revival, in discussing the difference between stories that lend themselves well to telling and stories that lend themselves well to reading, Ramon Ross explains Peter Rabbit is a story created for reading. He believes Potter created a good mix of suspense and tension, intermixed with lulls in the action. He goes on to write that the writing style—”the economy of words, the crisp writing”—lends itself well to a young audience.

Lear writes that Potter “had in fact created a new form of animal fable: one in which anthropomorphic animals behave as real animals with true animal instincts”, and a form of fable with anatomically correct illustrations drawn by a scientifically minded artist. She further states Peter Rabbit’s nature is familiar to rabbit enthusiasts “and endorsed by those who are not … because her portrayal speaks to some universal understanding of rabbity behaviour.” She describes the tale as a “perfect marriage of word and image” and “a triumph of fantasy and fact”.

According to Stuart Jeffries, “…psychoanalytic critiques of her work have multiplied since her death in 1943.” Carole Scott writes in Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit that the reader cannot help but identify with rebellious little Peter and his plight as all the illustrations are presented from his low-to-the-ground view, most feature Peter in close-up and within touching distance, and Mr. McGregor is distanced from the reader by always being depicted on the far side of Peter. Scott explains: “This identification dramatically instills fear and tension in the reader, and interacts with the frequently distanced voice of the verbal narrative”, sometimes with contradictory effects. In the verbal narrative and the illustration for the moment when Mr. McGregor attempts to trap Peter under a garden sieve, for example, the verbal narrative presents the murderous intent of Mr. McGregor as a matter-of-fact, everyday occurrence while the illustration presents the desperate moment from the terrified view of a small animal in fear of his life – a view that is reinforced by the birds that take flight to the left and the right.

In the illustration of Peter standing by the locked door, the verbal narrative describes the scene without the flippancy evident in the moment of the sieve. The inability to overcome obstacles is presented in the verbal narrative with objective matter-of-factness and the statement, “Peter began to cry” is offered without irony or attitude, thus drawing the reader closer to Peter’s emotions and plight. The illustration depicts an unclothed Peter standing upright against the door, one foot upon the other with a tear running from his eye. Without his clothes, Peter is only a small, wild animal but his tears, his emotions, and his human posture intensifies the reader’s identification with him. Here, verbal narrative and illustration work in harmony rather than in disharmony. Scott suggests Potter’s tale has encouraged many generations of children to “self-indulgence, disobedience, transgression of social boundaries and ethics, and assertion of their wild, unpredictable nature against the constrictions of civilized living.”

Frank Delaney notes “a self-containment” in Potter’s writing reflective of an uninterested mother and a lonely childhood spent in the company of pets. John Bidwell, curator at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York, observed “…the sardonic humor that makes Beatrix Potter so much fun for kids and grown-ups.” (per Wikipedia).

First, a Story:

What would you call an angry Peter Rabbit on a hot day? A hot cross bunny…

Second, a Song:

The Boy Least Likely To is an English indie pop duo, composed of composer/multi-instrumentalist Pete Hobbs and lyricist/singer Jof Owen.

Owen and Hobbs both grew up in the village of Wendover in Buckinghamshire. After meeting at school, Owen and Hobbs began writing and recording songs as The Boy Least Likely To in the summer of 2002. Creating their own independent record label, Too Young to Die, the band’s first release was the 7″ single “Paper Cuts” in 2003. They released three singles and completed the recording of their debut album before playing any live shows. The debut album, The Best Party Ever, which compiled the band’s first three singles and added five new tracks, was released in the UK in February 2005, and in the United States in late Spring 2006.

The Best Party Ever was included in the Pitchfork top 50 albums of 2005[3] and was number 8 in the Rough Trade Shop top 100 albums of the same year.

The band describe their own sound as ‘Country Disco’ in their song “I’m Glad I Hitched My Apple Wagon To Your Star”. They were included in the top ten bands of 2006 in Rolling Stone magazine, and described as sounding like what would happen “if all your childhood stuffed animals got together and started a band.”

Their second album, Law of the Playground, was delayed by label troubles and released in April 2009.[8] It includes the singles “Every Goliath Has Its David”, “A Balloon On A Broken String”, “When Life Gives Me Lemons I Make Lemonade” and “A Fairytale Ending”.

In December 2010, they released a seasonal album called Christmas Special, which included eight original compositions and three traditional festive songs. It includes the single “George and Andrew”.

The fourth album, The Great Perhaps, was released in 2013. It Includes the singles “It Could’ve Been Me” featuring Gwenno Saunders from The Pipettes, “Climbing Out Of Love”, “I Keep Falling In Love With You Again” and “Michael Collins”, a song written about the Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins.

In 2014 Jof Owen formed the band Legends Of Country, and released the singles “That’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Country” and “It’s A Long Way Back From A Dream”, a song about the darts player Richie Burnett.

The song “When Life Gives Me Lemons, I Make Lemonade” was used in the 2010 Emma Stone comedy Easy A and in the 2018 film Peter Rabbit, which were both directed by Will Gluck.

Peter Rabbit is a 2018 3D live-action/computer-animated comedy film, based upon the character of the same name created by Beatrix Potter, directed by Will Gluck, and co-written by Gluck and Rob Lieber. James Corden stars as the voice of the title character, with Rose Byrne, Domhnall Gleeson, and Sam Neill in live-action roles, as well as the voices of Daisy Ridley, Elizabeth Debicki, and Margot Robbie. The film’s story focuses on Peter Rabbit as he deals with new problems when the late Mr. McGregor’s great-nephew arrives and discovers the trouble Peter’s family can get into.

Peter Rabbit was released in the United States on February 9, 2018, in the United Kingdom on March 16, 2018, and in Australia on March 22, 2018. The film received mixed reviews and grossed $351 million worldwide on a $50 million budget. A sequel, Peter Rabbit 2: The Runaway, was released in Australia on March 25, 2021, in the United Kingdom on May 17, 2021, and in the United States on June 11, 2021 (per Wikipedia).

Ilze Struwig on has set “When Life Gives Me Lemons I Make Lemonade” to scenes from the movie Peter Rabbit. I hope you enjoy this!


Thought for the Day:

“Thank goodness I was never sent to school; it would have rubbed off some of the originality.”- Beatrix Potter

Have a great day!

Dave & Colleen

© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky

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