Monday, May 19, 2014

Tales of Beatrix Potter by Beatrix Potter; narrated by Nadia May

"Nature, red in tooth and claw" writes Beatrix Potter's near contemporary Alfred, Lord Tennyson - and in the tales of Peter Rabbit, Benjamin Bunny, Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Mr. Tod and others, red it is indeed.  They may be yeoman and gentry late Victorians wearing blue coats and selling peppermints in shops, but they also have absolutely no compunction about eating, skinning and wearing each other.  I'm reminded a bit in that scene from C.S. Lewis, where the giants eat the talking stag, and Eustace, Jill and Puddleglum are all sick about it.  No one is sick about eating talking animals in Beatrix Potter.  The mouse pie in "The Pie in the Patty-pan" - is that Mrs. Tittlemouse?

Some of these stories go absolutely no where, fast ("The Tale of Pigling Bland", for example) and don't really work all that well as stories - but when they do work, they are brilliant little gems; it's no wonder they are still in print, and will continue to be in print, until Peter Rabbit is a folk character the same as his cousin Br'er Rabbit.  "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" is probably the very best story - but I don't know if that's for nostalgia's sake (my grandma used to read it aloud to my brother and I).  The words in all the stories are difficult; there are jawbreaking words occasionally, and turn of the last century British-isms that are unfathomable to 21st century ears - yet I don't remember even caring what chamomile tea was.

The Complete Tales of Beatrix PotterThe Complete Tales of Beatrix Potter by Beatrix Potter
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to the magnificently read Blackstone audio version, and really, I can't recommend it enough.  It's like having a British gran read you the stories before a crackling fire while English weather does what English weather does outside, with a cup of chamomile tea.

Tennyson wrote "Nature, red in tooth and claw" and while he wasn't writing about the brutal world of Beatrix Potter, he could have been.  Peter Rabbit and friends may be late Victorian yeomen and gentry wearing blue coats and selling peppermints in shops, but they also have no absolutely no compunction about eating, skinning and wearing one another.  "Would you care for a piece of pie, Duchess?" Ribby asks. "It WAS Mrs. Tittlemouse." Some of them also, horror of horrors, smoke (albeit rabbit tobacco).

Some of these stories go absolutely no where, fast ("The Tale of Pigling Bland", for example) and don't really work all that well as stories - but when they do work, they are brilliant little gems; it's no wonder they are still in print, and will continue to be in print, until Peter Rabbit is a folk character the same as his cousin Br'er Rabbit.  So long live the stories of Beatrix Potter!




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