Rush-That-Speaks (rushthatspeaks) wrote,

Freddy Goes to the North Pole, Walter R. Brooks (365 Books, Day 359)

I have been nervous about the Freddy books for about a decade now; that is how long it's been since I'd read any of them. At least. I grew up with them, as some relative or other tucked a couple into a holiday box one year, and the library had a circulating selection. I remember really liking the ones with the Martians and the others are kind of blurry, so I had the fear one always has about childhood books: did this, while I grew up, receive a visit from the Suck Fairy? And did she bring her friends the Racism and Sexism Fairies along for the ride? I was so nervous about the Freddy books that I put off rereading the ones I own for about five years due, solely, to that nervousness. They are exactly the kind of thing that turns out to be awful when you grow up a depressing percentage of the time, and given that they were written in the 1930s through 1950s, well, the awful could have been spectacularly hideous.

I went through the library today and reread a lot of the ones I knew as a kid and read one, Freddy Goes to the North Pole, for the first time.

Thankfully, they aren't terrible. Whew. They are not brilliant, and they vary in quality extremely; you can see Brooks teaching himself to write them as he goes. They do not have consistent worldbuilding to the point where they do not have worldbuilding at all. They do not have consistent memories of things that happened in previous books, even.

But they are and remain charming, cute little books about a farm full of talking animals who, as a farm full of talking animals would inevitably be, are bored with farm work and therefore do anything else that comes into their heads. Freddy, the protagonist pig, has been a detective, an editor, a politician, a travel agent, a rocket scientist, a terrible poet (sadly a consistent feature)... the list goes ever on and on. The whole is set in a sort of bucolic-to-the-point-of-comedic-exaggeration whitebread extremely-stereotype-American small town which manages to get away with its strains of anti-Communism, rabid patriotism and general dislike of politicians by being such a caricature that you cannot possibly take any of its politics seriously. I am not capable of taking anti-Communist sentiments as intended as a real statement when they are expressed by a sheriff who hands off the key to the jail to his prisoners every weekend to make sure they don't feel unloved and rejected by society. I'm just not. Nobody can make me.

As an adult, I am capable of noticing which precise great English poems Freddy has plagiarized and turned into travesties of themselves in the service of his, uh, art. (Put down the Kipling! And back away slowly!) Apart from that, the books really haven't changed a bit, although I have no idea what anyone would think of them now who didn't read them as a kid.

The new-to-me-today is an odd duck among them, one of the ones that is more out-and-out fantastical, which is not the usual direction of this series. I don't think it works very well, but this is only the second and Brooks is still finding his feet. The animals decide to found a travel agency for other animals, in which they show them around various sights of interest in exchange for farm labor, and consequently all find themselves free to take a very long vacation; a party decides to go the North Pole. When it is not heard back from, another party goes... and discovers, in fact, Santa Claus. Whose shop has been taken over by the crew of a whaling ship who want to make it more efficient, which is making everybody miserable. The animals have to find a way to get the crew to go home without hurting them, since they generally mean well. Along the way they save a couple of orphans, have a genuinely tense confrontation with a wolf pack, and totally disregard everything about the way the climate on the way to the North Pole actually is (seriously, they all sleep on the ground under feather beds every night and it's just fine). It's an incredibly peculiar book.

As with all other Brooks, some animals talk and some don't, and some animals who talk eat other animals who talk, even knowing they talk, and some people are willing to eat even animals they know talk while other people are perfectly willing to treat the animals exactly as they would human beings, and the inconsistency of all of this multiplies by about ten thousand when you throw in Santa Claus, a crew of whalers, abused children, a fake treasure map, and lots and lots of filked Tennyson and Walter Scott. This specific novel doesn't quite gel, in that it's more a series of peculiar set-pieces than a coherent anything, but I can't disrecommend it, because it's certainly different.

And as I said, the series in general holds up, especially the ones with the Martians, because Brooks turns out to be way better at SF than fantasy, once you just take the talking animals as one of those things that happens sometimes. Which in fact is how everyone takes it. So, while these are not the sort of kids' books that turn out to be treasures that were totally beyond one's comprehension at the time (Keith Robertson's Henry Reed books turn out to be hilarious in ways I had never dreamed possible), they are the sort you can read happily and reminiscently without feeling sick to one's stomach. This makes me very cheerful, because, well, that's a whole chunk of childhood.

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Tags: 365 books, author: brooks walter r., genre: children's
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