FREDDY IS BACK; Freddy, the pig o' my heart.
I discovered Freddy when I was 10 in a children's novel called Wiggins for President, which told the adventures of some animals who lived on a farm in upstate New York. They were very special animals because they could talk, and their owner, Farmer Bean, his neighbors and persons in nearby towns accepted the animals' cleverness as a matter of fact. I fell completely under the spell of these animals and read, and reread, every book about them I could.
In all there are 26 Freddy books, which appeared almost annually between 1927 and 1958. In the 1970s the publisher allowed them to go out of print, an act incomprehensible to those who regard them as on a par with the Oz and Doctor Dolittle books. Four of them reappear now, to the cheers -- one might even say, to the squeals -- of old admirers everywhere. The new editions contain the original, entirely delightful illustrations by Kurt Wiese.
The books were the creation of Walter R. Brooks, a New York advertising man, who wrote short stories for Esquire and The Saturday Evening Post. He also worked for a time on the staff of The New Yorker. By happy coincidence this is the centennial year of his birth.
The pig Freddy is only one of the Bean Farm animals, although far and away the smartest. He's also lazy and daydreams a lot, and of course he's very fond of food. He's not especially brave, though he dabbles in detection work and likes to wear disguises.
Grand adventures befall Freddy and his friends, some of a slapstick variety and some actively dangerous. The books' enduring appeal stems from their underplayed humor and the sly way Brooks brings out the animals' characters and eccentricities. Occasionally, there is a physical assault, but never deadly violence. Brooks seems to celebrate individual responsibility for moral acts and an entirely old-fashioned Yankee sense of fair play. He celebrates the old rural New England virtues, without in the least bit being preachy.
Wiggins for President was the sixth Freddy book, published in 1939. It appears here retitled as Freddy the Politician, the earlier title discarded for marketing reasons. The year it appeared is important, because the tremendously exciting events of Freddy the Politician reflect in subtle ways the political concerns of the 1930s.
When Mr. and Mrs. Bean decide to visit Europe, he tells the animals they can run the farm. To prove they are capable of this responsibility, the animals found the First Animal Republic. Mrs. Wiggins is nominated for president, and in the general election, Freddy serves as her campaign manager.
Mrs. Wiggins' parade on election eve, as described by Brooks, is a small joy of invention:
"First came Jinx, walking on his hind legs, with a red, white, and blue scarf over his shoulder, and carrying a drum major's stick, which he twirled expertly, and sometimes even threw up in the air and caught as it came down. At least he tried to catch it, but he didn't always succeed, so that after a while whenever he threw it up the whole parade would break and run for cover, and Mrs. Wiggins had to ask him to stop.
"Behind Jinx came Freddy, carrying the red, white, and blue flag of the F.A.R . . . Behind Freddy came the band -- a group of mixed animals who blew on grass stems and rattled tin cans and made other semi-musical noises. Of course, none of the animals could really play anything, but it made a good lot of noise and sounded quite martial . . . After the band came the carriage of state . . . the old phaeton . . . drawn by Mrs. Wiggins' sisters, Mrs. Wurzburger and Mrs. Wogus. . . . I must say she looked very impressive sitting there among the banners and the crepe-paper decorations, bowing graciously to the cheering crowds along the line of march . . .
"The carriage of state was followed by a detachment of rabbits in paper hats, led by Georgie the dog , and then Hank the horse , all trimmed up with crepe paper and Mrs. Bean's feather duster on his head for a plume. The mice rode on his back. Then came the skunks and the squirrels and some of the other smaller animals, doing fancy marching. They had been drilling hard for a couple of weeks, and their evolutions were received with hearty applause, even from their political opponents." As night falls, the parade is lighted by fireflies.
But the next morning, treachery! On election day the First Animal Republic is overthrown by a coup d'e'tat organized by a gang of woodpeckers. How the Bean Farm animals organize a counterrevolution provides the thrilling action in Freddy the Politician. Four decades have not dimmed its freshness.
The woodpeckers appear in the novel's opening pages when one lands on the Bean Farm after being blown off course by a storm. His name is John Quincy, and he is a member of a Washington, D.C., woodpecker family whose members are all named after U.S. presidents. When the animals ask him to stay on as president of a savings bank they are organizing, the bird replies:
" 'Well,' said John Quincy, 'you tempt me. I admit you tempt me. Washington can be very tiring. The balls, the parties, the political conferences, the diplomatic intrigues -- one grows weary of the constant round of gaiety. I have often thought that I should like to spend a summer among the plain country people, sharing their simple pleasures. And perhaps -- who knows? -- my wide experience and deep knowledge of men and cities might be of some help to them too.' "
He accepts the bank presidency and then is invited to come and meet Freddy.
" 'Who's Freddy, if I may ask?' said the woodpecker.
" 'Freddy? Oh, he's just -- Freddy . . . He'll have to be our secretary, because he's the only animal on the farm that can read or write. He's a pig.'
" 'A pig!' exclaimed John Quincy, and he laughed heartily. 'Dear me, I am going to be rural and no mistake. A pig! Well, well.' "
When John Quincy sees the extent of the bank's assets, the conspiracy of woodpeckers starts forming. " 'What did you expect from a bug-eater?' " the owl Whibley asks later.
Note that this shrewd children's tale appeared a full seven years before George Orwell's vastly more complex (and chilling) political fable for adults, Animal Farm.
John Quincy is not the first being, man or beast, to underestimate Freddy. In other books newly reprinted, Freddy encounters danger in a hot-air balloon (Freddy and the Perilous Adventure, 1942); foils the evil tricks of Simon the Rat at the old lakeside hotel (Freddy Goes Camping, 1948); and takes to the air to save Mr. Boomschmidt's Stupendous and Unexcelled Circus from the shady schemes of Watson P. Condiment, the comic-book tycoon (Freddy the Pilot, 1952).
Welcome back, Freddy, you paragon of porkers.