Brooks, Walter R

Tagged: Author

(1886-1958) US journalist and author, active from 1915, publishing at least 200 stories by 1944, and including a nonfiction stint with the New Yorker 1932-1933. His most obvious success during these years was the Mr Ed sequence of twenty-three tales about a talking horse and his drunken owner, beginning with "The Talking Horse" (18 September 1937 Liberty), some of them assembled as The Original Mr Ed (coll 1963); the Television series Mister Ed (1961-1966) was based on this work. Beyond some picture books for younger children [not listed below], his only other work of fantasy interest, Ernestine Takes Over (1935), is a mild tale much under the influence of Thorne Smith.

Brooks is now remembered primarily for the Freddy the Pig sequence, beginning with To and Again (1927; vt Freddy Goes to Florida 1949; vt Freddy's First Adventure 1949) and ending after twenty-six volumes with Freddy and the Dragon (1958); the tales hover between Animal Fantasy and Beast Fable modes [see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. The earlier volumes adhere most strictly to the Animal Fantasy model, where animals – in this case Freddy the Pig himself, plus various cats, dogs, horses, cows, mice, chickens and so forth – Parody their animal natures while simultaneously exhibiting human personalities and patterns of behaviour, and speak only to one another. The animal protagonists converse with Santa Claus in More To and Again (1930; vt Freddy the Explorer 1949; vt Freddy Goes to the North Pole 1949), but he is a liminal figure, described at one point as a saint; it is only with the fourth volume in the series, The Story of Freginald (1936; vt Freddy and Freginald 1952), that in fact the cast begins to talk to "ordinary" humans. From this point the series increasingly acquires a modernized Beast Fable ambience, with Freddy and the cast continuing to found corporations to manage their adventures, and very frequently to don clothing, though they go "naked" in private. In the more successful tales, this interplay between modes generates plots of some complexity and considerable humour, even in the most overt political Satire of the sequence, Wiggins for President (1939; vt Freddy the Politician 1948), a story which has occasioned comparisons with George Orwell's later Animal Farm (1945 chap).

Once the series' Animal Fantasy/Beast Fable double premise is granted belief, the stories themselves – typically of much American fantasy both for adults and for children – unpack more or less rationally. There is no Magic in the sequence, with the possible exception of the speed of Santa Claus's sleigh, explicitly described as faster than speeding trains; and nothing (once the premise is granted) exactly impossible – seemingly supernatural elements are rationalized. The basic setting is the Bean Farm in upstate New York, somewhere within a shallow triangle whose points are Utica, Rome and Syracuse; the individual stories usually engage the cast in complicated plots involving humans: friends like the circus owner, who appears in various tales; enemies who wish to take over Farmer Bean's property or to enslave Freddy in a Zoo. Journeys are frequent, most notably perhaps in To and Again, a luminously told tale in which the animals travel by caravan to Florida to enjoy the sun, singing road songs touchingly prefiguring the more famous verse of J R R Tolkien, and More To And Again, which climaxes at the North Pole in a vast circular ice palace, every room of which enjoys a southern exposure. Several tales involve sf elements, most of them through the Inventions of Farmer Bean's uncle: in The Clockwork Twin (1937) he invents a clockwork Robot; in Freddy and the Space Ship (1953) it is a working Spaceship; and in Freddy and the Flying Saucer Plans (1957) he designs a flying saucer (see UFOs). In two linked tales, Freddy and the Men from Mars (1954) and Freddy and the Baseball Team from Mars (1955), visitors from Mars become entangled with Freddy's enemies, but are rescued by the circus owner, who forms a Baseball team with them. [JC]

see also: Children's SF.

Walter Rollins Brooks

born Rome, New York: 9 January 1886

died Roxbury, New York: 17 August 1958

works

series

Freddy the Pig

Mr Ed

individual titles (selected)

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