Friday, December 11, 2009

Forgotten Books: Freddy the Pig - Walter R. Brooks

I think I’ve mentioned before that when I was a kid, the bookmobile came out to our little town from the Fort Worth Public Library and parked under a shade tree on Main Street every Saturday morning. It was about the size of a UPS truck and packed full of books. That was my introduction to the world of libraries. From the age of six, I was there nearly every Saturday, checking out an armload of books that I would read during the week and return the next Saturday so I could get more.

Among the books I discovered in those early years was a series of juvenile novels by Walter R. Brooks about some talking animals who lived on a farm in upstate New York. If I remember correctly, the animals had always been able to talk. It’s just that up until a certain point, humans had never bothered to ask them any questions.

The unofficial leader of the animals was Freddy the Pig, who could read and write and had a decidedly adventurous nature for a pig. He fancied himself a detective and sometimes wore a deerstalker cap and carried a magnifying glass for examining clues. He generally solved the mysteries that came up on the farm and the ones involving the circus with which the animals traveled from time to time. He also started a bank for the animals, learned how to fly a plane, wrote poetry, and even became an explorer and went on expeditions to other countries. Quite a pig, in other words.

He was surrounded by a colorful and entertaining supporting cast of animals and humans, including Jinx the Cat, who was often the comedy relief, and the wise old cow Mrs. Wiggins, who acted as the voice of reason for the impulsive and occasionally reckless Freddy. I seem to recall that there was also a human who functioned as a recurring villain, although he was never really too villainous. These are kids’ books, after all, so Freddy never wound up as bacon.

I loved these books and read all of them I could get my hands on. Some of them I probably reread several times. The series was originally published from the Thirties up through the mid-Fifties, and some of the titles have been reprinted in recent years. To give you an idea of the series’ deadpan humor, here’s a brief passage from FREDDY AND THE PERILOUS ADVENTURE (1942):

“Back at home, in what Freddy called his library, which was really just a shed built on to the back of the pigpen, were dozens of disguises, all neatly hung on hangers, which he used in his detective work. In any one of these he felt sure he could walk straight down the road without the slightest danger of being recognized. But without a disguise he was just a stray pig, and if the police were really looking for him, any stray pig was bound to be stopped and questioned.”

I imagine most kids today would find these books much too gentle and whimsical for their tastes, but for me they were an introduction to mystery fiction (I read them even before I discovered the Hardy Boys), and in rereading them today, I find that I appreciate the humor in them even more than I did when I was eight years old. If you read these in your childhood but haven’t revisited them since, they’re well worth a look. And if you’ve never gotten to know Freddy, well, then, maybe you should.

16 comments:

Randy Johnson said...

I'm not familiar with these stories. I don't know how I missed them.

Laurie said...

I missed them too, but they sound great. And I love the cover.

Michael Bracken said...

I loved Freddy the Pig, but everyone I've ever told about him just gave me a blank and clueless stare. I'm glad to know someone else appreciated these books as much as I did.

George said...

I remember reading this book...and all the other Freddy books. Classics!

pattinase (abbott) said...

We had a book mobile in my section of Philadelphia too. I was allowed to take out five books every Saturday and that I did. But I missed Freddy! Did you read the Uncle Wiggley books?

Steve Oerkfitz said...

I remember reading these as a kid in the 50's along with Eleanor Cameron's Mushroom Planetbooks.

James Reasoner said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who remembers Freddy. I don't recall ever reading any of the Uncle Wiggly books, but we did have an Uncle Wiggly board game that I loved and played any time I could convince anybody to play with me. I don't remember ever seeing any of the Mushroom Planet books when I was a kid, although I've heard of them since growing up.

James Reasoner said...

The bookmobile came out to our town until I was about eleven years old. By that time I had gone from Freddy the Pig to Mike Shayne and Donald Lam/Bertha Cool mysteries and Westerns by "Peter Field". But I never forgot Freddy.

Jerry House said...

Eviently there is a fairly strong Freddy fan base. I believe most, if not all, of the Freddy books are still in print.

Richard Robinson said...

Great choice!

I only remember that there were two FtP books, apparently I was wrong and there was a whole series. Darn, I wish I'd know that THEN. I'm not sure ho well they would stand up to my 60+ year-old brain, but I'm thinking of giving it a try.

Evan Lewis said...

A pig with a deerstalker. Yikes!

Rittster said...

Freddy is new to me, but what a great hybrid of genres! I love this kind of stuff, no matter what age demographic it's aimed at.
I was just at Amazon and was able to read a few seven or eight sample pages from one of the books. Freddy'll be home with me for Christmas.

Cap'n Bob Napier said...

I only heard of them because Walter Albert is a fan of Freddie. As for that Uncle Wiggley game, Linda has the one from her childhood, including a 1952 date on it. Pretty good condition, too. We played it with the kids when they were small.

WV: Hambled. What a pig is when he has to eat crow--nyuk, nyuk!

Rittster said...

Cap'n,

Re "Hambled" and it's definition: Nice word play! (And I'm being serious here, not my usual smart-ass self). Your own creation, or did you hear it somewhere else?

B.Ritt

Duane Spurlock said...

I read about three Freddy books when I was a kid -- our local library had 'em. I've read about 12 to our kids over the past few years at bedtime. Freddy is a Genius!

Walter Brooks also wrote the SEP stories that were the basis for Mr. Ed TV series.

Tim said...

My 7-year old daughter has been reading these from our local library for over a year now. I think they have about 12 or 15 different titles in the series, and it is one of her absolute favorites. By all means, check it out. I picked up one and read the opening paragraphs, and Brooks is a very good writer. These books are not "written down" to a juvenile audience.