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A tale too good to pass up
on April 30, 2004
Caveat: Now if you're in the market to buy "The Tale of Peter Rabbit", I highly recommend that you do NOT purchase the horrendous version illustrated by David McPhail. This interesting monstrosity takes a book that was previous perfect and renders it perverse. I am reviewing the original Beatrix Potter edition of this tale, but because Amazon.com doesn't like to differentiate reviews, I'm fairly certain that this review will also appear for the McPhail book as well. Please, dear readers, do not in any way shape or form purchase the McPhail version if you want the original adept "Peter Rabbit"! Where Potter is adept and charming, McPhail is syrupy and doe-eyed. Where Potter is subtle, McPhail is over the top. Where Potter succeeds, McPhail fails. To locate an original edition of "The Tale of Peter Rabbit" click on the author "Beatrix Potter" as it appears at the top of this screen. That should bring you to a selection of choices, one of which is the original "The Tale of Peter Rabbit". Oddly, the only way to purchase that particular original version of the tale is to select her name. I don't know why. Call it a flaw in the Amazon.com system, if you will.
Now, why doesn't Peter Rabbit age? I'm not being literal here, people, so please don't inundate me with explanations that patiently explain that fictional characters in books cannot get old. I won't hear a word of it. Reading "Peter Rabbit" today is just as fresh and new an experience as it was one hundred years ago. Author Beatrix Potter created the story of Peter Rabbit for a young boy with whom she was acquainted. Using the novel idea of drawing animals as they appeared in nature, just in funny clothes and talking, her books are remarkable because she had a dual talent for both illustration and clever narrative. Now after all these years I opened up "Peter Rabbit" to see why I loved it as much as I did as a kid. And the fact of the matter is, it hasn't aged a smidgen. A remarkable and astounding feat for a story originally published in 1903.
Peter lives, as many of us know, in a large fir tree with his mother and his siblings Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cottontail. His father was baked in a pie (a fact that many parents have decried as too dark for children, and that many children have shrugged at without a second thought). Though instructed by his mother NOT to go digging in Mr. McGregor's garden, he's a naughty little thing. His tasty trip is brought up short, however, when he stumbles across the farmer himself. In the course of their chase Peter loses his little blue jacket with the shiny brass buttons and must return to his mother (after a series of close shaves) without it or his shoes. He is promptly put to bed with a cup of camomile tea (a fate we non-camomile tea drinkers must assume is harsh) while his siblings eat the tasty blackberries they picked that morning.
Beatrix Potter claimed that though she was adept at illustrating animals, she had the darndest time (my words, not hers) drawing people. You will note, therefore, that Mr. McGregor is a bit of a featureless wag. The story was remarkable in that it was the first time (I believe) that animals drawn in a picture book actually looked like real animals. Peter is exactly the kind of bunny you'd expect to catch in your yard, except that he's occasionally wearing jaunty spring wear. The similarities in this tale to that of the Brer Rabbit tales of the American South is interesting but due to the fact that Potter was writing this story in 1903 Britain, she probably didn't steal the plot. The book is a classic in the purest sense, of course. If you can get a copy that is small (intended from the start to be the size that little hands could open easily) do. It's a beautiful tale that is as fresh and green today as it was when written long long ago. A classic.