Freddy and the Popinjay
- Narrated by: John McDonough
- Length: 4 hrs and 59 mins
- Unabridged Audiobook
- Release date: 09-24-09
- Language: English
- Publisher: Recorded Books
Regular price: $20.99
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By Jefferson on 07-09-18
Can a Leopard Change Its Spots? Should it?
Just as Freddy the Pig is finishing a poem in which he yearns for a useful tail like a dog or cat's, a robin called JJ Pomeroy mistakes the poet's short curly tail for a worm and gives it a painful tug. The bird apologetically explains that he's near-sighted and constantly taking inedible things home to his children. He also tells Freddy (after the pig recites his poem) that he ought to be proud of having the only purposeless tail on Mr. Bean's farm. Freddy is much impressed, nearly tears up his poem, and offers to help the robin get a pair of tiny glasses from the town optometrist. On the way to Centerboro to fulfill his offer the next day, Freddy is ambushed by Jimmy Witherspoon and his slingshot. Jimmy is the son of a Xenas Witherspoon, a skin flint farmer who refuses to pay for clothes or shoes for the boy so that he's always barefoot and raggedy so that he's ostracized at school, so that his only entertainment is watching animals jump when struck by pebbles from his slingshot. Later that day, Freddy and JJ run into Mrs. Church, the local rich woman who's come to town (driven on a tandem bicycle by her chauffeur because the war has made saving gasoline a patriotic priority) to get wedding invitations printed for her niece. The invitations will display the Church coat of arms (which her husband recently bought) featuring an unknown bird which Freddy is inspired to call a popinjay: because it's an imaginary bird, no one can say it's not a popinjay!
Thus begin the three main plot lines of Walter R. Brooks' Freddy and the Popinjay (1945), which deals comically and complexly with themes relating to identity and change. Should we be content with ourselves as we are? Are we capable of changing ourselves for the better? If we change our outer appearances, does that mean we also change our inner selves? Do we have the right or responsibility to "help" other people change? Should people be given second chances to improve? Etc. The story produces comical or interesting developments like the transformation of a robin into an imaginary bird; a new fashion by which live birds are paid to act like ladies' hats; a war between farm animals and a lonely and indomitable boy; an Arthurian jousting tournament featuring pillows, a duck pond, and bovine chargers; a school run by bears; a wild cat family that wants a new start (the parents promising that their kids won't eat their fellow pupils anymore); a milliner who decides she'd rather walk around in the woods than make a fortune; an overly eager to help wasp; an elephant trap that turns into a thinking hole; and more and more and more.
Like Brooks' other Freddy books, this one is very funny in many different ways. It features whimsical information about animal nature (e.g., "Wasps are no diplomats") as well as satirical takes on human nature (e.g., "Being a banker's wife, she was very difficult to please"). Its humor ranges from the philosophical (Hank the simple horse musing, "It's kind of hard to tell, sometimes, though, whether it's somebody outside that pushed you or somebody inside") to the farcical (Freddy and his friends waking Jimmy up every half hour all night by howling or mooing etc. so as to make him too tired to use his slingshot on them). Much of the humor focuses on Freddy, as when the not overly old pig writes a poem about his lost youth, "When I was a piglet, the grass was much greener," or attends the wedding of Mrs. Church's niece and is mistaken for an ambassador and then partakes in the nuptial fare: "Freddy, like most pigs, was always up in front when the refreshments were handed round."
Like other Freddy books, this one also works in much good-hearted and helpful wisdom (e.g., "Freddy did not think she looked funny any more than most people in Centerboro, because if you like people a lot it doesn't matter what they look like") and vivid description ("Mrs. Church laughed harder than ever, and when she laughed, she shook and all the ten-cent store diamonds sparkled and glittered in the sunshine, until she was quite blinding").
One of the interesting features of the Freddy books is that, after the first three or so, in which the animals can only talk to other animals (humans being too dense to understand animal speech), Freddy and his animal (and insect) friends can speak with people as well as with other animals. It makes for a charming narrative world.
John McDonough is, once again, the perfect reader for a Freddy audiobook, his slightly high and rough voice seriously enjoying Brooks' fantasy fun and never over-doing anything, modifying his voice slightly for rich old ladies, spunky mice, conceited robins, obstreperous boys, mercurial pigs, and so on. All just right.
People who like things like Charlotte's Web (with more humor and less pathos) and Dr. Doolittle (with less traveling around the world) should give Freddy books like this one a try. I am happy to be rediscovering them now after having forgotten them for 45 years.