By Warren Moore
When I was a kid in Nashville, I had free run of the stacks in the local library (at least once my dad told the librarians, “Yeah, he’s eight. Yeah, that’s from the adult section. If he has questions, he’ll ask us.”), but not surprisingly, I spent most of my time in the kids’ section. I bounced from series to series, and my grade school days were filled with the adventures of folks like the Three Investigators, Danny Dunn, and Horace Higby, all of which were reasonably contemporary, and even a little realistic, dealing with mysteries, science fiction and a hybrid of sf and sports.
But I connected the most with a series whose hero was a talking pig, who in many ways was the most realistic character I found on those shelves. Walter R. Brooks is probably best remembered by many as the creator of Mr. Ed, but as the Wiki entry notes, his Freddy the Pig series is what has lasted, even fifty-plus years after Brooks’s death.
Set in upstate New York in the then-contemporary era, the stories follow the adventures of the “very clever” animals of the Bean Farm, and especially those of the titular swine. The books were written between 1927 and 1958.
Freddy and his pals—including Jinx the cat, the cow (and President of the First Animal Republic) Mrs. Wiggins, and (literally) henpecked blowhard Charles the rooster—took trips to the North Pole and Florida, solved mysteries great and small, and repeatedly faced down the depredations of bank robbers, swindlers, and a number of avaricious animals with totalitarian dreams, most notably Simon the rat. Along the way, Freddy served as a general, pilot, detective, defense attorney, cowboy, and football player, although he really preferred following his poetic muse.
I understood Freddy on our first meeting—like him, I was clever, if heavyset and a little lazy, and like him, I was pretty sure that the best part of adventure was remembering it from the comfort of my pigpen afterward. (Well, my mom told me it was a pigsty. . . .) I understood being scared enough to uncurl your tail, but knowing that sometimes facing that was part of doing what’s right.
And I learned a great deal about people and about being who I was from those books. I learned that you can think your way through lots of problems, I learned that having a few friends who will back you means more than having lots of folks saying they will, and I learned that while being smart is handy, sometimes common sense is better.
The lessons the Freddy books taught me have lasted as well. I’ve been in many a faculty meeting where I’ve thought of Charles the rooster, whom the animals considered a great orator, even if they could never quite remember later what he had said. I’ve faced a number of situations where, like Freddy opposing the Ignormus, “‘When you’re alone,’ said Freddy firmly, ‘and you hear or see something that scares you, the thing to do is walk right up and find out what it is.’”
Those are lessons and memories for which I’m grateful. I also loved that Brooks didn’t talk down to me—his prose was simple but elegant, without being dumbed down, and that the characters weren’t plaster saints. Freddy was a bit lazy, a little vain, and not much of a house–uh, penkeeper. But the spirit of the stories was like the spirit of the Bean Farm’s animals—kind, amiable, and clever.
The books were out of print for far too long, but thanks to the prompting of the Friends of Freddy, among others, Overlook Press started reissuing them in recent years, and a number of them have shelf space here at Spackle Manor, where I’ve shared them with my children. The Friends also sponsor Freddy conferences/conventions, and Freddy devotee Michael Cart recently published a bio of Brooks.
So if you know a bookish kid around the age of nine, or if you take that role yourself from time to time, I highly recommend that you start visiting the Bean Farm, starting with my favorite, Freddy the Detective. You’ll like what you find.
Warren Moore is a medievalist who blogs at the Professor Mondo site, where an earlier version of this article appeared. Used with permission.