Old Mother West Wind isn’t really one story – it’s gobs of little ones stuck together into one book.
Every day Old Mother West Wind and her daughters, the Merry Little Breezes sweep through the forest, frolicking with the animals, watching the games that they play, and listening to the stories that they tell. They watch as Peter Rabbit pulls pranks on his neighbours, and attend Jerry Muskrat’s festive swimming party. They even help to judge the grand Green Forest race by rushing alongside the competitors and making sure they stay on the right course. But most importantly, they help to track down the troublemakers in the forest and ensure that justice is brought to all.
Although at times the animals plagued one another, they also acted sweetly towards one another. For example, at Jerry Muskrat’s swimming party, when they noticed that Peter Rabbit and Bobby Coon were not having fun because they could not swim, Jerry and all of the swimming animals offered to give them rides back and forth across the pool.
Another time, when one of the Merry Little Breezes learns that Reddy Fox and Hooty the Owl intend to eat up Mr. and Mrs. Bob White, she races ahead to warn them.
The story is told of little Tommy Trout and the miserable end that he came to because he wouldn’t mind his parents. It is a good though exaggerated reminder to children to obey their parents.
Each of the books In Thornton Burgess’s The Green Forest series follows a main character. It includes lots of other characters, to be sure, but the main character is the focus of attention. In this book, Old Mother West Wind and her children, the Merry Little Breezes are the focus. Given the characteristics of humans such as speech, emotions, and relationships, this mother and her children whiz in and out of the forest, interacting with the animals that live there and bringing justice to the community.
Several stories are told which are mis-information; the story of how Jimmy Skunk got his strip, why Sammy Jay only screeches ‘Thief!’ and cannot twitter as the other birds do, and how frogs lost their tails. Several of these stories include Old Dame Nature, or ‘Mother’ Nature, who, it would seem, makes an appearance at occasions such as these and punishes the naughty animals. She and Old Mother West Wind function as finite deities so to speak who make sure the forest animals keep in line.
“Whatever Old Dame Nature commanded all the little meadow folks were obliged to do.” [pg. 17]
Here is the tale of how the frog lost his tail.
“Once on a time,” began Grandfather Frog, “the Frogs ruled the world, which was mostly water. There was very little dry land – ho, very little indeed! There were no boys to throw stones and no hungry Mink to gobble up foolish Frog-babies who were taking a sun bath!”
Billy Mink, who had joined the Merry Little Breezes and was listening, squirmed uneasily and looked away guiltily.
“In those days all the Frogs had tails, long handsome tails of which they were very, very proud indeed,” continued Grandfather Frog. “The King of all the Frogs was twice as big as any other Frog, and his tail was three times as long. He was very proud, oh, very proud indeed of his long tail. He used to sit and admire it until he thought that there never had been and never could be another such tail. He used to wave it back and forth in the water, and every time he waved it all the other Frogs would cry ‘Ah!’ and ‘Oh!’ Every day the King grew more vain. He did nothing at all but eat and sleep and admire his tail.
“Now all the other Frogs did just as the King did, so pretty soon none of the Frogs were doing anything but sitting about eating, sleeping and admiring their own tails and the King’s.
“Now you all know that people who do nothing worth while in this world are of no use and there is little room for them. So when Mother Nature saw how useless had become the Frog tribe she called the King Frog before her and she said:
“’Because you can think of nothing but your beautiful tail it shall be taken away from you. Because you do nothing but eat and sleep your mouth shall become wide like a door, and your eyes shall start forth from your head. You shall become bow-legged and ugly to look at, and all the world shall laugh at you.’
“The King Frog looked at his beautiful tail and already it seemed to have grown shorter. He looked again and it was shorter still. Every time he looked his tail had grown shorter and smaller. By and by when he looked there was nothing left but a little stub which he couldn’t even wriggle. Then even that disappeared, his eyes popped out of his head and his mouth grew bigger and bigger.”
Old Grandfather Frog stopped and looked sadly at a foolish green fly coming his way. “Chug-arum,” said Grandfather Frog, opening his mouth very wide and hopping up in the air. When he sat down again on his big lily pad the green fly was nowhere to be seen. Grandfather Frog smacked his lips and continued:
“And from that day to this every Frog has started life with a big tail, and as he has grown bigger and bigger his tail has grown smaller and smaller, until finally it disappears, and then he remembers how foolish and useless it is to be vain of what nature has given us. And that is how I came to lose my tail,” finished Grandfather Frog. [pgs. 6-8]
At the end of the story, a race is held and Spotty the turtle wins because he acted cleverly or, as I would say, he cheated. Not only did he hitch rides on other competitors, but he also managed to hide all but one of the nuts which was supposed to be a sign of having reached the far end of the race. He took the other nut back and was proclaimed the winner and praised for his cleverness.
The forest animals are sometimes naughty and play tricks on each other, but they are always repaid for their mischief.
Conclusion. Not as acceptable as other in Thornton W. Burgess’s The Green Forest series, Old Mother West Wind combines mythic personification with sweet character lessons.
Review © 2012 Laura Verret