Friday, September 23, 2011

The Adventures of Brer Rabbit

The stories of Brer Rabbit and his friends and enemies were originally written by Joel Chandler Harris, who attributed them to an old slave he invented named "Uncle Remus." Remus lived on a plantation in Georgia during the Post-Reconstruction period, just after the Civil War. He, like many freed slaves at that time, had no place to go after being emancipated, so he stayed on for the rest of his days. He didn't do much work anymore, mostly he would tell the children of the plantation owners stories about the animals he knew from that area to entertain and to teach. Harris drew the inspiration for the Uncle Remus stories from real folktales the slaves brought to America from Africa.

I realize that some of you may view these stories as somewhat controversial. True, there is some content in the Uncle Remus stories that might be construed as insensitive by today’s standards, but at heart they are just entertaining animal fables, and I don't think they should be ignored just because they were born out of a period in our shared history that we're (rightly) ashamed of. In the interest of keeping things pleasant, I have, shall we say, softened them a little and removed a certain word which, while a literal description of a plot element in the story, has since become a fairly horrendous racial slur.

Now, this story takes place once upon a time. Not your time, or my time, or any other time. But once upon a time. Back then, the people were closer to the animals, the animals were closer to each other, and you might say things were better all around. In fact, the animals were so friendly, they called each other “Brother.” “Good morning, brother dog,” they would say. “How do you do, brother cat?” But this story takes place way down south, in the southiest of the southlands, where the people (and the animals) talk in such a way that it comes out more like “Brer.” “G’morning, brer dog.” “How d’ya do, brer cat?” and so on.

There were lots of critters around in those days, but the craftiest, quickest and cleverest of all was Brer Rabbit. He was the slickest critter you’ve ever seen. He could get himself in and out of trouble just as easy as you could fall off a log. And most of that trouble came from a certain mean, nasty critter called Brer Fox, who was determined to catch and eat Brer Rabbit for his dinner.

But Brer Rabbit wasn’t worried about Brer Fox. He knew he’d always find a way to outsmart him. He didn’t even worry when Brer Fox put that fence up around his peanut crop. He just slid under it, helped himself to all the “goobers” he wanted and scurried on home before Brer Fox even knew what hit him. Well, finally, Brer Fox got fed up and laid a little trap for Brer Rabbit. And, sure enough, the very next night when Brer Rabbit came to get more goobers, he stepped in the snare trap and before he knew it, he was trussed up by his legs, hanging between the heaven and the earth. At first, he was scared he was gonna fall…then he was scared he wasn’t gonna fall! Because he knew it would only be a few hours before Brer Fox showed up and then he’d have himself a nice juicy rabbit for a meal!

Now, being small, Brer Rabbit knew it was better to use his head instead of his feet, so he started working on a plan to get himself out of this mess. Just then, who should come along on an evening stroll but Brer Bear. Brer Bear was big and tough, friendly enough, but a little shy on brains…which was perfect for Brer Rabbit.

“Howdy, Brer Bear!” he called out from the tree. “How ya come on?”

“Huh? Oh, howdy Brer Rabbit…what you doin’ way up there?”

“Me? Oh, I’m a scarecrow, Brer Bear. I’m keepin’ the crows outta the garden for Brer Fox. It’s a good job, too. I’m makin’ a dollar a minute!”

“A dollar a minute!” exclaimed Brer Bear. “That means you’re makin’…er…a lotta money!” As I said, not much on brains.

“Yeah, it’s a good job. Say, Brer Bear, would you like this job? I think you’d make a great scarecrow. No, I insist, I’ve got plenty of money already. Just help me down and you can take over for me.”

Well, you can imagine what Brer Fox thought when he came to check his trap the next morning and found Brer Bear hanging by his feet from the tree. And, after patiently explaining to Brer Bear that he was not making a dollar a minute, the two of them decided to team up to teach Brer Rabbit a lesson once and for all. Now, being a bear, Brer Bear had an ample supply of honey at his house. So taking this, a few sticks, an old hat and coat, and buttons for eyes, they shaped the honey into the shape of a little person, and sat it down on a log by the side of the road. Then they hid behind some bushes and waited for Brer Rabbit to come by.

He did, soon enough, and when he saw the "honeychild" sitting by the side of the road, he thought it was a real person, so he called out a friendly, “Howdy!” as he passed…but the honeychild didn’t say anything. Brer Rabbit thought maybe he hadn’t heard, so he said it again: “Howdy!” But the honeychild didn’t say anything. “Hey,” he yelled at the honeychild, starting to get annoyed, “didn’t you hear me? I said ‘Howdy!’” But the honeychild didn’t say anything. “Now look here,” said Brer Rabbit, “don’t you know it ain’t polite not to say ‘howdy’ when someone says ‘howdy?’ Now I’m gonna give you to the count of three, and if I don’t get a ‘howdy,’ I’m gonna punch you right in the mouth! One…two…three! Okay, you asked for it.” Brer Rabbit swung his paw back and punched the honeychild right in the mouth…and, of course, his fist got stuck. So he punched him with the other paw…and that one got stuck. Then he started to punch and kick as hard as he could at every part of the honeychild’s body. But the more he tried to get free the more deeply he got stuck in the honey, until he was so deep in the thick, sticky honey that he could scarecely open his eyes.

The next thing Brer Rabbit heard was laughter as Brer Fox and Brer Bear came out of their hiding place. “We got you, Brer Rabbit!” said Brer Bear. “Yeah, I sure did!” said Brer Fox, who’d been waiting for this moment all his life. “I finally caught you, Brer Rabbit. And now I’m gonna get rid of you once and for all!”

“How we gonna do it?” asked Brer Bear.

“I know!” said Brer Fox after thinking about it for a moment. “Let’s get some rope and hang ‘im! What do you think of that, Brer Rabbit? We’re gonna hang ya! I bet that scares you, doesn’t it?”

But just then, Brer Rabbit got perhaps the best idea of his entire life. “You can hang me up just as high as you like, Brer Fox. As long as you don’t throw me in that Briar Patch, I don’t mind.”

“Say,” said Brer Bear. “He don’t seem to be afraid of being hanged.”

“Yeah, I know. I got it! We won’t hang ‘im…we’ll tie him to a big rock, throw him in the lake and drown ‘im! Now that’s gotta scare you, doesn’t it Brer Rabbit?”

“Drown me just as deep as you like, Brer Fox. I won’t be afraid as long as you don’t throw me in that Briar Patch!”

“No, he’s not afraid of drowning either!” said Brer Bear.

“Okay, okay…” said Brer Fox, and he began to think again. “I got it this time! I’ll take my big, sharp knife…and skin ya alive! Now that has to make you scared, right, Brer Rabbit?”

“Skin me! Hang me! Drown me! Shoot me! Stab me! Roast me! Do whatever you want to me, Brer Fox. But whatever you do, please don’t throw me in that Briar Patch!

“Oh, this is hopeless!” said Brer Bear. “He ain’t scared of anything!”

“Wait!” said Brer Fox. “I know what he’s scared of! He’s scared of being thrown in the Briar Patch! Well, then…that’s just where he’s gonna go!” So Brer Fox and Brer Bear dragged Brer Rabbit to the edge of a mile wide thicket of sharp, dangerous briars and thorns. All the while, Brer Rabbit was begging for mercy, but they wouldn’t listen. They each took one end of Brer Rabbit and swung him back and forth between them…one…two…three! And they flung Brer Rabbit right into the middle of the Briar Patch!

Brer Fox and Brer Bear pricked up their ears to listen to the agonized, tormented screams of Brer Rabbit…imgaine their surprise when they heard laughter instead! You see, unbeknowst to the fox and the bear, Brer Rabbit had been born and raised in the Briar Patch! He knew every thorn like the back of his own paw. “I surely do appreciate you taking me home, boys!” cried Brer Rabbit playfully to his enemies as he laughed and sang in his comfortable home.

And so ends this adventure of Brer Rabbit, but there are plenty of others. Plenty of other times when Brer Rabbit got himself into trouble with Brer Fox or played a trick on Brer Bear or tried to help Brer Frog or Brer Turtle out of a jam. But no matter how much trouble Brer Rabbit gets himself into, you can be sure of one thing: He’ll get himself out again just as easy as you could fall off a log!


If You Liked My Story, You Might Enjoy:
  • Song of the South (1946) The only Disney movie to be unofficially “disowned” by the studio,it can still be seen quite easily through video torrents and websites. A live action film about a young white boy befriending Uncle Remus, interspersed with superb Disney animation. Basically the reason it’s not been released on video in this country is because of historical misunderstandings and the use of the word I alluded to earlier and substituted with “honeychild,” which just came to me as I was writing and I thought was pretty clever. Anyway, “Splash Mountain” is based on this movie, the song “Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah” comes from this movie, and if they can realease their wartime propoganda cartoons with a disclaimer from Leonard Maltin, I don’t see why they can’t do the same for this exceptional, multiple Oscar-winning movie, especially since they're still profiting from it.
  • The Adventures of Brer Rabbit (2006) I'm not the only person that thinks these stories need to be preserved. This direct-to-DVD release boasts a voice cast including Nick Cannon, Wayne Brady, Danny Glover, D. L. Hughley and Wanda Sykes.

NEXT WEEK: "The Sleeper Awakened"

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