Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Learning | Peter Rabbit and Peter Cottontail

Have you wondered about the difference between Peter Rabbit and Peter Cottontail? I have, for far too long.

RHS Flower Show Tatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire, England, UK.
I first became familiar with Peter Rabbit from the works of Beatrix Potter, who created a rabbit character named Peter back in 1902. In the book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, Peter was a naughty little rabbit who almost got caught when he sneaked into Mr. MacGregor's garden. (He should have listened to his mother!)

In the story, Peter has siblings named Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail.  I think that means their surnames would be "Rabbit," just like Peter. You know, Flopsy Rabbit, Mopsy Rabbit, and Cottontail Rabbit.  

In any case, Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail Rabbit all listened when their mother told them to stay out of Mr. MacGregor's garden. But Peter did not obey her.

Mr. MacGregor's Garden,
from Hannah Swithinbank's photostream
on Some rights reserved.

It's easy to understand why Peter wanted to eat lettuces, beans and radishes from Mr. MacGregor's garden. Just look at these pictures, from a re-creation of his garden at  Beatrix Potter's Hill Top Cottage in Sawrey, Cumbria, in England's Lake District.

Wouldn't it be fun to stroll around these gardens, and see the house where Beatrix Potter lived, when she wrote The Tale of Peter Rabbit? 

I think I need to add this to my bucket list.

Peter's Watering Can 1,
from Adam Russell's photostream on
Some rights reserved.
Beatrix Potter books, from Jennifer LaSuprema's photostream
on Some rights reserved.

The Tale of Peter Rabbit was the first of Potter's wildy popular series of "Little Tales." I can remember how special I thought they were, when I was very small, to hold a little book that was just the right size for my tiny hands. 

Of course, Beatrix Potter's illustrations of cute little animals wearing human clothes hold a child's interest, too. According to the Beatrix Potter official website, one of her books is sold every four minutes!

This being Eastertide, I started thinking about a children's song heard this time of year: "Peter Cottontail." It was written in 1949 by the same team of songwriters that brought us "Frosty, the Snowman." Gene Autry recorded the song in 1950; sometimes the name of the song is listed as "Here Comes Peter Cottontail."

Image from page 200 of
"Mother West Wind 'Why' Stories,"
by Thornton W. Burgess,
illustrations in colour by Harrison Cady.
From Internet Archive Book Images' photostream on
No known copyright restrictions.
I suspect that song is about another rabbit named Peter, created in 1910 by the American writer, Thornton W. Burgess.  

Peter Rabbit was one of many animal characters in Burgess' book, Old Mother West Wind. Later, Burgess wrote a book about him, called The Adventures of Peter Cottontail (available through Link+.)  

In that book, Peter Rabbit decides that his last name sounds too ordinary, so he chooses a name he thinks is fancier--"Cottontail."  By the end of the book, he decides he likes his original name and changes it back.  

Like Beatrix Potter, Burgess loved nature, and he mostly wrote stories about anthropomorphic animals. But he did not illustrate his own stories. Here is a picture from "Mother West Wind 'Why' Stories," illustrated by Harrison Cady.

If you would like to explore this subject in depth, SSJCPL has a nonfiction book for adults. If you would like to read it, you will first have to master its cumbersome, rambling, run-on title. 

It's called The History of The tale of Peter Rabbit : taken mainly from Leslie Linder's A history of the writings of Beatrix Potter together with the text and illustrations from the first privately printed edition.

Try saying that three times, very quickly, and Mr. MacGregor is your uncle!

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