THE GREEN PASTURES The Descent of the Fable
In 1895 Joel Chandler Harris characterized Uncle Remus with a euphemism that misrepresented black lore by a country mile but did nicely describe the demeanor of the literature waiting in the wings. The blurb appeared in the introduction of the reissue of Songs & Sayings, in an open letter to its new illustrator, A. B. Frost. "The book was mine," Harris wrote in admiration, "but now you have made it yours. . . . You have breathed the breath of life into these amiable brethren of wood and field."
Neighbors as deeply in the employ of satire as Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox, who must daily make it their business to dupe and mug one another, could hardly be called amiable brethren, of course. Harris may only have been speechifying here. On the other hand, he may actually have believed his little caricature, as Charles Dodgson had done when pronouncing Wonderland a "friendly chat." In any case, he was prophetic. This third great class of make-believe, which for eighty years will dominate the literature as the natural best way of telling a children's story, is going to be amiable indeed.
We have seen Beatrix Potter at work. Hers was the patient faith of the stoic that page by page, year by year, things might be agreeably worked out. This was the most subtle sleight of hand in her bag of tricks, the subliminal lesson that history and fiction are the slow turning of pages and attention must be paid:
Once upon a time there
were four little Rabbits,
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Publication information: Book title: The Natural History of Make-Believe:A Guide to the Principal Works of Britain, Europe, and America. Contributors: John Goldthwaite - Author. Publisher: Oxford University Press. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1996. Page number: 318.
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