BBF – North Pole

Back to the Bean Farm: Rereading the Freddy Books

Freddy Goes to the North Pole

by Kevin W. Parker

WARNING: These articles are written with the assumption that the reader has already read the story in question. Don’t read this article if you want any surprises to be preserved for you.

And here we are with the second of the Freddy books, published three years after the first. It has some of the same episodic air as Florida, but I don’t think it works quite as well, for reasons I will get to later.

It begins with the birth of Barnyard Tours, Inc., based on an idea of Freddy’s. Chapter II (appropriately entitled “Barnyard Tours, Inc.”) incidentally features one of my all-time favorite illustrations in the series, that of the mice on a tour on Mrs. Wiggins’ back with Eeny as tourguide. (This is perhaps second only to the “perfume shot” scene in Freddy the Cowboy.) Anyhow, the company goes well and even better when they adopt the concept of barter, with the animals doing work on the Bean farm in exchange for going on a tour. After a second visit to Florida, though, the animals are looking for a bit more excitement and a few of them—Robert, Hank, Mrs. Wogus, Ferdinand, Jinx, and Freddy—set off for the North Pole.

Time passes—over a year, in fact—and nothing is heard of the intrepid explorers. Finally Mrs. Wiggins decides that a rescue expedition needs to be mounted, though Ferdinand the crow returns before anything can be organized. He reports that the animals were taken aboard a whaling ship and that Freddy was concerned about the lean and hungry looks being given him by the sailors, as a result asking Ferdinand to go for help.

Ferdinand selects the rescue team: Mrs. Wiggins, Jack, Uncle William (a horse from Centerboro), Cecil the porcupine, Bill the goat, Charles, Henrietta, and himself. On their way north they pick up the two children, Ella and Everett, and later on start giving lectures as barter with the local animals. (Charles, of course, proves popular with the lectures.) After numerous adventures, including a harrowing encounter with wolves (who never seem to get a good press, not even here), they finally arrive at the North Pole to find their friends safe and well in Santa Claus’s house.

But all is not well chez Claus. The sailors have decided that Santa needs to run his operation on more businesslike grounds, and Santa is too much of a nice guy to argue with them. So Santa’s workshops are being retrofitted with assembly lines.

The animals attempt to rescue Santa from these well-meaning souls. They first attempt to scare the sailors away by pretending to be ghosts, but one of the sailors is unflappable, and the attempt fails. Next they attempt to lure the sailors away by planting a treasure map. This almost fails when the captain finds the map and tries to get away with it by himself, but Freddy and Jinx (with some help from one of Santa’s special, high-speed reindeer) catch up to him and reclaim the map and the reindeer. Finally all the sailors find out about the map at the same time, and Santa is finally rid of the sailors. He even plants some real treasure for the sailors to find, since Freddy had just made up the spot.

By then it is Christmas and time for Santa to make his deliveries. Blixen is lame, so Uncle William substitutes. Shortly thereafter, Santa sets off to return the animals to the Bean Farm. After a brief contretemps involving a Centerboro constable wanting to give Santa Claus a speeding ticket (this must be before the sheriff arrives since he wouldn’t consider such a silly thing), they are returned to the Bean Farm, and everyone is happy. (The ticket crisis is resolved when Santa mentions the embarrassing presents the Justice of the Peace asked for and received from him many years ago.)

It’s a fun read, but it doesn’t work as well as Florida, I think because it’s drawn out and even more episodic. The story in Florida is devoted to the trip itself and never varies its focus. Here, the story seems to be divided into three distinct and not terribly related parts: the beginning, with the establishment and prospering of Barnyard Tours; the middle, with the rescue party making their way to the North Pole; and the end, with the animals at the North Pole dealing with the sailors. All the parts are interesting, but it doesn’t hold together as solidly as Florida.

Another contrast is the leisurely pace. I didn’t realize it until this reading, but the events of North Pole take place over the remarkably extended span of about 2-1/2 years: Barnyard Tours is established a few months after the animals return from Florida; the second set of trips to Florida take place the following winter; the first North Pole expedition leaves the following summer; the rescue expedition leaves in the autumn over a year later; and they return just before the end of the year. It ought to read like an epic, but much of this time is just glossed over. (As a side note, I am rereading Detective right now and working the chronology on that, which makes it appear that Jinx originally drove the rats out of the barn between the second trip to Florida and the expedition to the North Pole. It is, of course, not mentioned in this book.)

Too, there seems to be a different mix to the animals. The largest ensemble and the one that holds center stage for the longest period of time is the rescue party, but the only major series characters are Mrs. Wiggins and Charles. Freddy and Jinx, of course, are with the first expedition and therefore have relatively small roles. (I don’t believe that Alice and Emma appear at all—not that they’re major characters, but they’re worth mentioning.) Having Ferdinand as a major character doesn’t seem to work quite so well, and it’s interesting that Brooks seems to stick with his core characters for most of the rest of the series.

There is also the odd presence of Santa Claus, which seems a strange addition to the mythos of the series. Founding member Connie Arnold has said that disliked North Pole intensely as a child: she knew that Santa Claus didn’t exist but was convinced that the Bean Farm did, so she rejected this book entirely.

But that’s obviously an overreaction. While not one of the best in the series, it’s a worthy addition, and one I will continue to reread.