Sunday, 28 November 2010

Book review – Beatrix Potter

I was never big on Beatrix Potter, my sister had a few of these books and my Mother would read to me the Peter Rabbit stories which I liked because I shared a name with him – oops! What a giveaway - yes my first name is Rabbit.

I found them only mildly interesting and so did not retain their memory and never bothered to re-read them until I had The Granddaughter (TG) to read to. Now I have become a little more familiar with them and find that they are not quite as cosy as I once remembered. Being a rabbit is no fun because they seem to be at the bottom of the food chain and are constantly under threat from hungry animals and people. Seriously, I do not quite understand the popularity of these books, unlike the previous two books I have reviewed, which are two of my childhood favourites, I feel B P’s books are rather more of a leftover from a forgotten era and seem to have many real points against them. The characters are often sly, wicked or thoughtless. Stories do not always have a happy ending and some endings are not very clear cut. I found reading some of them to my Granddaughter difficult, having to explain a lot of the phrasing. The only good thing I found are the pictures and these make up for a lot in the difficult stories.

I have done the tourist thing and visited one of Beatrix Potter’s houses, Hill Top in Far Sawrey, near Lake Windermere and to my surprise found the whole village crawling with Japanese tourists. Beatrix Potter is really big in Japan. There is a Beatrix Potter museum in Bowness, the small town half way up Lake Windermere and you can buy sets of her books in any language including Japanese. Looking on Google Earth, I have even found some pictures posted that are labelled in Japanese, which shows the numbers of tourists from that country that regularly travel there.
Many years ago, whilst staying in Far Sawrey on holiday, I inadvertently interrupted a Japanese film unit who were working on something in the village. I did not at first realise who they were and annoyed them by popping into their camera’s field of view every now and again whilst taking picnic stuff and other things needed for a day out in the Lakes to the car. This required about four trips and I had started to notice that there was a degree of hostility emanating from a group of people who were partially out of sight around the corner, doing something I had not recognised as filming. Eventually I realised they were trying to film a model of Peter Rabbit they had standing in the road I was parked in. They did not come and tell me that they were filming but just stood and glared at me. I would not have been so much of a problem to them if they had spoken to me instead of just assuming I was aware of what they were doing. Later we found they had added boards to all the signposts and local shop with Japanese translations of them for their film.

The only visable member of the Japanese Film crew on the left
with Peter Rabbit propped up on a box

The rest of the crew and the camera were all here just out of view.
My car was just beyond the bush on the right.

Since TG’s mother’s family originate in Gloucestershire (for those born outside the UK, this is pronounced 'Gloster shire' for some unknowable reason) and we live close by. We have also visited the Little Tailor’s Shop which still exists near Hogwarts – sorry, Gloucester cathedral – and shown it to her and The Grandson (TGS). It is highly commercialised and they were unimpressed. TGS was much more interested in being photographed in ‘Hogwarts’ cloisters, since he is older and much more of a fan of the Harry Potter books.

The Tailor's shop in Gloucester

The cloisters in Gloucester cathederal used for filming certain
parts of Hogwarts school in the Harry Potter movies.

B P’s books are often regarded as suitable for very young children, but I found the language difficult to explain to a small child and the Victorian morals are sometimes inappropriate in today’s more tolerant world. The only good thing children get from them is an extended vocabulary, I recall learning the word ‘soporific’ from the rabbit stories, which is not such a bad thing, but perhaps you get the idea I do not like them. This is true I am sorry to say, they are not my thing at all.


  1. Somehow I missed all the Beatrix Potter's books when a child and only heard of Peter Rabbit after we arrived in the US. My favorites were Little Grey Rabbit and Mabel Lucy Atwell -- probably not your cup of tea either. But how about "Biggles' and "Worralls"?

  2. Apart from Jeremy Fisher and the Tailor of Gloucester they leave me a bit cold too. Though I love the pictures.

    I saw my first ever red squirrel at Hill Top - which is perfect when you think about it.

  3. Chris, Liz had Little Grey Rabbit books and yes I think they were better too. I was always wanting to know what Hare would get up to next.
    MorningAJ, I agree that the pictures are the best bit. Yes seeing Squirrel Nutkin was very appropriate, but I did not think there were any red squirrels left in Cumbria.

  4. Don't know where I got the idea that your first name was snafu. From now on you shall be Rabbit.

    Beatrix Potter was never my thing, either, altho I also liked the pictures.

    It must have been quite strange to see all those Japanese people in a tiny, picturesque English village. And especially to see that picture of Peter Rabbit in the middle of the road.

    Thanks, Rabbit, for this post!

  5. Oh, I'm with you on this one. I disliked these books tremendously. Like Chris, I much preferred Alison Uttley.
    We did venture into the Beatrix Potter museum once when the boys were small - W, who must have been about three at the time, popped his head through the door and the first thing he saw was an animated fox moving his head and tail menacingly. He ran back out onto the street and wouldn't be persuaded to go back in, so I can't tell you what the rest of the place was like!