Let’s not beat around the bush: Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin is all kinds of fucked up. In this bewildering children’s tale, an enterprising group of squirrels constructs rafts from twigs (and ask any child, this rarely works as planned) to sail to the island domain of the nebulous figure, Old Brown, an owl of unparalleled nut tree wealth.
Before we continue, keep in mind this is a story in which all animals are personified to some extent. This is important to note because each day, the squirrels bring Old Brown offerings consisting of their fellow forest creatures. What is this nightmare society in which woodland critters possess human intelligence and reason but still behave like, well, animals? Good god!
Needless to say, Old Brown accepts the blood sacrifices and permits this squirrels to “fill up their sacks with nuts” (which most certainly sounded less lewd over a century ago, when this story was written, but that’s beside the point). While his fellow squirrels are engaged in hard labor they not only paid to perform, but paid for with the blood of the innocent, Squirrel Nutkin teases Old Brown with riddles and entertains himself with imaginative games using small objects found in the woods. Although it is common knowledge that owls are sage beings, instead of merely answering the riddles, Old Brown straight up ignores Squirrel Nutkin until the latter becomes so distraught as to leap toward Old Brown to get his attention. Old Brown snaps and attempts to skin Squirrel Nutkin alive, I guess eating half his tail in the process. HOOO is this Old Brown, and why does he bottle it all up until he explodes in a violent rage?
The story ends with: “For Squirrel Nutkin has hated riddles ever since the day when Old Brown left him with only half a tail. And he was lucky to get away with that, don’t you think?” The fuck, Beatrix? What kind of message is it, that people who express their personalities are lucky to NOT be ruthlessly murdered by violent and psychotic nut tree overlords?
Needless to say, I enjoy this book immensely!