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He was the bashfulest grown person I have ever met. When there were people about he stayed silent, and seemed to suffer until they were gone. But he was lovely, nevertheless; for the sweetness and benignity of the immortal Remus looked out from his eyes, and the graces and sincerities of his character shone in his face.
    -Mark Twain on Joel Chandler Harris

Walt Disney's Uncle Remus Stories (A Giant Golden Book) Every summer we used to spend time at our Grandparents' second home in Brightwaters, Long Island. It was a classic WASP vacation retreat, without a television. We used to play games like Scrabble. The adults played bridge. Ralph Kiner, Bob Murphy and Lindsay Nelson broadcast Mets games over the radio. And, most of all, you read books. on the glider, on the screened in porch.

As is the way of such houses, there was a kind of lending library system. Folks left behind the books they finished, complementing the small permanent collection. So there was always a cache to borrow from. But there's one book in particular I associate with that house; one book that I read over and over and over : the Golden Book version of Song of the South.

I know we're supposed to judge Joel Chandler Harris and his use of dialect and his benign treatment of the world of the plantation harshly now. But then, and especially because I was a kid, I just thought the stories of Br'er Rabbit using nothing but wits and guile to trick more powerful figures like Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear were both hilarious and empowering. Children are, after all, more rabbity than bear-like.

At any rate, I found a 1986 reprint of the book for 25 cents yesterday and reading it last night it occurred to me that one of our greatest family stories is likely a by-product of the fascination with these stories. One summer we found a giant wicker rug beater in the barn at this house and, being brothers, Stephen and I decided to try beating each other with it. To our initial dismay, we quickly determined that there was so much wind resistance to the fan like beater that you couldn't really hurt each other much with it. But our dismay turned to glee when we realized what that meant. The next time we three kids got in trouble we apologized profusely and begged not to be spanked with the rug beater.

Well, Br'er Rabbit could tell you how that works. I got spanked first and pretended agony. Stephen was next and went along. Our little sister wasn't in on the ploy, but was so terrified by the time the punishment reached her that she was crying too hard to notice it didn't hurt. Greatest summer ever...


Grade: (A+)


Joel Harris Links:

    -INFO: Joel Chandler Harris (Wikipedia)
    -BIO: Joel Chandler Harris (1845-1908) (R. Bruce Bickley, New Georgia Encyclopedia)
    -BIO: Joel Chandler Harris, 1848-1908 (Monica Horne, All-American)
    -NATIONAL PARK: Joel Chandler Harris Home
    -BIO: Biography of Joel Chandler Harris (Excerpted from The Harper Anthology of American Literature: Volume Two)
    -BIO: Joel Chandler Harris (Catholic Encyclopedia)
    -INFO: Uncle Remus (Wikipedia)
    -INFO : Song of the South (1946) (IMDB)
    -ETEXT: Project Gutenberg's Uncle Remus and Brer Rabbit, by Joel Chandler Harris
    -INFO: Song of the South (Wikipedia)
    -ETEXT: Uncle Remus : Legends of the Old Plantation (Joel Chandler Harris)
    -AUDIO: Uncle Remus by Joel Chandler Harris (Librivox)
    -ESSAY: Black father: the subversive achievement of Joel Chandler Harris (Robert Cochran, 2004, African American Review)
    -ESSAY: Everything You’ve Heard About Uncle Remus Is Wrong (Lain, April 19, 2010, Wren's Nest)
    -ESSAY: The perfect double bill: “Princess and the Frog” and “Song of the South” : Is the lovely, calculated tale of Princess Tiana a response to the most notorious film in Disney history? (ERIK NELSON, 3/16/10, Salon)
    -ESSAY: Do parents still share Brer Rabbit and Uncle Remus stories? (Theresa Walsh Giarrusso, 7/16/12, Atlanta Journal Constitution)
    -CONTEMPORARY REVIEW ARCHIVE : Unc;le Remus Tales (University of Virginia)
    -REVIEW: of THE TALES OF UNCLE REMUS The Adventures of Brer Rabbit. By Julius Lester (June Jordan, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THE PEOPLE COULD FLY American Black Folktales. Told by Virginia Hamilton. Illustrated by Leo and Diane Dillon (Ishmael Reed, NY Times Book Review)

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