As a child, I read Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Peter Rabbit. I loved the cute bunnies — Mrs. Rabbit wearing a spotless white apron; Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail sporting little pink capes; and Peter, a blue jacket with brass buttons. I thrilled to Peter’s quest for food and adventure. My dark side, carefully concealed under a pastor’s daughter’s façade, rejoiced in his mother-defying moxy. That bunny had attitude!
But I despised Mr. McGregor, who owned a whole garden, yet denied a few morsels to a hungry little bunny. McGregor and his equally depraved wife had baked Peter’s father in a pie! Such barbarism horrified me. I trembled as Peter nearly met his end. I cheered him as he sneaked past the evil old farmer.
Having misplaced most of my wardrobe during my young lifetime, I sympathized with Peter. He not only lost his coat and shoes, but his mother sentenced him to an early bedtime and chamomile tea. The unjust ending rankled — an all-too-familiar scenario of siblings enjoying life while the family’s fun person suffered.
In my mind, Peter Rabbit was a victim several times over.
Mr. McGregor, that green-thumbed egocentric, bore the responsibility.
Fast forward a few decades. Well, more than a few. …
A rabbit gang has invaded my garden. Unlike Flopsy, Mopsy, and Cotton-tail, none of these rabbits — I no longer refer to them as bunnies — wear cute little clothes. If they don clothing at all, I imagine it consists of baggy jeans and bandannas, accented by tattoos.
But the few I’ve spotted wear nothing. I try to be broad-minded. But hordes of naked rabbits nightly overrunning my garden?
This X-rated, crime-ridden piece of ground requires the monitoring services of the National Guard. Or at least, a few heavily armed musclemen.
Instead, enter a cranky old person wearing glasses and rough work clothes who somewhat resembles a beardless version of the 1902 storybook portraits of Mr. McGregor. She weeds and hoes, creaky bones playing rhythms that would shame a parade drum line. She pours her heart, plus gallons of expensive irrigation, into her garden. All she wants is a nice little harvest of something besides zucchini.
Instead, like poor Mr. McGregor, she must chase off heartless varmints who would have her go hungry. She probably won’t escape bad press, either.
The Tale of Peter Rabbit … will I read it to my grandchildren? Of course. I wouldn’t think of depriving them of childhood classics. But it might be a somewhat — er — updated version.
What’s your favorite childhood story? How might you “update” it?