Reading Challenges

December 2, 2010

Beatrix Potter's novel The Fairy Caravan & Miss. Potter, the film

Hilltop farm, Beatrix Potter's home referenced
in The Fairy Caravan.  Photo: Armchair Archives
Nearly everyone knows Beatrix Potter's well-loved tales of Peter Rabbit, Squirrel Nutkin, Tom Kitten and the like, but Potter also wrote a longer, albeit lesser-known, book for older children, The Fairy Caravan.  I discovered the novel this summer whilst visiting her home in the Lake District of England and was pleased to revisit the author's whimsical humor that reminded me of my childhood bouts of laughter inspired by her story, The Pie and the Paddy Pan, among others.  Published in 1929 at the urging of Potter's American fans, The Fairy Caravan follows the life of a guinea pig who runs away from home and joins a miniature traveling circus that  performs for barnyard animals unbeknownst to human folk.  The friendly yet mismatched company of a field mouse, a pig, a highland terrier and other creatures share the home of a caravan pulled by their gentle leader, Pony Billy.  Together, the friendly tribe of animals encounters all sorts of adventures, including a hilarious sequence in which Paddy pig becomes lost in the woods and--being a pig who snacks on whatever he finds in sight--falls ill with nightmarish visions when he mistakenly imbibes a mushroom infused with more than the culinary properties he bargained on.  

Not intended for publication, Potter's personified local homes and characters in The Fairy Circus are filled with Lake District references from an insider's perspective.  The local dialect in which she writes features words like cams (vertical stones found on walls and lining the roads in the Lake District) and keld (a spring of water), but not to worry, the book comes complete with a glossary of terms written by the author herself.

cams in  Hawkshead, the Lake District
Photo: Armchair Archives

During my trip in the Lake District I learned that a fictional film loosely based on true events in Beatrix Potter's life was released in 2006.  Miss Potter, directed by Chris Noonan, starring Ren√© Zellweger as Beatrix Potter and Ewan McGregor as her first love, recounts the struggles Potter faced in publishing The Tale of Peter Rabbit, clashes with her affluent parents that expected her to marry within her class, as well as the difficulties of being an independent-minded woman with an interest in science at the turn of the 20th century.  All in all, fans of Potter won't be disappointed as the film is respectful enough of her life's work and struggles.  It's not going to win any academy awards for creativity, but it's a friendly film with a few nicely animated Peter Rabbit sequences that represent Potter's deeply rooted kinship with the flora and fauna of her beloved Lake District.

The film's website is HERE.  For more information about the Lake District and Beatrix Potter, click HERE.

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