Tag: Brer Rabbit

1937 Uncle Remus Illustrations by Fritz Eichenberg

This 1937 Uncle Remus book illustrated by Fritz Eichenberg is quite handsome.  Apparently, the Peter Pauper Press only made 1100 of ’em.

The Lil’ Rabs on the cover caught my eye, and the illustrations inside didn’t disappoint.  I’ve included nine of them below. For some, I’ve added the audio from our storytellers that corresponds to the illustration.

Donald Griffin – The Wonderful Tar-Baby Story
[audio:tarbaby.mp3]

Woodie Persons — Brer Rabbit’s Riding Horse
[audio:takingaride.mp3]

Akbar Imhotep – Mr. Fox Goes Hunting, But Brer Rabbit Bags the Meat
[audio:akbarhunting.mp3]

I love how innocent yet entirely malicious Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox look.

The next illustration is also deliciously evil — the Lil Rabs look on with glee as their father steams Brer Wolf alive.  Yippee!  Everyone in the back — throw ya hands up!

I love everything about Brer Wolf in this picture!  Just look at him!  Is this picture exactly like Harvey Keitel and Robert DeNiro in Taxi Driver or what?!

Make It New! The Uncle Remus Inspired Letters of T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound

T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were friends.  Not only were they were friends, they were pen pals.

Weirdly enough, they corresponded via letters written in African-American dialect inspired by the Uncle Remus stories.  Eliot (below, left) was given the nickname “Old Possum” by Pound, who referred to himself as “Brer Rabbit.”

T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, or Old Possum and Brer Rabbit, respectively

The nicknames were no mistake — Pound viewed himself as a brash risk-taker, while he considered Eliot’s reserve to be quietly subversive. True to form, Eliot even signed one of his letters “Tar Baby” (as in the story where the “Tar-Baby ain’t sayin’ nothin'”).

Both had grown up when the Uncle Remus stories were ubiquitous and ridiculously popular, and both relished in the rebellious language that defied the Queen’s English. For example, here’s a poem within a letter from Pound —

Sez the Maltese dawg to the Siam cat
‘Whaaar’z ole Parson Possum at?’
Sez the Siam cat to the Maltese dawg
‘Dahr he sets lak a bump-onna-log.’

Their correspondence eventually became an intricate inside joke that signaled their collaboration against the London literary establishment.  Here’s another poem-within-a-letter from Pound —

Song Fer the Muses' Garden // Ezra Pound

Pound’s famous slogan — “Make it new!” — couldn’t be more apt here. By appropriating the old language from the literature of their youth, Eliot and Pound considered themselves to be at the forefront of poetic ingenuity.

Eliot’s “Old Possum” nickname became common knowledge in literary circles, and he even published Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats in 1939.  Yes, it’s the very same book that Andrew Lloyd Webber would adapt into the musical theatre atrocity, Cats.

[youtube 4-L6rEm0rnY]

(Please do not blame Joel Chandler Harris for Cats.  Instead, thank him for The Office or Mark Twain.)

I love how Eliot and Pound wrote from the context of the literature of their youth.  The old vernacular inspired their experimentation with language (not unlike Joel Chandler Harris recording the stories of the plantation!), and also allowed them to mock the old fuddy-duddies creating bland poetry.

It’d sort of be like if Amelia and I started writing our blog posts from the perspective of the Berenstain Bears because Pecanne Log wasn’t edgy enough.  Sort of.

For more on the dialect of Eliot and Pound, check out Michael North’s book The Dialect of Modernism.

Trix Cereal's Branding Evolution — From Brer Rabbit to Trix Rabbit

Brer Rabbit on the cover of TRIX by General Mills

In 1954, General Mills debuted Trix Cereal.  The copy of one of the original advertisements is delightfully hyperbolic:

“Trix… world’s first breakfast cereal with wholesome fruit-flavor sweetness… and bright fruit-colors! Gay little sugared corn puffs in a happy mixture of colors – red, yellow and orange. Fun to see! A joy to eat! A real honest-to-goodness body-building breakfast-food besides! No sugar needed! Just pour on milk or cream and it’s ready to eat. The most exciting thing that ever happened to breakfast cereal. The most wonderful thing that ever happened to breakfast! A terrific between-meals snack, too… and wholesome. At your grocer’s now! Get Trix… the fruit-flavor c ereal!”

That same year, Brer Rabbit appeared on one of the earliest Trix boxes, pictured above.

Like other Disney characters, Brer Rabbit was often used in advertising partnerships with General Mills (Mickey Mouse, for example, made his way onto the Trix box, too).  Brer Rabbit had also promoted Song of the South on a Cheerios box in 1946:

Brer Rabbit on a 1946 Cheerios Box

For the next few years, General Mills experimented with the Trix brand, occasionally adorning the box with, say,  a different rabbit or a juggling kid on a unicycle, but nothing stuck.

Then, in August of 1959 illustrator Joe Harris (no relation) created Trix Rabbit, the cartoon rabbit who would fail miserably in tricking children out of their cereal.

Here’s an early commercial featuring Trix:

[youtube if-_DOl6PJ8&]

The rest is history.

Joe Harris went on to bigger and better endeavors (most notably, creating Underdog), but “Trix are for kids” became one of the most recognized corporate slogans of the 20th century, and the Trix Rabbit is still alive and kicking fifty years later.

Until recently, I’d thought that the Trix Rabbit was perhaps a subtle nod to Brer Rabbit, mostly because he’s a rabbit classified as a “trickster hero.”  But the connection seems to be much more overt.

Trix and Trix Rabbit in 1979

First of all, Brer Rabbit was one of the few characters that’d actually appeared on a Trix box before. A trickster promoting Trix cereal wasn’t lost on General Mills.

Then, of all the names in the world, Trix Rabbit’s illustrator was named Joe Harris — the very same name that Joel Chandler Harris went by everywhere except the book jacket.

Perhaps this nod to Brer Rabbit was a little bit more obvious in the 1950s, when (Joel Chandler) Harris’ name enjoyed considerably greater renown.  Given the time period and the circumstances, Joe Harris creating Trix Rabbit is sort of like me naming my kid “Billy Shakespeare.”  If it happened, it sure wouldn’t be by accident.*

Sometimes when I’m talking to guests and trying to explain the significance of Brer Rabbit in American culture, I feel like the copy on the original Trix ad: “The most exciting thing that ever happened to breakfast cereal children’s literature!  The most wonderful thing that ever happened to breakfast American folklore!”

Or worse, like Carlton on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air bemoaning the unjust treatement of his favorite rabbit :

[youtube PwHf_06A-P0]

But in truth, the echoes of Brer Rabbit and African-American folklore really do resonate throughout more than just our Saturday morning cartoons — they’re in our cereal bowls, too.  That is, if you’re six.

* Please do not let me do this.

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