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"The Adventures of Mabel" by Harry Thurston Peck

Forgotten Books
"The Adventures of Mabel" was originally published in 1896.
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BOOK REVIEW: The Adventures of Mabel by Harry Thurston Peck (Forgotten Books) 2012 /1896

In the first episode of the third season of Better Call Saul, Bob Odenkirk’s character Jimmy McGill is talking to his brother, Chuck (Michael McKean) about a book he remembers his grandmother reading to him as a child.

The book? The Adventures of Mabel by Harry Thurston Peck, a book originally published by Dodd, Mead & Co. in 1896 and allegedly given to their grandmother Davenport in 1912 (“the year the Titanic sank”), as noted in the inside cover.

But Chuck (whose home was covered with reflective foil on the inside) corrects Jimmy (a guy who is always "horsin' off") and says he was the one who read Mabel to his younger brother many years earlier.

Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) fondly leafs through an old copy of the children's book The Adventures of Mabel. (AMC)

And what caught my attention in this episode, titled "Mabel," about the Mabel book was when Jimmy fondly remembers a chapter in the book about Mabel – who can talk to animals – visits the king of the “Brownies” and falls in love with the Brownies’ “super-delicious jelly.”

Brownies? Really? I could hardly believe that this program – one of my favorites and featuring one of my favorite actors, Bob Odenkirk – was referencing the archaic notion of “brownies,” something that has intrigued me for the past four years since learning about railroad magnate Arthur E. Stilwell’s fascination with these elf-and-fairy-like creatures, and who like saucers of milk left for them as gifts.

How do I know that? Because in an old elementary school reader from 1939, We Grow Up, by Gates, Huber and Peardon, notes a story about "brownies" (fairyfolk) who demand this milk. The "brownies" in Mabel are far more friendly and generous. Mabel is so taken with the brownies' "super-delicious jelly" that she accepts some as a gift - over all other possible treasures offered to her.

So, who is this Mabel? And how is she having so many adventures?

Well, Peck, the writer, who originally wrote the Mabel stories under a pseudonym, was a well-respected author and literary critic from Connecticut who came up with these fanciful stories that are both fun and educational, being aimed at a young audience.

While Peck's books have been out-of-print for decades, the publisher Forgotten Books (ForgottenBooks.org) has a "Classic Reprint" series where they "regenerte facsimilies of historically important writings" in the subjects of mythology, folklore, history, religion, science, classics and philosophy. In fact, some of the works of the late Arthur E. Stilwell are featured here and are available for sale, including Universal Peace / War is Mesmerism.

In the opening chapter, "The Green Lizard," Mabel ("who lived with her Grandma, and her brother Walter, and Jane the cook") was imaginative and kind and loved the deep woods near her home. She goes into them to pick strawberries on a summer's afternoon - it's cooler in the woods - and while on her strawberry-picking adventure, comes upon a lizard, with a small crown on his head, whose tail is trapped by a big stone that had fallen on it. 

The appreciative Lizard King tells Mabel: "I'm going to make you so that you can understand animal talk. And besides, I'm going to teach you how to make all animals good to you." Mabel is amazed and after he teaches her to whistle a specific tune, she is able to communicate with animals. What child wouldn't want to talk to animals? Again, Peck really knew his audience.

And so, over the course of the next 11 chapters, we are treated to some wonderful stories involving the ever-so-kind Mabel putting animals at ease, like a wild horse named Rex, talking to some frogs at a nearby bridge, and befriending a wolf, who seems somewhat scary but sees that Mabel means him no harm. "Robbers" are thwarted by Rex the horse, with Mabel's assistance and brother Walter gets a goat that causes problems for everyone. 

Grandma, who is skeptical of Mabel's powers of animal conversation, is always asking her about how she is able to get Walter's troublesome goat to behave. Mabel, of course, replies, "Oh, I just talked to him."

Naturally, Grandma!

And Grandma more or less indulges her creative and precocious granddaughter. 

While most of the animals have good hearts, not all do, including some naughty wolves who try to break into Mabel's house - but get their comeuppance. 

And when Mabel cleans the house of old cobwebs, four annoyed spiders vow revenge against Mabel and get the help of the King Spider, who agrees to tie up Mabel with his web, during a thunderstorm. After all, the four bad spiders promised to bring the King Spider a fresh house fly each day if he did this for them. But they fail and "he caught them in his big claws and ate them all up."

Wow! 

And it's not only spiders that are getting eaten up. Quick-thinking Mabel gets her friend Jack out of a jam when he's caught by a local Giant who vows to eat the boy up. 

But it is Chapter 11, "The Brownie Jelly," where Peck's The Adventures of Mabel really shines. After reading it, you understand why the creators of Better Call Saul decided to include this long-obscure children's short story collection in the Season 3 premiere episode, which aired last April.

I highly recommend The Adventures of Mabel for folks looking for some wholesome, well-written children's stories that, while over 100 years old, feature stories that still resonate today.

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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