From garden to plate – a helping of Peter Rabbit

Peter Rabbit, Beatrix Potter, Bowness, Lake DistrictEnglish literature resonates with killer opening lines.  Some have become embedded in our culture to the extent that they help define the people we are:

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.”

“Once upon a time there were four little rabbits, and their names were – 

Flopsy,
Mopsy,
Cotton-tail,
and Peter.”

Mr McGregor, Peter Rabbit, visit CumbriaThe Tale of Peter Rabbit was the first, and arguably best-known, of 23 tales published by Helen Beatrix Potter (1866-1943) between 1902 and 1930.  The plot, which has more twists and turns than an arrow in flight, features a greedy bad bunny (Peter) who, ignoring maternal instruction and eschewing the company of his more well-mannered siblings (Flopsy, Mopsy and Cotton-tail) as they gather blackberries, recklessly breaks into the garden of an elderly man (Mr McGregor).  Here, Peter callously wreaks havoc on the lettuces, French beans and radishes that poor McGregor has spent so long cultivating for himself and his wife. Deservedly suffering a dyspeptic event next to the cucumber frame as a consequence of his gluttony, Peter is discovered; but, younger and fitter than his vulnerable pensioner adversary, and in keeping with his feral nature, he manages to escape – though loses his best blue jacket in the process and is forced to drink camomile tea.

Peter Rabbit, World of Beatrix Potter, BownessPeter Rabbit, Mr McGregor, visit the LakesCinema and Potter fans alike were no doubt delighted when this dark, violent, but ultimately morally uplifting, tale eventually made its way onto the silver screen.  Peter Rabbit (the movie) is a live-action computer animated production which attracted some controversy on its release in February 2018.  Some suggest the film portrays Peter as an irresponsible bully.  The critics, interpreting the original Tale of Peter Rabbit as a simple children’s story about an innocent, fatherless, cuddly little coney driven to juvenile delinquency through poverty and boredom, feel that Beatrix Potter would be spinning in her grave at the misrepresentation.  Only having seen the trailer, in which Peter comes across as a perfectly conventional gobby brat, there actually seems little in it that would offend your average Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle fan.  James Corden, who voices the bumptious buck, is reported to have spent time in a hutch on a diet of carrots and lettuce to get into character for the role.

Jemima Puddle-Duck, Beatrix Potter, visit the LakesMr Tod, fox, Jemima Puddle-DuckMrs Tiggy-Winkle's kitchenAnother way of getting close to the Peter Rabbit experience is to visit the World of Beatrix Potter in Bowness, by the shores of Lake Windermere in the English Lake District.  The Lake District is, of course, Beatrix Potter Land: her house, Hill Top, is across the water at Near Sawry, many of her original drawings can be seen at the Beatrix Potter Gallery in Hawkshead, in her husband’s former offices, and she left most of her estate, including 4,000 acres and 14 farms in the Lake District, to the National Trust in her will. Regardless of any charm in her drawings or literary merit in her stories (and I confess they don’t do it for me) the Beatrix Potter brand is big business. Huge.  She is also surprisingly popular in Japan, because – I’m told – her books are used to help learn English; the mind boggles.

Mice, Beatrix Potter, Lake DistrictSquirrel Nutkin, Beatrix PotterAnyway, for a special treat, and ignoring the fact that Bowness is a tourist magnet and therefore invariably rammed with visitors, one day Mrs Britain took me to the World of Beatrix Potter. Perhaps she additionally thought that Peter Rabbit would be a good topic for our local book group discussion.  It is of course always possible that we were accompanied by some younger, smaller, people as well.

Statue, Peter Rabbit, Garden, World of Beatrix PotterPeter Rabbit, Garden, World of Beatrix PotterAs you’ve probably guessed, the World of Beatrix Potter is an attraction primarily aimed at a younger clientele; and at Japanese of any age.  When I say ‘young’ I can’t see older children getting terribly excited by it, but some adults will coo appreciatively and find an interesting exhibition about Beatrix Potter at the end.  The experience kicks-off with a short introductory video in the world’s cosiest cinema, followed by an indoor walk through life-size (a relative term, I know) recreations of scenes from Beatrix Potter’s stories, complete with many of the much-loved characters.  I assume they have been stuffed.  But if anyone harbours a lifelong ambition to meet Jemima Puddle-Duck, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle, Tom Kitten, Squirrel Nutkin, Peter Rabbit (of course) and all the rest, this seems to be the perfect place to realise it.  Outside, there’s a very small Peter Rabbit garden. It’s all very cute and, to be fair, quite well done.  In the garden is a 15 foot (4.5 metre) high bronze statue depicting three children launching Jemima Puddle-Duck into the air like an unwieldy toy glider, and featuring characters from all of BP’s stories.  The statue was unveiled in 2006, an event attended by fragrant US actress Renee Zellweger, who starred in the film Miss Potter, released that year.  Renee said, apparently without a trace of irony, that she hoped the statue would become “a distinctive local landmark”.  And I’m sure, if it were ever placed where everyone could see it, it would.

Jeremy Fisher, Sir Isaac Newton, and Alderman Ptolemy TortoiseBeatrix PotterBeatrix PotterInevitably, at the end of your tour, you will rejoice in discovering a Beatrix Potter shop selling branded merchandise for outrageously high prices, as well as – oh, joy! – a Beatrix Potter café.  Exhausted after an hour of talking with fictional characters (conversations tended to be a little one-sided), and taking photographs of Japanese tourists, we trooped in for refreshment.  Imagine my disappointment, and surprise, to discover that rabbit pie with vegetables, all fresh from the garden, were not on the menu. There wasn’t even a nice crispy duck.  Sighing at the lack of business nous, but mollified by the splendid staff, we settled for tea and buns; and very nice they were too.

49 thoughts on “From garden to plate – a helping of Peter Rabbit

  1. Lucy Corrander

    Have had horrors at the stills from the film and can’t bear even to look at the trailers. I don’t like models or ‘worlds’ but was charmed by the photograph of a real garden with the little blue jacket in it. I may knit one for my allotment.

  2. Denise at Forest Manor

    Hi Mike,

    Well of course, you had me laughing all the way through this post. 😀 I’ve heard “Miss Potter” is a good movie, but haven’t gotten around to seeing it yet. I do admire Beatrix Potter and the way she soldiered on after her fiance died. Also, she was such a benefactor to the country by leaving all her land to the National Trust. I don’t think I read the Peter Rabbit books as a child, although I certainly knew about Peter Rabbit. When our son was a baby, I collected the story books, and I still appreciate them for the charming watercolor illustrations Beatrix did.

    Sounds like you had an interesting outing with Mrs. Britain and the little people. 😉 Have a great week!

    Hugs,

    Denise

  3. quinn

    Oh my gosh, Mike – I was reading this while all bundled up with the cats and your writing made me laugh and laugh until finally Moxie gave up in disgust and Got Up. Even Della is looking at me through narrowed eyes.
    There’s many a trade-off with wildlife at my place, what gardening and livestock. I think the next time I am required to fill in “Occupation” on a form I will write “Vulnerable Pensioner Adversary.”
    Hope you are having a splendid Sunday 🙂

  4. cleemckenzie

    Those are absolutely memorable first lines. I think everyone I know cut their teeth on Beatrice Potter. I’d go to see that world that recreates her famous story because I’ve known those characters all of my reading life. I think you must thank Mrs. Britain.

  5. Judy Masrud

    Well I just learned that my favorite, Samuel Whiskers and the Roly Poly Pudding is also my friend Carla’s favorite! And I wonder how often the Japanese ESLers use the word ‘soporific.’ I probably won’t be going to see the movie, and don’t really like any but the original stories. I think that computers are going to be responsible for kids born in this century to have a hard time differentiating between fantasy and reality. Computer-generated graphics are incredible.

  6. Clare Pooley

    I enjoyed this post very much! Oh, what a cynic you are! I liked the stories very much when I was small (especially Mrs Tiggy-Winkle) and I read them to my daughters when they were young but I think I will give the film a miss. I have no grandchildren to take with me in any case!

  7. Magali@TheLittleWhiteHouse

    I’m a fan of Beatrix Potter, but I think I’d rather reopen the books and see the darling well-known drawings than seeing a life-size reproduction of them… I never say no to visiting an English garden, though… Especially if there’s a “café” somewhere. Your comment on “overly priced merchandise” inspired me to check my favourite classified add website for second-hand items…

  8. marmeladegypsy

    Oh, I would have served up the “Puddleduck,” a rich, fragrant duck stew served in a puddle of delicious brown gravy! Or perhaps the Squirrel Nutkin — a squirrel-shaped cookie filled with nuts and chocolate. Or the Benjamin Bunny Salad.

    Well, I adored your reinterpretation of Peter as seen through the eyes of Mr. MacGregor and I say you have a point (says one whose lettuce has been sampled by no less than all the Peters of my neighborhood) but still, I have a soft spot for Miss Potter and her critters and of course, her illustrations because there’s something profoundly appealing to me about bunnies in waistcoats and ducks in hats. (And if you don’t believe me, ask Lizzie, who is grousing at having to wear an oversized shamrock tie on St. Patrick’s Day. I’ll pay for this later.) and this is something I would love to see! So, depending on how the trains go, this spot might well be on my itinerary. I just hope the exhibit is still open. (My guess is yes.)

    And your photos are terrific. Thanks Mrs. Britain for me! (And the little Brits, too!)

    1. Mike@bitaboutbritain Post author

      If you’re going by train, Jeanie, you can get one from Oxenhomlme Lake District to Windermere – but then you’ll need to get a taxi to Bowness. Personally, I wouldn’t think it worth going out of my way for the World of Beatrix Potter alone – think about taking in Hill Top and Hawkshead too while you’re there; but you’d probably need to do this by car, or as part of a tour.

  9. Andrea

    Honestly, what isn’t a tourist trap these days? It is very difficult to travel much and not find yourself in a gift shop or cafe that is almost always disappointing. I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed your tea and buns though.
    As a child, I read “Wind in the Willows” and “Winnie the Pooh” but I really don’t remember seeing any of Potter’s books around. I was familiar with the story, but only vaguely… I don’t imagine the writing would do much for me now, but I still love reading A.A. Milne and own all of his works. I did find a complete Potter collection at a garage sale, and I nearly picked it up, just for the very charming artwork.
    I do hate what they’ve done with the modern Pooh Bear though, and a quick look at this trailer leaves me thinking it will have none of the charm of the original work.
    All my best to you Mike,
    Andrea

  10. hilarymb

    Hi Mike – well my long comment disappeared and wouldn’t recover … I don’t like the voices – but can imagine having a good laugh with littlies while we watched the movie. I think I’d get to see the exhibition sometime … and that area is so beautiful we used to holiday there (1950s Ambleside) with a very close relative. Beatrix Potter was an amazing woman – some resilience there… cheers and thanks for the lovely write-up – Hilary

  11. 1066jq

    He was a bad little bunny and the latest movie probably comes close to how he was. I love the illustrations, the stories, not so much.

  12. Tanja

    I saw a couple of cartoons which I liked but I haven’t actually read the books:) I’ll probably read them to my baby if I get some next time I’m in England:)

  13. derrickjknight

    A lovely post Mike. Just in case you are not aware, we mention in The Magnificent Seven https://derrickjknight.com/2013/04/07/the-magnificent-seven/ ‘The Beatrix Potter Connection’ with Brompton Cemetery. Miss Potter lived as a girl in the fashionable Kensington of the 1870s and it is claimed that several of her characters’ names are taken from the gravestones in the cemetery – Nutkins, Mr McGregor (sic), Peter Rabbett, Brock, and Jeremiah Fisher are examples. The cemetery’s high walls could have been an inspiration for Mr MacGregor’s garden.

  14. John

    I suppose the cafe has no such scruples about selling produce grown by an overworked and harassed old pensioner. Life is not fair.

  15. Ellen

    I’m trying to make my mind stop thinking about Peter Rabbit cooked and on a plate, although I do have plates with Peter Rabbit on them. Thankfully I didn’t have to pay a fortune for them. This is another place I’d like to visit. We read many of Beatrix Potter’s collection of books to our kids when they were little.

  16. Cynthia

    As the mama of two (now grown) daughters, we lived and breathed Ms Potter’s tales for years. I’ll be passing your blog along to them as they will probably be wanting to book a trip to Bowness!

  17. Shammy

    I read the Beatrix Potter books as a child, and in fact, I admit to still owning them. Not quite sure why. I went to see the Peter Rabbit film with my 10 year old grandson…. we both loved it. Those bunnies were REAL I tell you! But our hero Peter did come off as a bit of a rabbity jerk, but of course, all was well in the end and he learned his lesson.

  18. April Munday

    Beatrix Potter passed me by as well, as did all the children’s classics. I’ve never read Swallows and Amazons, Alice in Wonderland, Black Beauty or Treasure Island. I went straight from Enid Blyton to Agatha Christie, which makes me think that perhaps I should give the juvenile delinquent a go.

  19. williamkendall1

    Yes, I can see this being a tourist trap!

    I’ve never actually read the story.

    I wonder if the Japanese are drawn to Anne of Green Gables for much the same reason.

  20. tidalscribe

    I want to go there! My son did love the books and I would not touch anything other than the original script and drawings. What a very modern story Peter Rabbit is – one parent family, mother struggling to cope with father dead because of his criminal lifestyle!
    My daughter was travelling when the film Miss Potter first came out and having just arrived in a new city decided to go and see it to cheer herself up – not realising there would be death and tragedy with the sudden demise of Miss Potter’s first fiance!

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