Two Tales of Brer Rabbit
Today is a 2-story bumper Story Circle, because I’m going to tell you a story that I loved when I was 6, and lived in Scotland and went to Carolside Primary School. I was in Mrs Hepburn’s class and I remember her telling me this story. I loved it.
The Brer Rabbit stories come from Africa and Native America. A bit like Loki in the Icelandic legends, or Anansi the Spider God in African stories, or even Bart Simpson or Jerry the mouse in Tom & Jerry, Brer Rabbit is a “trickster”: good at getting what he wants or needs, but not always in a kind way and often hurting other people.
He always shows us how you don’t have to be big and strong to come out on top. In that way, he can be an example of what to do - BUT he is often an example of what NOT to do!
1. The Moon In The Pond
One warm summer evening, Brer Rabbit and Brer Terrapin met by the side of the road. Their work was done, and there was nothing to do but relax. They sat down and began to talk about the good old days.
They remembered how many times their lives they had escaped danger from the other animals, like Brer Fox, Brer Wolf and Brer Bear, and said to each other, “It's such a relief that we all live in peace nowadays, and that we all get on without fighting and trying to kill and eat each other."
“But I can’t help but get a bit annoyed,” said Brer Rabbit to Bear Terrapin, “at how greedy those big animals are. Brer Wolf, Brer Fox and Brer Bear always eat so much more of the food than you or I.”
“That’s very true," said Brer Terrapin, "they do eat more than us others."
Brer Rabbit smiled sideways at Brer Terrapin. A smile that told Brer Terrapin that mischief was brewing. And Brer Rabbit said, “I’d like to help them not to be so greedy…”
“And I bet you’d like to have some fun, Brer Rabbit,” smiles Brer Terrapin.
“I would, dear brother, I would,” smiled the mischievous rabbit.
“Why don’t we," said Brer Rabbit, “why don’t we invite Brer Fox, Brer Wolf and Brer Bear to come fishing and have a picnic at the pond, in the moonlight, tomorrow evening?”
“Why don’t we?” smiled Brer Terrapin.
“Just agree with everything I say, and all will be well,” said Brer Rabbit, his mischievous smile growing bigger with every word.
“And all will be well,” smiled his Brer Terrapin, wondering what naughtiness they would get up to.
The very next morning, Brer Rabbit sent out invitations to moonlight fishing and a picnic to Brer Wolf, Brer Fox and Brer Bear and all the other animals. And Brer Fox, excited at the idea of a party for everyone, even invited the friendly humans who lived nearby, like Mrs. Meadows and her daughters.
That evening, when the day’s work was over, everybody turned up with their fishing nets and rods and their picnic bags and rugs and cushions and blankets and pillows. Brer Bear had a line with a hook, and Brer Fox had brought a net. The other animals and Mrs. Meadows and her girls all sat comfortably behind the fishermen, not far from the edge of the pond. They laid out the picnic and were about to start, when Brer Rabbit said,
“Don’t eat yet, Brer Fox, Brer Wolf, Brer Bear. Let’s us big strong animals catch ourselves some fish, while our friends build a fire to cook them. We’ll work up a mighty appetite for ourselves and then we can all enjoy a wonderful cooked fish picnic with the fish we catch. Let’s go!” he smiled and went to the pond to throw his hook into the water, before any of the animals could disagree with him.
He swung his fishing hook around his head one, two, three times and was just about to throw it into the water, when - suddenly he stopped!
Everyone watched him. He dropped his line and just stood there, staring into the water. Then Mrs. Meadows cried out: "Brer Rabbit, what’s wrong?" But Brer Rabbit just stood there staring. He screwed up his face. He furrowed his brow. He stroked his whiskers. He paced up and down, up and down.
Everyone watched, not daring to break Brer Rabbit’s deep concentration. After a few minutes went by, Brer Rabbit sighed. He faced the animals and humans with a sorry, sorry look upon his face: "Ladies and gentlemen! We must finish our picnic without any fish. No one can fish here tonight."
Remembering that he had agreed to agree with everything that his friend had said, Brer Terrapin went over to the edge of the pond, looked in and said: "You’re absolutely right, Brer Rabbit!” then crawled back to his blanket.
“Don't be afraid, friends," said Brer Rabbit. "It's nothing dangerous - just that the moon is taking a dip in the water. So we cannot fish there in case we damage it, you see. If you do not believe me, come over and look for yourselves."
No-one had ever heard anything like this in their lives! One by one, the animals and the humans all walked up to the edge of the pond the bank and looked into the water. And sure enough, there, they saw the moon. “You see?” said Brer Rabbit, “There it is, shining up at us from the bottom of the pond.”
Brer Fox looked and said: "Well, well, well!"
Brer Wolf looked and said: "Very bad, very bad!"
Brer Bear looked and said, “Uh”.
Brer Rabbit continued: “Of course, we could do some fishing tonight, but only if we could get the moon safely out of the water.”
“And you know what they say about the creature who can get the moon out of the water, don’t you?” said Brer Terrapin, enjoying himself immensely.
“What do they say?” said Brer Wolf, with interest.
“They say,” said Brer Rabbit, “ "that the creature who drags the moon out of the water will also find a pot of gold.”
Brer Fox, Brer Wolf and Brer Bear were mightily impressed by this idea. Not only could someone be strong enough to catch the moon, but they would get a pot of gold into the bargain! Everyone liked the sound of that.
Brer Rabbit shut his eyes and looked like he was thinking very hard. Then he took off his coat began to march in a very determined way towards the water.
“What are you doing, Brer Rabbit?” said Brer Fox, a little snappily. Brer Rabbit turned with a surprised look on his face and said, “Well, I’m going to drag out the moon, of course. I want us all to enjoy our fishing picnic - I won’t let anything spoil this lovely evening of friendship!”
“Oh, no, no, dear friend!” said Brer Wolf, perhaps a little too quickly. “Let us! You organised this marvellous evening, after all! You shouldn’t get wet. We’ll go!” Brer Wolf picked up one end of his net and gave the other end to Brer Fox, while Brer Bear went behind to help.
“Well, that’s mighty kind of you, thank you!” said Brer Rabbit and he smiled as he watched the trio throw the net into the water to catch the moon. First of all they threw in the net from the edge of the water, only getting their feet just little wet. They dragged it back in, but no moon! They went in a little deeper the second time and again, dragged the net right across the pond. But when they pulled it out again, still, no moon!
Every time, they tried again and went a little deeper into the water. It got into their shoes and into their trousers and into their pants and into their shirts and eventually into their ears! And STILL they couldn’t drag the moon out of the pond! Eventually, they had to give up. They were cold and wet and moon-less and grumpy.
When they came out, Mrs Meadows and her girls began to laugh. Putting on his kindest face of great concern, Brer Rabbit cried out: “Oh, dear brothers, you must go home and put on some dry clothes. Don’t worry about tidying up the picnic. We’ll finish it off here then bring it back. You'll catch the moon another time."
Hungrier than hungry, wetter than wet and feeling that somehow, they had been tricked out of their picnic, Brer Fox, and Brer Wolf and Brer Bear dripped their way home, while Brer Rabbit and Brer Terrapin stayed by the pond and had a very pleasant picnic with Mrs Meadows and her daughters.
Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby
It won’t surprise you to hear that Brer Fox, Brer Fox and Brer Wolf didn’t stay friendly with Brer Rabbit for long. In fact, Brer Fox had reached the point where Brer Rabbit’s tricks and bossiness had driven Brer Fox to cook up a wicked plan. He was going to get rid of Brer Rabbit once and for all. In fact, he would capture and kill him if it was the last thing he ever did.
But how to do it? He knew from bitter experience that Brer Rabbit was smart, quick, and could get out of almost anything. Brer Fox thought and he thought: what was Brer Rabbit weak point? He was a rabbit, which meant he was fast and strong - so a battle of bodies wouldn’t be an easy one. He was quick witted and wily, like Brer Fox himself, so a battle of BRAINS would be pretty equal and history told Brer Fox that Brer Rabbit would almost always win. If only he could catch him out with a weakness, Brer Fox would have a much better chance. But what was Brer Rabbit’s weak spot?
Aha! smiled Brer Fox as a realisation came to him. Brer Rabbit liked everyone knowing who he was. Brer Rabbit liked being popular. He liked feeling important and loved. And while everyone wants to feel loved and liked, Brer Rabbit’s need for those things was his weak spot.
Brer Fox began to put together his cunning plan.
First of all, he got some sticky black tar. The kind of stuff you make roads with and use to stick tiles to roofs. Then he mixed it with grit and stones to make a sticky, stony clay. Then he sculpted his mixture into the shape of a baby. Lastly, he put a hat on the Tar Baby and plopped her right in the middle of the road.
Brer Fox hid in the bushes and waited. Before too long, he heard Brer Rabbit skipping over the hill, singing a happy song. And then the singing stopped, as Brer Rabbit spotted the Tar Baby. In his hiding place in the bushes, Brer Fox could hardly keep in his excitement. The trap was going to work!
Brer Rabbit saw the funny baby with a hat and stopped in surprise. He had never seen anything like it - its features were hard to make out and it looked kind of shiny. Oh, well, there’s always new things in the world, he said to himself and as he walked by he raised his hat to the Tar Baby and said, "Good Morning. Nice weather we're having.” The Tar Baby said nothing. Brer Fox leaned forward in his bush and low and grinned an evil grin. Brer Rabbit tried again. "How are you on this fine day?”
The Tar Baby still said nothing. Brer Fox put his fit in his mouth to stop his giggle coming out. Brer Rabbit frowned. This odd creature was not very polite. Truth be told, it was beginning to make him cross. "Ahem!" said Brer Rabbit loudly, in case the Tar Baby was deaf. "I said 'HOW ARE YOU THIS MORNING?”
The Tar Baby didn’t move. Brer Fox curled up into a ball to hide his laugher. His plan was working perfectly! "Are you deaf or just rude?" demanded Brer Rabbit, losing his temper. "I can't stand folks that are stuck up! You take off that hat and say 'Howdy-do' or I'm going to have to punch you!” Brer Fox was delighted - he had indeed found Brer Rabbit’s weak spot: when he thought someone didn’t know who he was or maybe didn’t like him, he lost his cool and did foolish things.
The Tar Baby just sat in the middle of the road and said nothing. "I'll show you!” shouted Brer Rabbit. He punched at Tar Baby - and his paw got stuck! “Let me go or I'll hit you again," he shouted. The Tar Baby said nothing. "Fine! Be that way," said Brer Rabbit, punching the Tar Baby with his other paw. But now both his paws were stuck in the tar, and Brer Fox was besides himself with glee.
“Well if you wont let me go, I’l punch you til you do!” Brer Rabbit said and he leapt on the Tar Baby with both of his feet. And his feet sank deep into the Tar Baby’s globulous glue.
Brer Rabbit was so furious that he used all he had left. He head-butted the Tar Baby, and was now completely stuck in the tar.
Now that Brer Rabbit was captured thanks to his own idiocy, Brer Fox sauntered out of the bushes. "Well, well, what have we here?" he grinned, licking his lips.
Brer Rabbit gulped. He was stuck. he realised he caught been trapped by his own idiocy. But now Brer Fox was showing his own weakness: he was being proud, smug, pleased with himself, a show-off. And THAT gave Brer Rabbit some time to think.
"I've got you this time, Brer Rabbit," said Brer Fox, “Now I wonder what I should do with you?” Brer Rabbit's eyes went very, very large. "Oh please Brer Fox, whatever you do, please don't throw me into the bramble bushes."
"Maybe I should roast you over a fire and eat you," mused Brer Fox. "No, that's too much trouble. Maybe I'll hang you instead."
"Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please," said Brer Rabbit. "Only please, Brer Fox, please don't throw me into the bramble bushes."
"If I'm going to hang you, I'll need some string," said Brer Fox. "And I don't have any string handy. But the stream's not far away, so maybe I'll drown you instead."
"Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please," said Brer Rabbit.
"Only please, Brer Fox, please don't throw me into the bramble bushes."
"The bramble bushes, eh?" said Brer Fox. “You really don’t want to go in there? What a wonderful idea! You'll be torn into little pieces!"
And Brer Fox picked up the tar-covered rabbit, and swung him around and around and then flung him head over heels into the bramble bush. Brer Rabbit let out such a scream before he crashed that all of Brer Fox's fur stood straight up.
Then there was silence. Brer Fox cocked one ear toward the brambles, listening for whimpers of pain. But he heard nothing. Brer Fox cocked the other ear, listening for Brer Rabbit's death whimpers. But still, he heard nothing.
Then, Brer Fox heard someone calling his name. He turned around and looked up the hill. There was Brer Rabbit, sitting on a log, combing the tar out of his fur with a wood chip and looking very, very smug.
"I grew up in the bramble bushes, Brer Fox," he called. “They can never hurt me! Better luck next time! “And he skipped away as merry as a cricket while Brer Fox ground his teeth in rage and went home.
What do you think the other animals think of Brer Rabbit?
If you knew him, would you invite him to tea at your house? why/not?
How would you feel if you were Brer Fox?
Is there any way you could change that feeling without having to play tricks back on Brer Rabbit? (walk away, remember it doesn’t matter, “don’t play the game / give BR what he wants”, laugh it off when you’re tricked, admit when you’ve been wrong/ silly…)