Sunday, September 09, 2007

Miss Potter....and friends

You won't find many movie reviews on this blog for the simple reason that I do not care much for movie watching--one of my biggest shortcomings, according to my dear children. And the movies I do watch are almost never of the cutting edge, just released variety. (My 15yo son cringed when he saw that I had begun a blog post inspired by my recent viewing of Miss Potter so I'm going to out him here: he watched it with me.)

As one who has long loved the writings and illustrations of Beatrix Potter, I was biased to like this film and I was not disappointed. The cast of characters, featuring Renee Zwelleger as Miss Potter and Ewan McGregor as Norman Warne, were wonderfully cast and charmingly portrayed. The story of Beatrix Potter's life is a warm, enchanting tale, though not without the taint of pain and sadness. And though I am quite a sop when it comes to watching movies, I didn't cry...until the credits began to roll at the end. My family looked at me in bewilderment so I tried to explain: Memories of all the hours I had spent enjoying The Tale of Peter Rabbit and all his woodland cohorts with my dear children had come flooding back to me.

Which makes me realize this post really isn't a review of the film Miss Potter, but rather a reminiscence of the beauty of her writing and illustrations, particularly as I enjoyed them with my dear children when they were young.

A biographer of scholar C.S. Lewis writes of how the transcendent beauty of Potter's illustrations, particularly in the work of Squirrel Nutkin was a formative influence in Lewis's life, one which sparked in him the feeling of desire. While I can't recall such a specific defining impact in my own life I do remember being drawn to the design of the small slate colored books and to the magical stories and beautiful watercolor illustrations they contained. Simply. Beautiful. And, Potter's lovely British turns of phrase was and is music to my ears.

When I was a young adult my interest in Potter's children stories was renewed when I purchased two binding-damaged collections of her works from the campus bookstore where I worked. I didn't have spare cash for much of anything in those days but I bought these two books and taped up the bindings. These are the books which I read to my children and which l sit on our bookshelf still, taped bindings intact.

To further indulge my love of Peter and his friends, I decorated my first-born's nursery with a Peter Rabbit and friends theme, complete with a large cross-stitched quilt (still hanging). We've a Beatrix Potter music box, cups, and dishes besides.

After I had explained to my family what memories had brought forth the tears my 15yo son remarked with a grin, "Now Mom is going to get out all the Beatrix Potter books and read them to us at lunch time." Well, what a good idea! It is said a really good children's story is one that can be enjoyed by adults as well as children, and the tales of Beatrix Potter fit that bill as far as I'm concerned. Why it wasn't until I was an adult that had the joy of laughing at the antics Tom Thumb and Hunca Munca when Tom Thumb tried to carve a plaster ham, or the silliness of Jemima Puddle Duck when she let a foxy gentleman help her find a place to hatch her eggs, or the predicament of Tom Kitten when he nearly ended up as the middle of a pudding, or ... And who can drink a cup of chamomile tea without thinking of Peter Rabbit's mischief and subsequent illness for which he was sent to bed without the bread and milk and blackberries which Flopsy, Mopsy and Cottontail enjoyed.


Anonymous said...

Okay if you can admit to tears so can I. My two dds could not believe I cried over this movie. Zwelleger's portrayal of Potter as someone who throughly loved her work and her life, even in the midst of sorrow, struck me as wonderful example of enjoying the good gifts that God has given us in a way that pleases Him, delights Him. If I am delighted in His gifts, how much more is He delighted by my delight. I've got a Rubbermaid Tote that is full of BP bios, books, and all types of other items that I just love to sit and look through. If your are ever near St. Louis, we'll have chamomile tea and look through that box.

Jenny in MO

desert mom said...

That would be delightful, Jenny. Can you recommend a favourite Beatrix Potter biography? I've not read one and am motivated to after watching Miss Potter.

Patti said...

Thanks for the review, Melissa. I was just trying to think of a baby gift for someone's baby shower that I missed. Not one to give the usual gifts, I thought I'd buy two or three children's books. I think I'll make a point of including a Beatrix Potter book. Thanks for the idea.:-)

Anonymous said...

This is the one I have, but it is out of print. It has black and white photos with a few color plates scattered throughout. ISBN-10: 0723241759

This is another I have but it is not strictly a bio. It does have a sections on her life as well as sections on how her books, studies in fungi and her life in the lake district. I really enjoy this one as there are colored photos throughout of the various illustrations she completed in her lifetime. You can look at the chapter titles to get a better feel for the content. Here's the link for that one

Here's the ISBN if the link doesn't work ISBN-10: 0723235619

Thanks again for the post, I pulled out the bios and will use them for my reading-before-bedtime books.

Have a good day,
Jenny in MO

Val in Idaho said...

Well, beautifully said. And ironic that at girls' night last night (including Bryant) we finally watched the much-awaited "Miss Potter." It was obvious that we hadn't had much contact with Victorian culture--"Mom, why is that old lady always with her?" and "What's wrong with going to a print shop?"
It was sad, and it was hopeful and wonderfully acted. Oh for a vacation in the Lake District! And like you, I recently read through many of the stories with the girls--it was fun.
And didn't I help with some Beatrix Potter cross stich way back? I seem to remember a is a good memory!