Saturday, June 18, 2005

Shakespeare also drank beer

This morning L. got snarky about In the Stacks: Short Stories About Libraries and Librarians. He pretty much dared me to find a story that wouldn't prove to be a narcotic.

I'd only read the Berriault so far, and as much as I liked it, didn't feel that he would, so I scanned the contents looking for something that I thought would appeal. I touted Bradbury, Borges, Munro, then claimed the next story I'd read from the collection would be based on this title alone: "Ed Has His Mind Improved."

L. started reading that particular story, then started talking about how the main character had a horse that could talk. Is Ed the main character or the horse, I asked. The horse, he told me. The owner is named Mr. Pope.

Of course I remembered that Mr. Ed was owned by Wilbur Post, so I wondered if "Ed Has His Mind Improved" was some sort of spoofy quasi-Mr. Ed fan fic (or if L. was making the entire thing up because the idea of interesting librarian stories was just too ridiculous for him) and I snatched the book as soon as I could to have a look. Turned out Walter R. Brooks, of Freddy the Pig fame, wrote 26 stories about a talking horse named Ed and his owner Wilbur Pope. Ed was the inspiration behind the 1960s TV series, which (of course) I loved since I came out of the womb already a horse lover.

Michael Cart, editor of In the Stacks, is also Brooks' biographer. Best I can tell, the Ed stories remain uncollected, but you can bet that I will buy a book of talking horse stories if it ever becomes available:

Ed had a politically incorrect affection for alcohol. After a few of the Ed
stories were published in The Saturday Evening Post, the editor told
Brooks "Get Ed off the sauce or get him out of the pages of the Post!"
Ed was unwilling to surrender his booze, so the stories then began appearing in Argosy. (Virginia Herrmann)

In "Ed Has His Mind Improved" Ed learns to read and develops a preference for Edgar Wallace. He resists Wilbur's efforts to improve his mind: "Listen Wilbur said Ed I'm a horse. What good is an improved mind in a stable? Get me a good Western to read tonight will you?'

Ed reluctantly becomes involved in teetotaler librarian Miss Sigsbee's efforts to raise funding for the library. He resorts to extortion in the process, but in a way that assures that Miss Sigsbee's position remains secure:

Pooh! said Ed. They won't either of them dare say a word about this. No
said Mr. Pope they can hardly go around complaining that they were insulted by a
horse. Vulgar but effective--that's Ed. Yeah said Ed and the same thing could be
said of Shakespeare. Dear me said Miss Sigsbee I never thought of it that way.
But it's true. Just the same said Ed that fifteeen-hundred smackers will buy a
lot of Edgar Wallace. O wait a minute lady he said I know I know. But part of it
you're going to get Edgar Wallace with aren't you? If you want to make the world
better you got to stop trying to improve people's minds and start improving
their dispositions. Speaking of which Wilbur how about a can of beer? O excuse
me ma'am for mentioning it. Not at all said Miss Sigsbee archly. After all
Shakespeare also drank beer.

Wonder if there are any stories behind Francis the Talking Mule?


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