Though I grew up loving Albert Bigelow Paine’s “Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn,” it wasn’t until later in life that I learned of the existence of three volumes of Hollow Tree stories, a generous series featuring all the familiar characters from the Christmas tale—and many, many more.
As I became familiar with Paine's series, I was a little surprised to learn that Mr. Dog wasn’t always on such great terms with the Hollow Tree folks. If you only know Mr. Dog and friends through our book, you’re kind of in the same boat I was. Maybe you’ve wondered about that line “You see, Mr. Dog liked them all now…”. It certainly gives a clue that there’s a backstory, doesn’t it? Well, of course, Paine set it all up beautifully in the many stories that preceded “Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn” and they are well worth a read.
My hope is to someday republish a few more of them, each as an individual volume, to join the Christmas story in a beautiful slipcovered Hollow Tree Treasury (I dream big!). Until then, though, the magic of 21st century technology gives us an opportunity to share them with you another way…. Introducing: The Mr. Dog Podcast!
My son Henry, a renaissance man if ever there was, has created this show. Each week from now until Christmas, you can listen to a new episode of The Mr. Dog Podcast, as Henry reads aloud from Paine’s Hollow Tree and Deep Woods books. Along the way you’ll meet The Storyteller and The Little Lady, Mr. Turtle, Mr. Rabbit and many more, and you’ll get to know that backstory.... what's the history behind the cozy Christmas friendship of Mr. ‘Coon, Mr. ‘Possum, Mr. Crow, and Mr. Dog, anyhow?
Henry is a wonderful storyteller (wait til you hear his Mr. Crow voice!), and in each episode he gives helpful bits of historical context and definitions for unfamiliar Victorian terms. He provides sweet musical interludes and a cozy crackling fire ambience, too. I love imagining families gathered ‘round each week to catch the latest installment, and the anticipation building as he approaches the Christmas Eve episode.
Of course, Paine was a master storyteller and it seems he loved exploring the form—the Hollow Tree tales have layers upon layers of storytelling within them. I imagine him listening to our podcast, which adds a new storyteller and a new storytelling medium to the mix. I hope he’d be pleased to find his tales being shared this way, enjoyed by many more “little folks” (and their storytellers), over 100 years after he wrote them.
Hello and happy May, dear friends!
In honor of May Day, I wanted to share a lovely gift from a dear friend and fan of Mr. Dog. Artist Katie Daisy gave me this beautiful little book for my birthday earlier this year. I was charmed and surprised to learn of yet another book by Mr. Dog’s author, Albert Bigelow Paine: A Little Garden Calendar.
A Little Garden Calendar, by Albert Bigelow Paine, 1905
I promise, this is not another crazy April Fool’s joke. The incredibly prolific Paine published this gardening manual for children in 1905. In it, he expertly instructs young readers in the art of gardening and observation of the natural world. In his words, he
has tried to tell in simple language a few of the wonders of plant life, and to set down certain easy methods of observation, including planting, tending, and gathering the harvests, from month to month, throughout the year. Along with this it has been [my] aim to call attention to the more curious characteristics of certain plants—the really human instincts and habits of some, the family relations of others, the dependence of many upon mankind, animals, and insects, and the struggle for existence of all.
But to make this book even more remarkable, Paine presents this instruction in the form of a sweet fictional story that follows two young children, Davy and Prue, as they learn throughout the year with the help of their friend, “The Chief Gardener.” Again, in Paine’s words:
Simple botany plays a part in the little narrative, which forms a continuous story from chapter to chapter, interwoven with a number of briefer stories—traditions, fairy tales, and the like, all relating to plant life and origin. These are presented by way of entertainment—to illuminate fact with fancy—to follow, as it were, the path of knowledge through the garden of imagination.
The more I learn about old Albert, the more I love him. This seemed a lovely thing to share with you all on this first day of May. I hope you enjoy the photos below. You can read the book online, or even download a free copy for your iPad or Kindle from Gutenberg.org.
Wishing you a brilliant May!
Creative Director, That's So Enterprises
Greetings, dear Reader.
If you know me and my friends at the Hollow Tree, you know we enjoy a good prank now and then. Well, it appears my April 1 hoax did indeed fool quite a few folks and I hope you enjoyed it in the spirit of good April Fools’ fun!
Our publisher, Betsy, has an update and a real Albert Bigelow Paine story to share with you below. And I promise no more shenanigans... Well, at least not for a while!
Your foolish friend,
Although it’s simply not true that we discovered an unpublished Albert Bigelow Paine Hollow Tree story, we have been enjoying more of the tales in his three-volume series, all of which are available as free ebooks at Project Gutenberg. With Easter coming this weekend, I thought it would be fun to share “Mr. Rabbit Explains: An Easter Story” from The Hollow Tree and Deep Woods Book, in which Mr. Rabbit tells his friends just how the Easter “bunny” myth got started.
"THEY CAME TO A LOG UNDER A BIG TREE AND SAT DOWN FOR A SMOKE AND TALK" (image courtesy of Project Gutenberg)
I love the illustrations by J.M. Conde, who did the art for all three original volumes.
IT WAS A NICE BLUE EGG WHEN SHE GOT THROUGH WITH IT (image courtesy of Project Gutenberg)
For those of you planning dye eggs and enjoy a hunt this weekend, this tale could be a fun addition to the festivities. You can read and download the full story from Project Gutenberg here.
A FEW LESSONS IN RUNNING AND HIDING (image courtesy of Project Gutenberg)
In other news, I’m really happy to be able to confirm (no joke!) that Mr. Dog’s Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn will soon be on press again. We know that many of you missed out last year, and many of you are interested in more copies for gifts this year, so we’re going to open up a pre-order page on this site just as soon as we get all our ducks in a row. I expect everything should be ready by the end of April. If you’re not on Mr. Dog’s newsletter list yet, please do sign up. Subscribers will be the very first to know when the books are available again.
Greetings, Dear Reader!
I'm delighted to share a very special post with you in this week before Christmas, and in celebration of our very successful first year. Our publisher, Betsy Cordes, interviews someone with an important connection to our book's author, Albert Bigelow Paine.
Enjoy, and may you have a very Merry Christmas!
This project has had lots of really happy surprises for me, but one of the biggest has been the opportunity to connect with Stephen Bigelow Cushman, the great-grandson of Albert Bigelow Paine (author of Mr. Dog’s Christmas at the Hollow Tree Inn). Stephen Cushman is a professor of English at the University of Virginia, specializing in American poetry.
Early last month, after a bit of getting to know one another via email, we met face-to-face on Skype and it was my great pleasure to hear Stephen’s memories of his great grandfather’s stories, to discover shared Christmas traditions (turns out “Mr. Dog” isn’t the only old Christmas story both our families enjoy!), and more.
I’m so grateful to Stephen for his warm reception of our project, and for the stories and perspectives he shared in our conversation—part of which I now get to share with you here.
Stephen Bigelow Cushman holding his first editions of the “Hollow Tree and Deep Woods” tales: three volumes of stories written by his great-grandfather, Albert Bigelow Paine.
BETSY (San Francisco, California): I’m really grateful to you for doing this. I think that this connection with you is really one of the most rewarding things about this project.
STEPHEN (Charlottesville, Virginia): I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to go back to all these books. I was just sitting here re-reading my 1898 first edition. Paine was my great-grandfather, and the “little ladies” he told the story to, well, he seems to have written a book for each of his daughters. The third one, the youngest, was my father’s mother. Her name’s Joy. [Stephen holds up photo; shown below] See what you’re looking at?
Mark Twain playing cards with Stephen Cushman’s grandmother, Joy (far right), her sister Louise (second from right), and their friend in Redding, Connecticut. (Image from twainquotes.com)
BETSY: It’s Mark Twain?
STEPHEN: Mark Twain, with three little girls. And the littlest girl farthest from him is my father’s mother. And the one next to her is Louise. And she is the little lady to whom Paine told “Mr. Dog’s Christmas.”
BETSY: That’s wonderful.
STEPHEN: So that picture was taken in Redding [Connecticut] in 1908. And I don’t know if you know the story of how Twain and Paine were connected.
BETSY: I know that Paine was Twain’s biographer.
STEPHEN: Biographer, and executor. And editor. Some people say not a very good one. And Paine was the one who got Twain to come out to Redding, which seems to be the setting for the Hollow Tree. Certainly, those are New England winters you’re reading about.
BETSY: From your first email to me, it sounds like the reading of this story has been a tradition in your family forever.
STEPHEN: Yes. I was born in 1956 and I cannot remember a time when my father didn’t read these books to us all, all year, because there are three volumes and there’s the summer too and everything. Some terrifying characters in there: “Mr. Turtle’s Thunder Story,” “Old Man Moccasin,” and a lot of others as well. Oh, these all come back: “Mr. Turtle’s Flying Adventure.” Mr. Possum’s Sick Spell.” There are so many good ones here. And then, here’s the final one: “The Hollow Tree Snowed Inn” book. And I remember this one! Yes: “The Bark of Old Hungry Wolf.” That’s a story about them all being hungry in the winter.
But, certainly “The Hollow Tree Christmas” was a ritual. And I was just thinking before you called of all the things that we grew up saying from the story. For example, it could be the middle of July and sweltering outside, but if something good happens to somebody you might say, “Oh, there’s something in all our stockings!” So it’s very much part of the lore. We did that throughout my childhood. And then: I got married to Sandra in 1982, and our first son was born in 1987. His name is Samuel. Then the second son is Simon. And we always read them to them as well. So I guess if you count my father, we’re on generation three.
But these stories have some sadness in them, some grimness in them. Because this is a pre-internet, pre-television, pre-radio world where storytelling was a major way to pass cold, snowy New England evenings. And there is in these books loneliness and solitude and some hard things. Which I didn’t think about it that way as a child so much, but now that I look at them again, I see it.
BETSY: It will be interesting now for me to go and read some of those because I’m not as familiar with them, and I think that the Christmas story is really pretty lighthearted.
STEPHEN: Yes, although, what’s interesting—I recently re-read it—there’s really a great dramatization in the Christmas story about Mr. Dog thinking at first, “what a great joke this will be.” But then thinking, “how sad this would be to play a joke on them.” So he’s going to play the role. He really becomes sort-of this artist-author figure who’s going to create this illusion for the sake of his friends. What a shame to let them down. So then, even there, it seems to me there’s some pathos in that, too.
BETSY: The thing that I particularly love about it is that it’s very much about friends and family, and all of the best things. But there’s also that total late-night stress miracle when he’s getting things together. And, how hard it is for him, how hard he works to pull off this surprise for his friends. I absolutely love that part about it.
STEPHEN: You know, there are two sides to it. While we’re having a great time there are a lot of people who are not, for any number of reasons. And so I feel that one of the things that story’s about is Paine’s projection onto Mr. Dog of this desire to share the pleasures with people who might otherwise not have them. And I think it’s very moving in that way.
BETSY: What do you think about the story being republished now?
STEPHEN: Oh, I think it’s wonderful. You know, to have a book go out of print is a very sad thing. It’s not quite like a death, but it’s a little bit odd. And, so, to have a book that I love come back into the world, I only have good feelings about it. What I’m going to be interested in is if your project brings out of the woodwork people who have been leading lives parallel to ours, who have been reading these things all along and so on, as well as making new readers out of young people and other people.
BETSY: There has been at least one person that my parents discovered quite by accident that grew up reading the “Hollow Tree” stories.
STEPHEN: Oh, no way!
BETSY: Yes, and she’s ordered copies for two friends and had them inscribed because both of these people grew up with the Hollow Tree stories as well. The thing I love about the Christmas story is it’s just so timeless. It definitely has a lot of period stuff in it, and there are some funky things, like my dad, when he reads it, always likes to pause at the point where they say they’ll leave the latchstring out for Mr. Dog. And my dad always makes a sort-of hokey point of, “Now, do you know what a latchstring is?”
STEPHEN: Right! Well, one of the things we haven’t talked about yet is the timelessness of the Christmas story, yes, but the timelessness of beast fables in general—from Aesop’s on. I think that animal stories become even more resonant against the backdrop of environmental degradation and all kinds of things. I mean, to “the little lady”—my grandmother, or her sisters in the late-19th,early 20th century—these weren’t animals, these were people. They had latchstrings, and they had deep snows, and they were snowed in for a week, these things. Well, that never happens to anyone anymore. So there’s a kind of remoteness, a nostalgia for a time when life was a little different, life was a little closer to the animals and to the rhythms of the seasons. And, I think that aspect is always going to reach out. Read today the story might appeal to a deep longing for a non-urban, pre-modern pastoral world. And, I think you’re always going to get that being attractive to people especially at Christmas, when we’re fighting against so many other distracting forces: Shopping, doing your taxes, whatever, you know, all these terrible things! And you have this chance to be transported back. It’s wonderful!
BETSY: I’m curious, too, since you’re so familiar with all of the other stories, how often does Mr. Dog feature in all of them?
STEPHEN: Lots of Mr. Dog: “Mr. Dog Takes Lessons in Dancing,” “Jack Rabbit Plays One More Joke on Mr. Dog,” “Mr. Polecat Makes a Morning Call & Mr. Dog Drops In.” And then, there’s one about, “How Mr. Dog Got Even.” So Mr. Dog comes up a lot. And the reason is—and I was thinking about this before you called too—he’s the intermediary between the human world and the world of the forest. So, we need him as a kind of go-between. And there’s this sentence in the Hollow Tree Christmas: “Well, the Hollow Tree People had never heard of Santa Claus. They knew about Christmas, of course, because everybody, even the cows and sheep, knew about that.”
BETSY: I love that.
STEPHEN: “They had never heard of Santa Claus.” Well, that’s the only faint acknowledgment of the Christ story. You know: There’s the manger, and there are the animals. Otherwise, it’s a thoroughly secular Christmas. And it’s a kind of wonderful touch there, where on some level, all the animals knew about Christmas. But they didn’t know about this particular human version of Christmas. It’s gotta be the cattle are lowing or the shepherds are out with their sheep, their flocks abiding by night, and so on.
BETSY: I just remember, when I was in junior high and high school that sometimes on Christmas Eve, a bunch of my friends would come over to listen to this. And it was such a child-like thing that you would think that a jaded teenager would go, “What the hell is going on here?” But they were all, to the last one, every single time, every one of them no matter who it was, totally charmed by this story, and just completely present and really, really loved it.
STEPHEN: Well, it’s an interesting thing you say right there. In the full bloom of the Christmas readings when my sister and I were adults (if that was the right word), we would do, “The Hollow Tree Christmas.” But, we had other readings, too.
BETSY: Yeah? Tell me!
STEPHEN: Well, one of them—if you don’t know this, this would be a great thing for your family, in two forms—do you know Dylan Thomas’s, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales?”
BETSY: That’s another favorite. Absolutely.
STEPHEN: Ok. So, have you ever heard him read it?
BETSY: Yeah, so that’s another one of our traditions. On Christmas Eve, it’s the reading of Mr. Dog. And on Christmas morning, we have an album of Dylan Thomas reading, “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” and that is on every Christmas morning.
STEPHEN: Well, this is scary, because this sounds as though we probably were cloned in the same… [laughs]
BETSY: That is so weird! [laughing]
STEPHEN: …and the other ones that we do: My dad had an ancient record I think he bought when he was in the army, a ’33 rpm. But on one side was Ronald Coleman reading an abridgment of “A Christmas Carol,” Dickens. And on the flip side, was Charles Laughton dramatizing an abridged version of “Pickwick Papers,” for Christmas. So that was our our trilogy: that record, the Thomas recording, and then our reading of, “The Hollow Tree.”
BETSY: Wow. We need to somehow get our hands on that third one. That sounds pretty special.
STEPHEN: Are you ready for the holidays?
BETSY: I am going to be so ready for the holidays!
STEPHEN: Well, I will tell you that here on the East Coast, the sun is going down, and I have a Mr. Dog I have to take out.
BETSY: I bet you do! Thank you so much for your time. I will send your books soon, and I look forward to staying in touch. And thank you so much for your warm reception of this project. It really means a lot to me.
STEPHEN: Well, thank you so much for the project, and seeing it through. And I wish everyone in your family a very happy Christmas.