The wonderful tar baby story by Joel Chandler Harris (Uncle Remus)
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Uncle Remus on title page of Joel Chandler Harris' book

Brer Fox, Brer Rabbit and the briar patch

rewritten by Xavier into modern English

 

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An old tale of psychological manipulation translated into modern English.

“Whatever you do,” cried Brer Rabbit, “Don’t throw me into the briar patch”, or how to get recalcitrant idiots to do what you want.

Notice that Brer Rabbit gets himself into a predicament, by making a foolish assumption and then behaving in an impulsive manner.

Tar baby is an expression used to describe a sticky situation. It is “a situation or problem from which it is virtually impossible to disentangle oneself”.

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THE WONDERFUL TAR BABY STORY [ 1]

rewritten by Xavier

“One day after Brer Rabbit had fooled him with the calamus root, Brer Fox went to work and got some tar. He mixed it with some turpentine, and fixed up a contraption that he caledl a Tar-Baby. He put a straw hat on the Tar-Baby and sat her in the middle of the road, then hid in the bushes to see what would happen.

en got 'im some tar, en mix it wid some turkentime, en fix up a contrapshun

He didn’t have to wait long either, because Brer Rabbit soon came pacing down the road—lippity-clippity, clippity-lippity—as saucy as a jay-bird. Brer Fox, he lay low.

Brer Rabbit come prancing along until he spotted the Tar-Baby. Then he fetched up on his hind legs as if he was astonished. The Tar Baby, she sat there and Brer Fox lay low.

“Good morning,” said Brer Rabbit, “Nice weather we’re having.”

The Tar-Baby said nothing. Brer Fox laid low and grinned an evil grin.

Brer Rabbit tried again. “And how are you feeling this fine day?”

Brer Fox winked his eye slowly and laid low in the bushes, and the Tar Baby, well, she said nothing.

“How are you then? Are you deaf?” said Brer Rabbit. “If you are, I can shout louder.”

Tar-Baby stayed still, and Brer Fox, he lay low.

“You’re stuck up, that’s what you are,” said Brer Rabbit, “I’ll cure you, that’s what I’ll do.”

“Brer Fox, he gave a belly-laugh, but Tar-Baby said nothing.

“I’m going to teach you how to talk to respectable people, if it’s my last act,’ said Brer Rabbit. ‘If you don’t take off that hat, I’m going to beat you up”.

Tar-Baby stayed still, and Brer Fox, he lay low.

Brer Rabbit keep on asking, and the Tar-Baby kept on saying nothing.

Presently, Brer Rabbit drew back his fist and -BLIP- he hit the Tar-Baby on the side of the head. And that’s when he lost his cool. His fist stuck and he couldn’t get loose. The tar held him. But Tar-Baby, she stayed still, and Brer Fox, he lay low.

“If you don’t let me go, I’ll hit you again,” said Brer Rabbit, and with that he swiped again with the other hand, and that stuck. Tar-Baby said nothing and Brer Fox, he lay low.

“Let me go, or I’ll knock the stuffing out of you,” said Brer Rabbit, but Tar-Baby said nothing. She just hung on, and Brer Rabbit lost the use of his feet in the same way. Brer Fox, he lay low.

Then Brer Rabbit yelled out that if the Tar-Baby didn’t turn him loose he’d head butt her side-on. So he butted, and his head got stuck. Then Brer Fox sauntered out, looking as innocent as one of your mummy’s mocking-birds.

“Hiya, Brer Rabbit,” said Brer Fox. “You look sort of stuck up this morning,” and then he rolled on the ground, and laughed and laughed until he could laugh no more. “You’ll have to have dinner with me this time, Brer Rabbit. I’ve got some calamus root, and I won’t take any excuses”.

en den he rolled on de groun', en laft en laft twel he couldn't laff no mo'

When Brer Fox found Brer Rabbit entangled with the Tar-Baby, he felt really good, and he rolled on the ground laughing. Eventually, he got up and said:

“Well, I think I got you this time, Brer Rabbit. Maybe I haven’t, but I think I have. You been running around here being cheeky for a mighty long time, but I think you’ve come to the end of the line. You’ve been cutting capers and bouncing about the neighbourhood where I’m in charge, and poking about in what is not your business,” said Brer Fox.

“Who asked you to chat up the Tar-Baby? And who stuck you up the way you are? Nobody in the round world. You just jammed yourself on that Tar-Baby without waiting for any invitation,” said Brer Fox,. “And there you are, and there you’ll stay until I fix up a heap of brushwood and make a fire, ’cos I’m going to barbeque you today for sure,” said Brer Fox.

So Brer Rabbit talked in a mighty humble way.

“I don’t care what you do with me, Brer Fox” said Brer Rabbit. “Just don’t fling me in that briar patch over there. Roast me, Brer Fox, but don’t fling me in in that briar patch,” said Brer Rabbit.

“It’s so much trouble to start a fire,” said Brer Fox, “that I think I’d rather hang you.”

“Hang me just as high as you please, Brer Fox,” said Brer Rabbit, “but for Lord’s sake don’t fling me in in that briar patch.”

“I don’t have any string,” said Brer Fox, “so I think I’d rather drown you.”

“Drown me just as deep as you please, Brer Fox,” said Brer Rabbit, “but for Lord’s sake don’t fling me in in that briar patch.”

“There’s no water nearby,” said Brer Fox, “so I think I’d rather skin you.”

“Skin me, Brer Fox, snatch out my eyeballs, tear out my ears by the roots, and cut off my legs,” said Brer Rabbit. “Only please, Brer Fox, please don’t throw me into the briar patch.”

“It’s not going to be much fun skinning you,” said Brer Fox, “you’re not scared of that. But you are scared of the briar patch.”

And with that, Brer Fox yanked Brer Rabbit off the Tar-Baby, and he flung him -KERPLUNK!- right into the briar patch.

Well, there was a flutter where Brer Rabbit landed, then “Ooo! Oow! Ouch!” he screeched and he squalled. Then after a while, there was only a weak whisper from Brer Rabbit. Brer Fox listened.

“I got him! Brer Rabbit is dead!” said Brer Fox.

But then he heard a scuffling away at the other end of the briar patch. And low and behold, who does Brer Fox see scrambling out but Brer Rabbit himself, playing a briar bush whistle.

“Born and bred in the briar patch, that’s me,” laughed Brer Rabbit. “I told you not to throw me there. In all the world, that’s the place I love best!”

With a lippity clip, he hopped away.


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End Notes

  1. From Uncle Remus, His Songs and His Sayings by Joel Chandler Harris, Grosset & Dunlap, NY 1921. Prior editions: 1880, 1895, 1908.

    Tar baby is an expression used to describe a sticky situation. It is “a situation or problem from which it is virtually impossible to disentangle oneself”. However, nowadays using this expression without care can itself become a tar baby, as some consider mere use of the expression to be a racial slur.

    Example 1: “Critics accused Snow and Romney of racism for using a term that is offensive to many African Americans because “tar baby” has also been used derisively to refer to blacks.

    “The complaints themselves brought forth a number of angry responses that pointed out that neither Snow nor Romney had used the term in a racial context. It is the critics, these respondents asserted, who are the “racists.”

    “Whenever the scabs of our history of racial antagonism are ripped off, we see the deep estrangement that remains from our long history of racial injustice.

    “I am reluctant to give up the wonderful story, the wisdom of this African American tale, and the powerful image of a “too smart” rabbit stuck in a mess of tar.

    “Wouldn’t we miss the chance to celebrate African American culture and its powerful teaching if we threw Brer Fox and Brer Rabbit into the trash bin of racial misunderstanding?

    “In response to a similar point raised by Tony Snow in his own defense, one African American commentator, Margaret Kimberly, says that we miss an important point. She writes, “The words tar baby are a slur, period. They are used to hurt, to anger, and to offend. The fact that they first appeared in the Uncle Remus stories doesn’t let Snow off the hook. The Uncle Remus stories were part of a carefully orchestrated effort to make plantation life appear benevolent instead of horrific.”

  2. “She may be wrong about the intent of those of us who use “tar baby” only to describe a “sticky situation.” But unless and until we can put the term and the story on common grounds, we had better be prepared to take the consequences when we say “tar baby” in any context.”

Example 2.

  1. Acorus calamusAcorus calamusCalamus root [Acorus calamus] has various common names. One is Sweet Flag. It was used in former times for various medicinal purposes, and now for herbal remedies. Larger quantities are emetic and can cause vomiting, as well as light-headedness.





    left: image source - wildwoodsonline.co.uk
    right: image source - annwin.sk


  2. The thorns of briars (brambles, blackberry bushes) tore the tar out of Brer Rabbit’s fur as he worked himself free of them.

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