Roosters, Pigs, and Clockwork: Freddy and the Clockwork Twin

Well, this did surprise Dr. Murdock, for he had never found a rooster in any of his patients before.

Few doctors indeed have the privilege of finding roosters in their patients. But this, of course, is Freddy and the Clockwork Twin, a Freddy the Pig book, where roosters can be found nearly everywhere, and the patient in question is not exactly your typical human patient, but rather a figure created from metal and clockwork — so clever, it can and is mistaken for a human by other humans, finding it almost a twin — a clockwork twin — to a young human orphan.

The orphan’s name is Adoniram, and unlike other characters in this series saddled with an unfortunate name, he has no chance to change it. Like the typical orphan of literature and reality of the period, he is sadly misused by his guardians, an uncle and aunt who want free labor out of him, seem constantly enraged by anything he does, and are physically abusive.  Not surprisingly, he is almost delighted to find himself floating down a flooded river, in the company of talking animals — and right to Freddy the Pig and Jinx the Cat, off trying yet another scheme to make money.

Slowly — most of this book happens slowly — the animals and the orphan head back to the Bean farm, where the good natured owners are delighted to take in yet another orphan, since the last two (picked up in a side plot in Freddy Goes to the North Pole) are conveniently off traveling somewhere. Adoniram loves the farm. But all is not quite well — yet. For one, Adoniram doesn’t have any human kids to play with (the unexpected problem with ditching the two other orphan kids); for two, his guardians are still hunting him; and for three, his new dog may be able to talk, but is still looking for his own orphan, Bryam. Who, remarkably enough, looks just like Adoniram.

Freddy and the other animals can’t do much about the third problem other than instigate the search for Bryam. But they can help with the second — by helping transform a clockwork figure into something that looks just like Adoniram (after Jinx has painted the face) and can even walk and talk, under the guidance of a rooster, once properly wound up.

As in the previous book, Freddy and the Clockwork Twin introduces several new characters — Adoniram, a young orphan boy; Georgie, a dog without much personality; Byram, yet another young orphan boy; Mrs. Church, a wealthy woman with highly sensible attitudes towards jewelry; and Ronald, a rooster capable of faking a British accent. (It helps him win prizes for being an English rooster, and may well be Brooks’ sly dig at British expatriates in New York City who continued to cling to their accents.) I suppose we can add Bertram to this list as well. Making cameo appearances are nearly all of the animals from the Bean Farm and the circus animals from Freddy and Ferginald. Except for the rats, replaced by human villains.

This is, as you might imagine, quite a bit of characters, and if Freddy, Jinx the cat, Mrs. Wiggins the cow, Charles the rooster, and Alice and Emma maintain a bit of individuality, no one else does — a real problem, since all of them, even Freddy, are  side characters in this book. The main story focuses on Adoniram. Which leads to a second problem: Adoniram is simply not very interesting, especially for a central protagonist. His clockwork double is interesting, as are the exploits of the rooster controlling it. But the clockwork double takes awhile to appear — and then disappears for other portions of the book.

Humans had always been around in the previous books, of course, and sometimes the animals had even helped humans solve major problems, especially in Freddy the Detective. But animal, not human, problems had always driven the plot, and having so much of the book focus on humans takes away from some of the magic here — even the fun of a clockwork boy. 

It doesn’t help that in a manner fairly typical of Brooks’ books so far, a second human boy is mentioned early in the book, and then mostly forgotten about until the last quarter of the book. Worse, the animals, previously responsible for every solution in earlier books, don’t get to solve much here. The clockwork double is an invention of the very human Uncle Ben. The animals later need the assistance — and the car — of the very human Mrs. Church. And so on.

This human/animal cooperation does make some events in the novel seem more probable, I suppose. And allowing the animals to talk freely to humans does eliminate several of the plot problems that plagued the first few books, however amusing.  At the same time, in this book, none of the humans ever express surprise that the animals can talk (they are surprised to see a rooster in a clockwork human, but, to be fair, we all would be surprised by that.)  True, Brooks has gone to some pains to remind us that the animals of Bean Farm are famous, and in Freddy and Freginald Brooks had simply dodged the question, allowing everyone to understand everyone else, but I am missing a bit of magic and mystery here.

And even in a series that has not exactly been strong on the plausibility side, I find the thought that Adoniram’s aunt and uncle would be unable to distinguish between Adoniram and his clockwork twin, well — implausible. I realize, of course, that the book is claiming that Bertram and Adoniram look exactly alike, and that the aunt and uncle are not supposed to be particularly clever. Still, the change in voice should have been a giveaway — and although I realize this would have taken a particular scene into an uncomfortable place for young readers, I cannot believe that the aunt and uncle would not have insisted that Bertram remove his pants when spanking Bertram becomes physically painful. (Bertram is made of iron, so hitting him with a bare hand hurts — and convinces the aunt and uncle that their nephew is concealing rocks in his pants, but never suggest removing the pants to find out.)

Adult readers should also note that the book contains some stereotypical depictions of gypsies, typical of the period, although considerably kinder and more nuanced than those penned by Brooks’ contemporaries.

But despite all this, and a few rather slow early chapters, what can I say?  Freddy and the Clockwork Twin drew me in. If I was bored by the major characters, the delight of the ever sensible Mrs. Wiggins (my favorite cow ever), the amusing asides from Jinx the Cat, Brooks’ ongoing sly satire of human behavior, particularly at tea parties needed to impress wealthy donors, and, of course, the antics of a clockwork human, turned out to be quite fun.

Mari Ness has decided that if she ever obtains a clockwork human, she wants one that doesn’t have to be controlled by a rooster. She lives in central Florida.


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