(previously in this series: Goliath II)
I’m correcting the chronology, finally. The second book I covered, Ella, was out of place by a few years (and a few books). This time, we’re looking at 1961’s Huge Harold, Peet’s second true solo book (not counting Goliath II, which is its own thing outside of Peet’s work with Sandpiper/Houghton Mifflin, who published his entire body of work).
Harold is, according to my daughter, “one big bunny.” He’s so big, in fact, that his parents don’t know what to do with him and are concerned he’ll attract hunters and dogs. What do they do? They force him to leave and go live in the woods. So, by page 3, poor Harold is already off and running for his life.
This is Peet’s first story to deal with this recurring theme: a character that doesn’t fit in or belong and must therefore suffer before finding his or her true place in the world. It won’t be the last. (We’ve already seen it, though it comes a few books later, in Ella.) We will certainly see it many more times.
Almost immediately, Harold gets cornered by hungry foxes, weasels, and owls. After escaping, he then gets shooed off a farm by the resident cows and pigs. Then a farmer discovers him and starts shooting at him. Poor bunny can’t catch a break.
The farmers stopped plowing and started right out
To hunt the big rabbit they’d all heard about.
The farmer recruits his buddies, and they all tramp off after Harold. For four months! That’s right; they hunt this 7-foot rabbit for four months and never catch him. Determined, yes. Skilled? Not so much.
Though issues of nature and conservation feature prominently later in Peet’s publishing career, his early books still wax poetic about the open countryside and the “simplicity” of rural life. It’s no surprise that many of the human characters that populate these books are blue-collar guys (most of them are men): farmers, railroad hands, etc.
Humans, though, are relatively few and far between in Peet’s books. Ironically, more often than not, they also happen to be the antagonists. Considering this is only his second book, our first exposure to humans, then, is in this pack of crazed hunters. Harold is eventually “saved” by another farmer, Orville B. Croft, but only to eventually be put to manual labor and then presumably sold off.
In the end, Harold finally achieves a sense of freedom and safety. He’s no longer hunted and in fear for his life. But he’s still at the end of a yoke, quite literally.
We’re left to assume that Harold is pleased with how his life turned out. He’s smiling on the last page, but this story really sets the standard for a Peet character “finding one’s place in the world.” It’s a rough road to travel. You’ll suffer. It might not work out the way you think it will. You’ll learn some valuable lessons along the way. And you’ll probably get what you want, but it might feel very different from how you expected it to be.
Next up: Smokey