The Adventures of Peter Gray, by Nathan Hopp – Book Review by Fred Patten

by Pup Matthias

Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.

The Adventures of Peter Gray, by Nathan Hopp.
Green Bay, WI, Written Dreams Publishing, April 2018, hardcover, $25.50 (248 pages), trade paperback $16.99.

The Adventures of Peter Gray is told as an autobiography, being written by an elderly Peter Gray, a wolf Furren, in a retirement home in New York City, presumably in the 1960s or later. (The Epilogue gives a specific date.) There is a reference to watching I Love Lucy on a color TV. He seems to be strongly religious:

“No one stops playing their fancy radios, singing ‘Top of the World’ or watching I Love Lucy on their colored televisions to ever be thankful for what’s been given. Or is to be given. Nobody kneels down and thanks the Lord for how much a single year can impact who you are, who you have become, and who you love. No one even thanks Him that much anymore.” (p. 8)

The autobiography begins on New Year’s Day, 1899, when Peter is a homeless 12-year-old street orphan freezing in the alleys of lower Manhattan. His descriptions make it clear that this is a funny-animal world. There are humans, but they are rare compared to the Furren, who seem almost exactly like the humans:

“A Catholic raccoon, Lance Turner was no taller or older than me, but he was more dedicated to his faith. He was also one of my best friends. We’d known each other for nearly five years, and the raccoon and I had gotten some real bruises from our meets. He was a funny guy when not quoting scripture, though I couldn’t say the same about his older twin brothers.” (p. 15)

“As the she-wolves gathered the items they needed, I glanced at the Furren helping them. It was Alan himself, a six-foot mouse with black fur, an unpleasant face, and covered in burly muscles. I knew the guy, and had once stolen a package of cheese from him earlier in my youth. I prayed the mouse didn’t recognize me.” (p. 16)

“‘Hey, cub. Would ya’ like a new pair of boots?’ a raccoon vendor asked me after he’d crossed the road. He had a single tooth and his musky stench made me gag. I didn’t try hiding my distance. ‘These are made of the finest leather in all of the East Coast, and I’ll give half –’

‘—and I’m a Crown Prince of England. Not interested,’ I mumbled, passing by. ‘We can’t even wear boots.’” (p. 19)

So the Furren don’t wear footwear, at least. The humans are roughly analogous to the African-Americans:

“‘Gosh…’ Lance gasped. ‘Are those…?’

‘Humans?’ I nodded, still staring. I’d heard of them, but had never seen two this close. ‘What else could they be?’

Humans were a very strange species, having no fur or tail as a distinct feature to the bodies, nor any claws or large fangs to hunt. Their short, angular noses didn’t smell as good compared to wolves or bloodhounds. I remember once reading in a newspaper that humans were scattered across the planet and often thrived in bands like packs, keeping together. Others preferred the cities over countryside, but humans were kept far below the Furren in the food chain everywhere. Always under the Furren, especially the carnivores.

It wasn’t until decades ago that they were freed from the chains of slavery in America, thanks to a powerful wolf in the White House. Some, mainly canines, still look down on them as dirtier than sooty snow, but I chose not to. As long as they had a stove and coal, any human was a friend of mine.” (pgs. 21-22)

Peter and Lance make the acquaintance of the Lawtons, who have just moved to NYC from Buffalo for Mr. Lawton to take a better job. James, who is Peter’s and Lance’s age, becomes their friend. James joins Lance in the next to last year of the local elementary school. Peter, as an orphan, isn’t welcome.

Aside from the anthropomorphic animals, it’s a good historical description of the lower classes of New York in 1899. Some of the “facts” might be quibbled with; there weren’t any automobiles in 1899 except rich men’s toys, and I’m pretty sure there were no radios except experimental sets. Peter, wandering homeless, meets a Furren youth selling newspapers:

“A mixed breed of raccoon and whitish fox, maybe some wolfish blood in there, too. […]

The mixed breed wore a black pirate’s patch on his left eye, but his right met mine.

‘Louis Ballat.’ He offered a friendly paw.

Hearing him speak as he set a newspaper beside his ankles, I couldn’t miss his heavy Brooklyn accent. ‘But me friens call me Kid Blink.’” (p. 54)

For those who don’t get the historical reference, it’s to the NYC newsboys’ strike of July 1899. Read the Wikipedia article on it: “The newsboys’ strike of 1899 was a U.S. youth-led campaign to force change in the way that Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst’s newspapers compensated their child labor force of newspaper hawkers. The strike lasted two weeks, causing Pulitzer’s New York World to decrease its circulation from 360,000 to 125,000.” Kid Blink (Wikipedia spells Ballatt with two t’s), a one-eyed 13- or 14-year-old newsboy, was a leader of the strike. Disney made a cleaned-up live-action musical of it, Newsies, in 1992, and of course there is the 2012 Broadway musical, currently touring.

But for most of The Adventures of Peter Gray, it’s the fictional biography of an almost-adolescent cocky homeless orphan and his tenement-dwelling pals of lower Manhattan during 1899, playing kick-the-can in the streets, getting involved in juvenile gang fights, trying to stay cool in the summer – Hopp refers to the problems of Furren with thick fur in a NYC summer — and the like. On page 120, Peter runs into Kid Blink again and he recruits Peter as a newsboy:

“As I walked away, I spotted a certain fox-raccoon hybrid a few yards to my right.

‘Petuh Gray!’ Kid Blink lunged at me for a hug. Standing back, he adjusted his eyepatch and flashed a toothy grin. ‘Great tuh see yuh today.’

‘Blink, it’s good to see ya’!’ I laughed, wagging my tail and perking up my ears. ‘I haven’t seen ya’ in months. How have ya’ been?’” (p. 120)

All the articles on the newsboys’ strike say that Kid Blink was a colorful newsboy strike leader, and the other NYC newspapers that quoted him emphasized his thick Brooklyn accent.

So the last half of The Adventures of Peter Gray (cover by Mark Shamlian) is a historical novel about the strike, with most of the characters being Furren. There are constant mentions of wagging tails, perked or lowered ears, thick fur (and the humans not having any) and the problems of having fleas, and so on to keep you thinking of what a furry novel this is, but it’s really just stage costuming. Read it for a snapshot of 1899 lower Manhattan – with Furren.

Fred Patten

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