The Story of Ferdinand
|Cover artist||Robert Lawson|
|Media type||Print (hardcover and paperback)|
The Story of Ferdinand (1936) is the best known work written by American author Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson. The children's book tells the story of a bull who would rather smell flowers than fight in bullfights. He sits in the middle of the bull ring failing to take heed of any of the provocations of the matador and others to fight.
Young Ferdinand does not enjoy butting heads with other young bulls, preferring instead to lie under a tree smelling the flowers. His mother is concerned that he might be lonely and tries to persuade him to play with the other calves, but when she sees that Ferdinand is content as he is, she leaves him alone.
When the calves grow up, Ferdinand turns out to be the largest and strongest of the young bulls. All the other bulls dream of being chosen to compete in the bull fight in Madrid, but Ferdinand still prefers smelling the flowers instead. One day, five men come to the pasture to choose a bull for the fights. Ferdinand is again on his own, sniffing flowers, when he accidentally sits on a bee. Upon getting stung as a result, he runs wildly across the field, snorting and stamping. Mistaking Ferdinand for a mad and aggressive bull, the men rename him "Ferdinand the Fierce" and take him away to Madrid.
All the beautiful ladies of Madrid turn out to see the handsome matador fight "Ferdinand the Fierce". However, when Ferdinand is led into the ring, he is delighted by the flowers in the ladies' hair and lies down in the middle of the ring to enjoy them, upsetting and disappointing everyone. The Banderilleros were mad, the Picadores were madder, and the matador was so especially mad that he started crying because he couldn't show off his cape or sword. Ferdinand is then sent back to his pasture, where to this day, he is still smelling flowers.
The book's first run by Viking Press in 1936 sold 14,000 copies at $1 each. The following year saw sales increase to 68,000 and by 1938, the book was selling at 3,000 per week. That year, it outsold Gone with the Wind to become the number one best seller in the United States.
Leaf is said to have written the story on a whim in an afternoon in 1935, largely to provide his friend, illustrator Robert Lawson (then relatively unknown) a forum in which to showcase his talents.
The landscape in which Lawson placed the fictional Ferdinand is more or less real. Lawson faithfully reproduced the view of the city of Ronda in Andalusia for his illustration of Ferdinand being brought to Madrid on a cart: we see the Puente Nuevo ("New Bridge") spanning the El Tajo canyon. The Disney film added some rather accurate views of Ronda and the Puente Romano ("Roman bridge") and the Puente Viejo ("Old bridge") at the beginning of the story, where Lawson's pictures were more free. Ronda is home to the oldest bullfighting ring in Spain that is still used; this might have been a reason for Lawson's use of its surroundings as a background for the story. Although most of the illustrations are realistic, Lawson added touches of whimsy by adding, for instance, bunches of corks, as though plucked from a bottle, growing on the cork tree like fruit.
The book has been translated into more than 60 foreign languages, and, at least as of 2002, has never been out of print. In 2000, a Latin version of the text was published by David R. Godine, Publisher as Ferdinandus Taurus.
A first-edition copy sold at auction for $16,500 in 2014.
In 1938, Life magazine called Ferdinand "the greatest juvenile classic since Winnie the Pooh" and suggested that "three out of four grownups buy the book largely for their own pleasure and amusement". The article also noted that Ferdinand was accused of being a political symbol, noting that "too-subtle readers see in Ferdinand everything from a fascist to a pacifist to a burlesque sit-down striker". Others labelled the work "as promoting fascism, anarchism, and communism". The Cleveland Plain Dealer "accused the book of corrupting the youth of America" while the New York Times downplayed the possible political allegories, insisting the book was about being true to oneself.
The book was released nine months before the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, and was seen by many supporters of Francisco Franco as a pacifist book. It was banned in many countries, including in Spain (where it remained banned until after Franco's death). In Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler ordered the book burned (as "degenerate democratic propaganda"), while it was the only American children's book available for sale in Stalinist-era Poland. It received particular praise from Thomas Mann, H. G. Wells, Gandhi, and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt. Following the 1945 defeat of Germany during the Second World War, 30,000 copies were quickly published and given out for free to the country's children in order to encourage peace.
According to one scholar, the book crosses gender lines in that it offers a character to whom both boys and girls can relate.
Ferdinand ... did not fight but sat under a tree and just smelled the flowers. It was meant as a reminder to coastwatchers that it was not their duty to fight and so draw attention to themselves, but to sit circumspectly and unobtrusively, gathering information. Of course, like their titular prototype, they could fight if they were stung.
References in other works
Marvel Comics featured a recurring character named Rintrah in the pages of Doctor Strange. This extraterrestrial anthropomorphic bull was frequently referred to as Ferdinand for his gentle and kind nature.
Illustrator Betty Fraser used a picture of a child reading the book of Ferdinand, along with a bull smelling some flowers, in the 1978 book A House is A House for Me, authored by Mary Ann Hoberman.
A plushie of Ferdinand plays a significant role in the 1940 film Dance, Girl, Dance. The toy is passed between various characters, having been originally purchased as a memento of a visit to a nightclub called Ferdinand's. The nightclub has a large statue of Ferdinand at the rear of the bandstand.
Ferdinand made an appearance in the 1997 film Strays, a Sundance favorite written/directed/starring a then-unknown Vin Diesel. The story of Ferdinand, the bull who followed his heart and proved that just because you're a bull you don't have to act like one, served as a major influence and spirit of the film's plot.
Ferdinand again appeared in the 2009 movie The Blind Side, the story of Michael Oher, a film with a similar metaphorical message as Leaf's book. The movie includes a scene where a coach mentions that Michael would rather stare at balloons than hit someone. The character played by Sandra Bullock then replies "Ferdinand the Bull".
The story was set to incidental music in Ferdinand the Bull by classical composer Mark Fish. This piece has been narrated in concerts by actors including David Ogden Stiers, Lauren Lane, and Emmy award-winner Roscoe Lee Browne. Fish and Stiers have co-produced a recording of a reduced version of the piece for narrator, cello, and piano, also narrated by Stiers, and recorded by northwest composer Jack Gabel and released by North Pacific Music. It was also adapted, in 1971, as a piece for solo violin and narrator by the British composer Alan Ridout.
Singer-songwriter Elliott Smith had a tattoo of Ferdinand the Bull, from the cover of Munro Leaf's book, on his right upper arm, which is visible on the cover of his record Either/Or. The rock band Fall Out Boy named their second studio album From Under the Cork Tree after a phrase in the book.
The story was adapted by Walt Disney as a short animated film entitled Ferdinand the Bull in 1938, in a style similar to his Silly Symphonies series (and sometimes considered an unofficial part of that series). Ferdinand the Bull won the 1938 Academy Award for Best Short Subject (Cartoons).
A 3D feature-length computer-animated film adaptation, titled Ferdinand, was released on December 15, 2017. Produced by 20th Century Fox Animation and Blue Sky Studios, it was directed by Carlos Saldanha. Ferdinand was nominated for Best Animated Film (losing to Coco) in the 90th Academy Awards.
- "Ferdinand, the Bull Who Loves Flowers, Is Now a Grownups' Hero". Life: 46–47. February 21, 1938. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
- An article from 1986 suggests even lower initial sales, with an initial print run of just 5,200 copies, and low sales until after late December 1936.Hearn, Michael Patrick (November 9, 1986). "Ferdinand the Bull's 50th Anniversary". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
- Silvey, Anita (July 11, 2005). 100 Best Books for Children. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. pp. 24–25. ISBN 9780618618774. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
- Cohen, Karl (December 5, 2003). "Animating Peace Messages — Part 2". Animation World Network. Retrieved December 7, 2013.
- Anita Silvey, ed. (2002). The Essential Guide to Children's Books and Their Creators. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9780547348896.
- Todres, Jonathan (January 4, 2016). Human Rights in Children's Literature: Imagination and the Narrative of Law. Oxford University Press. pp. 95–. ISBN 9780190213343. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
- Hearn, Michael Patrick (November 9, 1986). "Ferdinand the Bull's 50th Anniversary". The Washington Post. Retrieved May 16, 2016.
- Paul, Pamela (March 31, 2011). "Ferdinand the Bull Turns 75". The New York Times. Retrieved December 7, 2013.
- "Bull Market Soars as Ferdinand Becomes Commercial Product". Life. November 28, 1938.
- Reid, Carol (March 28, 2012). "Ferdinad (for Ferdinand)". Typo of the Day for Librarians. Retrieved December 7, 2013.
- Spitz, Ellen Handler (1999). Inside Picture Books. Yale University Press. pp. 176–177. ISBN 0-300-07602-9.
- "The Coastwatchers 1941–1945". Australia's War 1941–1945. Government of Australia. Retrieved September 2, 2008.
- Rust, Dot (November 12, 2010). "Review: Ferdinand the Bull and Friends". Oregon Music News. Retrieved December 7, 2013.
- A performance of the piece, by the violinist Ruth Rogers and her mother, Juliet Rogers, formed part of the concert "Musical Bridge: An evening of classical music inspired by Burma" at Christ Church, Spitalfields in London on May 15, 2010.
- "Fall Out Boy—From Under The Cork Tree". The Syndicate. 2005. Archived from the original on November 20, 2006. Retrieved May 14, 2007.
When he was a little boy, Fall Out Boy bassist and lyricist Pete Wentz enjoyed reading "Curious George", "Babar" and Richard Scarry, but his favorite children's book was "The Story of Ferdinand" by Munro Leaf. The story...was so inspirational to Wentz that he titled the band's breakthrough record From Under the Cork Tree.
- Brodesser-Akner, Claude (February 18, 2011). "Fox, Ice Age Director Bullish on The Story of Ferdinand". New York. Retrieved February 19, 2011.
- Chitwood, Adam (May 16, 2013). "DreamWorks Animation Moves B.O.O. Release Up to June 5, 2015 and TROLLS to November 4, 2016; Fox Dates ANUBIS and FERDINAND". Collider.com. Retrieved May 16, 2013.