My professor told a story of his grandson (paraphrased).
My young grandson has a little garden, where he grew all sorts of vegetable like tomatoes, lettuce, and carrots. He is always so proud of his garden–he shows it to me every time I go to visit. This weekend, he went with his dad to see the new Peter Rabbit movie…and he watched Peter Rabbit’s and the other rabbits’ behavior–and they just run rampant through Mr. McGregor’s garden–and he was horrified. To him, Peter Rabbit was the villain, and Mr. McGregor was the good guy. They left halfway through the movie.
And this leads us to a few scattered thoughts on property rights and responsibility.
When I read this book as a child, the grouchy landowner and gardener was the villain–greedy, mean, and cruel. But leaving aside whatever terrible torture Mr. McGregor has for captured rabbits, my professor’s grandson was reacting to Peter Rabbit’s invasion, theft, and destruction, all directed against Mr. McGregor. He understands now something I did not when I read the book as a child–that the garden is something special, the combination of hard labor and land, and this gives Mr. McGregor some special right to it, perhaps even total ownership.
The grandson has his own hard-made garden and has responsibility for it. And with his responsibility comes pride. He, in at least this way, is Mr. McGregor.
And so who is Peter Rabbit? To most, Peter Rabbit is likely a naughty, but lovable mischief maker. To the grandson, he is some kind of a leech, a social parasite, and (based on the movie previews I’ve seen) possibly even an entirely malicious actor.
(This obviously sets aside who McGregor is as a person. Could and should McGregor share? Yes and yes. Unmitigated greed is rarely a desirable trait.)
So who is the real villain? To a certain young man, the scourge of our society of responsible gardeners is an entitled fuzzy predator named Peter.