Muppet Book Club

“The Great Twiddlebug Mystery”

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The Trouble With Herry

 

Jes Evans:

OMG!!!

 

This very book is hanging on the wall at my local Applebee’s!

 

I have coveted it there many, MANY times!

 

I want that freaking book. I want to snatch it off the wall and run willy nilly into the parking lot.

 

You are bringing up a long running obsession my friend.

 

LONG!

 

Quinn Rollins:

I love the picture of Herry throwing the candles at the Twiddlebugs on page 14. Terrifying, very Godzillaesque, ultimately out of character for Herry, but very exciting if you’re a little Twiddlebug yourself.

 

Karabeth:

I don’t like that they used Herry as the big scary monster. Doesn’t that send a mixed message to kids who’ve only seen Herry on Sesame as a nice friendly monster?

 

All of the sudden we see him crashing Roosevelt Franklin’s birthday party, freaking out on the Twiddlebugs and scaring little children. That’s pretty out of character for him.

 

Danny Horn:

Well, this was 1972, so it might have been before Herry was really established as a friendly monster on the street. Is anybody up on their Herry history?

 

Jes Evans:

Correct me if I am wrong, but Herry was sort of scary in the beginning days of Sesame Street. He was always going on about how strong he was, and he liked to prove it by picking up cars and other heavy objects. I definitely didn’t want to mess with him as a kid… He seemed like a monster on the edge.

 

However, I’m not convinced that this monster is actually Herry. That looks more like Herry’s cousin who is either a) experiencing a psychotic break, b) has taken some bad LSD, or c) has just gotten out of prison after serving most of his term.

 

He was obviously framed by the Twiddlebugs. People, check your window boxes. We’d hate to have this happen to you.

 

Nate Downs:

The Twiddlebugs were just having their version of Twiddlebug Pride. Herry Monster, the big scary monster — obviously a stand-in for the GOP — won’t have it in his neighborhood, and chases them away with one of the thousand points of light (the candles).

 

Or maybe this explains why Roosevelt Franklin doesn’t live on Sesame Street anymore. His family were slobs, never took care of the house, property values dropped, and he and his family were forced to move out of the neighborhood once the house became inhabitable.

 

All this occurred after the “Felt Flight” began, and we started to lose many of our favorite residents of Sesame Street — all uptight felt folk like Don Music and Granny Fanny Nesselrode, who couldn’t deal with the mess of the neighborhood and fled before more slobs moved in. Now that the neighborhood has been cleaned up again, it’s attracting nice quiet respectable people like the Bear Family, who are prospering and glad to bring up their children in the rejuvenated neighborhood.

 

Either way you look at it, it’s Republican propaganda.

 

John Hamilton:

This would have been Early Herry. Feral Herry. WILD Herry. I think his nude state perfectly represents this untamed period of his life.

 

This Herry smashed up cars (“Beat the Time”) and threatened to beat up Grover after a magic act went awry. He was rather uncouth! Eventually he learned to share and wear pants, so let’s let him put the unfortunate candle-throwing incident behind him. No one was hurt, after all (except for the Twiddlebugs, who were most likely caught and killed), and everything turned out reasonably okay. He’s now fully evolved.

 

As a matter of fact, some might say that current Herry is a little too domesticated. I say don’t count him out of the crazy games just yet. After a decade plus of helping Alan fold napkins (or whatever Herry’s role is these days), he must be ripe and ready to go completely ape-shit again, and soon. You watch.

 

Note: When I was a child, I loved having this story read to me! So much so that I tore out all the pages and taped them to the toybox one day. Innate need to redecorate, you say? No, I just always did that with my favorite, rare, never-seen-’em-again Sesame books. And that, dear Jes, is the reason enough to take the one from Applebee’s.

 

Jes Evans:

Yeah, the Herry of today is a little too Alan Alda for my taste. I say, bring back a little of Wild Herry, at least just for fun at parties.

 

(And John, whenever you finally make it to NJ, we’ll go to Applebee’s. It’ll be you and me against the establishment, baby!)

 

Ryan Roe:

I would definitely say this is Proto-Herry, and not the Herry we know and love and hardly ever see anymore.

 

I recall a piece in one of the Sesame Street Library books on the letter M, which ends in a giant Herry Monster climbing a mountain. So, he was fearsome in those days.

 

Alaina Breeden:

Re: Herry’s pants.

 

They say that’s wrapping paper on the ground, but my friends, that is pink and white striped pants. That’s why he’s so angry, those damn Twiddlebugs must have tried to steal them…

 

So what I learned from this book was: If I get pissed because bugs took my ugly pants, I should throw candles at them.

 

Book : Part 1Part 2Part 3

Commentary : Part 4 Part 5Part 6

The Epistemology of Betty Lou

 

Alaina Breeden:

What the heck is up with Betty Lou?

 

Little arrogant hussy. First off, what’s up with calling her friend “Friend”? Is she too good for names? I know Roosevelt Franklin is a long name, give it a whirl.

 

Second, she’s one step away from calling Sherlock a freaking moron, and then at the end she says she’s “thrilled at the fact that I had been there to listen while Sherlock Hemlock, the world’s greatest detective, solved perhaps his greatest case.”

 

Switch sides much, Betty Lou?

 

Jes Evans:

First of all, there is gonna be WAR here in the Book Club if you keep referring to my girl Betty Lou as an arrogant hussy! She’s just doing her best to tell a story in the most simple way possible so that all the girls and boys at home can follow along. Can you say, “Howdy, neighbor”? I thought so.

 

Alaina Breeden:

Sure you can, but would you call a close friend “Friend,” like to call someone over? I would never say, “Oh, Friend, Friend, over here.”

 

Jes Evans:

Well, who’s to say how close Betty Lou and Roosevelt are anyway? I mean, she clearly didn’t get invited to his birthday party.

 

Danny Horn:

Ooh, I hadn’t thought of that. What an amazingly awkward situation.

 

Although, given how accident-prone the party turned out to be, it’s a lucky escape for Betty Lou.

 

Jes Evans:

Anyway, I don’t think you understand Betty Lou’s personality like I do. Betty Lou’s concern over the trash in the yard doesn’t stem from her feelings for her friend, but rather her concern that things not be a “terrible mess.” She is mostly caught up in the mess because of her own personality disorders, not due to empathy for Friend.

 

She’s curious because a) she wants to be clear on what made such a terrible mess and why, so that b) she can make sure that it gets cleaned up and doesn’t happen again, because c) she’s a control freak, and also is d) nosy and e) the story will make for good gossip next time she and Prairie Dawn get together.

 

Tom Holste:

Does anyone else having a hard time telling Prairie Dawn and Betty Lou apart? I mean, standing next to each other they don’t look alike. But how often do they stand next to each other?

 

Betty Lou’s unwillingness to address Roosevelt Franklin by his name is odd. Perhaps that’s her way of being cold to him after he didn’t invite her to the party. Or, possibly, this isn’t Roosevelt Franklin at all, but an early, wilder Roosevelt without a name.

 

Jog Jalink:

The difference between Betty Lou and Prairie Dawn is that Betty has bangs, and Prairie doesn’t.

 

Roosevelt was around in 1969, singing the “Days of the Week” song. Betty must have known his name.

Danny Horn:

But was he called Roosevelt Franklin then, or was he just an Anything Muppet?

 

Jog Jalink:

He was Roosevelt Franklin already. They call him Roosevelt Franklin, and he does his “my first name first and my second name second” line.

 

Danny Horn:

Then, yeah, Betty Lou is in error.

 

She’s probably one of those people who calls everyone “Sweetheart” and “Baby” because she can’t be bothered to learn their names.

 

Tom Holste:

I appreciate the physical description of the characters, but I actually remember that. But their personalities were so nondescript, or they were just featured so irregularly, I can’t say, “Oh, remember the sketch where Prairie Dawn did thus-and-so?” or “How about when Betty Lou did this-and-that?”

 

Ryan Roe:

I’ve seen a lot of stuff with Prairie Dawn, but I can only remember seeing Betty Lou a handful of times. Maybe they’re sisters separated at birth.

 

Danny Horn:

It’s interesting that this whole book is about what evidence you need to establish the truth of a proposition, and we’ve spent the entire discussion so far trying to figure out whether Herry is Herry, whether Roosevelt Franklin is Roosevelt Franklin, and which one is Betty Lou.

 

This may be the most philosophically complicated discussion we’ve ever had.

 

So I’m going to see your questions, and raise you one: How do we even know that Betty Lou exists?

 

I think Prairie Dawn and Betty Lou are just two different versions of the little-girl Anything Muppet, who originally didn’t have a consistent voice or characterization. They were the Schrodinger’s Cat of Sesame characters — both Prairie Dawn and Betty Lou at the same time.

 

When they started doing the Sesame Street Pageant sketches, they discovered that the Prairie Dawn character worked — so the Betty/Prairie waveform collapsed, and from then on we only had Prairie Dawn.

 

So not only does Betty Lou not exist, but echoes from the collapsing waveform rippled backwards through space-time, so in fact Betty Lou has never existed.

 

I challenge you to prove otherwise.

 

Ryan Roe:

So you’re saying even the original Betty Lou from before the collapse of the waveform has ceased to exist? She existed in the original timeline, so wouldn’t there be more serious repercussions to the space/time/felt continuum?

 

Or perhaps Betty Lou is now both dead and alive at the same time. If the Betty Lou from before the collapse were to travel in time to the present, she and Prairie Dawn would negate each other’s existence. Sesame Street would become a black hole, and the rest of the world would be sucked into it.

 

Then the number of the day would be zero.

 

John Hamilton:

Brilliant theses, but I think it’s less complicated.

 

Ever see “Psycho”? I suspect Betty Lou is rotting in a wheelchair in someone’s basement… probably “around the corner.”

 

Jes Evans:

Not true! You guys are all whacked.

 

Betty Lou and Prairie Dawn are distinct individuals. You chauvinists! This is an outrage. Power to the sisters!

 

Danny Horn:

I recognize the existence of an identifiable Prairie Dawn. Prairie Dawn is not the issue.

 

I just don’t recognize the existence of Betty Lou.

 

Jes Evans:

Betty Lou is in a lot of Sesame books. SHE IS!

 

Danny Horn:

I will grant you that. But was she on the show?

 

Jog Jalink:

Betty Lou existed on the show from the beginning. She was used mostly as one of many Muppet girls, shared by various performers from Frank Oz to Fran Brill, from Jerry Nelson to Marilyn Sokol.

 

She appeared in “Hunt for Happiness,” but she was called Helen Happy.

 

I think the Sesame staff realized that Betty Lou was all over the place in the books but not too much of a character on the show, so they gave her to Lisa Buckley somewhere in the 90’s during the New Character Explosion and made her a doll character or something. (I’ve never seen her during those days.)

 

A big difference between Prairie and Betty on the show is that Prairie has a stronger personality. She’s a true leader, always in charge of her own projects, and often a little bossy and/or neurotic.

 

Betty Lou never had that urge to lead. She’s just the plain girl next door.

 

Danny Horn:

My point exactly.

 

She didn’t have a consistent performer for over 20 years.

 

She sometimes had a different name.

 

She doesn’t really have a personality.

 

At the point where she finally got a performer and one character trait, nobody can remember anything she did.

 

Betty Lou does not exist. QED.

 

So the question is: If Betty Lou doesn’t exist, then why is “she” supposedly narrating this book? Who is “Betty Lou” covering for?

 

The mystery deepens.

 

Tom Holste:

Okay. I’ll rescind my comments that Prairie and Betty are the same person, and I now agree with Danny that Betty simply doesn’t exist.

 

She may in fact simply be a psychological projection from the other characters, a la Fight Club.

 

Ryan Roe:

At this point, my own personal theory is that Betty Lou exists, but she has a perpetual identity crisis.

The Mysteries of the Great Twiddlebug Mystery

 

Danny Horn:

Y’know, this is the most argumentative Book Club discussion we’ve ever had.

 

I guess this book really did teach us something. I wonder if it had the same effect on the kids that read it.

 

Maybe it did, because some of those kids grew up to be us.

 

Tom Holste:

I found it interesting that the authors felt it worth noting on the title page that Sherlock Hemlock’s first name is “David.” Apparently it was a last-minute decision, as it’s just penciled in.

 

Does this mean “Sherlock” is just a title, like “Darth”?

 

Danny Horn:

Yeah — in the next book, Sherlock Maul is going to show up, wielding a double-headed magnifying glass.

 

Scott Hanson:

These pages contain probably the funniest passage I’ve ever seen in a Sesame Street book: “Just then the door flew open, and out ran hundreds of screaming Twiddlebugs, followed by a big scary monster throwing candles at everyone.”

 

I’m beside myself picturing this.

 

Ryan Roe:

There are a lot of Twiddlebugs in this book. On the show, were there ever any shown other than the family of four that lived in Ernie’s flower box?

 

Also, Sherlock Hemlock never seems to get paid for his services. How does he support himself?

 

Nate Downs:

Duh! He’s a drug dealer.

 

Think about it…

 

Hemlock… Not too bright… Always wandering around aimlessly.

 

Danny Horn:

Another interesting about the book is the glimpses it provides into the natural science of Twiddlebugs.

 

Page 27 shows “hundreds of Twiddlebugs” pouring through the door — probably the most Twiddlebugs we’ve ever seen in one place in any medium.

 

We also learn about their jellybean dance, which they do once every seven years to gather jellybeans — unless it doesn’t work, in which case they eat leftover cake.

 

Most of the Twiddlebugs have two legs, but there’s a couple of three-legged Twiddlebugs on p1 and p12, and four-legged Twiddlebugs on the inside front cover and p9, p14 and p27. I had no idea there was so much physical diversity among Twiddlebugs. It’s a new step in the evolution of Twiddlebugs.

 

Julia Noomen:

What I want to know is: Where did Herry get the candles? I mean, seeing that Roosevelt has probably turned 8 years old, he wouldn’t have had more than 8 or 9 candles on his cake.

 

Which means that Herry must have taken his own candles with him. But where does he keep them? Where does he buy them? And how did he know there were Twiddlebugs in Roosevelt’s garden?

Thijs:

I’m glad that the discussion has come to those annoying little Twiddlebugs.

 

Herry doesn’t get angry that fast — but what if those bugs come sneakin’ in when you’re having a party. The only thing you can do is grab some candles, and hunt them out of Sesame Street.

Danny Horn:

And why are candles so frightening to the Twiddlebugs?

 

The monster manages to chase hundreds of Twiddlebugs with a few handfuls of birthday candles. Is there something about the candles that scares the bugs, or does that just happen to be the monster’s weapon of choice?

 

Maybe they’re allergic to wax.

 

Nate Downs:

They’re following the rules we all know about death. They’re running away from the light.

 

Jes Evans:

Let’s just look at the size of a candle in comparison to a Twiddlebug… You’d run too!

 

John Hamilton:

But the candles aren’t lit. Perhaps they represent phallic objects, or — as Freud would say — “father”?

 

Danny Horn:

Are you saying the Twiddlebugs all have oedipal complexes?

 

John Hamilton:

Yes.

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