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The Discontented Gopher

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"The Discontented Gopher" is a short story by L. Frank Baum. It is the third of his Animal Fairy Tales, and was initially published in the March 1905 issue of The Delineator.

Summary

A mother Gopher has raised her brood of three through the winter; come Spring, she is ready to send them out to find their way in the world. She tells the three that she has solicited the fairy gophers for blessings for each; but gopher populations grow so rapidly, and the fairies are so busy, that they could spare only one gift for the three. She gives each of her sons a nut. Britz and Kritt open their nuts in turn, but find them empty; yet with the optimism of youth they head out into the world in good spirits. The youngest, Zikky, opens his nut, and finds a golden ball. Mother tells Zikky that he must choose either Contentment or Riches. Zikky, naively, chooses Riches. He eats the golden ball, and follows a golden path to his future.

He is led to settle on the edge of a farm, where the farmers are doing their Spring planting. They spill some of their seed corn as they plant — a minor matter to them, but a horde of wealth to Zikky. He soon has his burrow stuffed with corn, and grows sleek and fat on it — unlike the average gopher, who struggles to survive.

Yet sleek fat Zikky soon becomes dissatisfied, as creatures will who have life to soft and easy. He decides to set out on a tour of exploration of his neighborhood. The tour goes badly; the gopher encounters a hunter and his dog, and barely escapes with his life. Limping home wounded, he is caught by two boys; one of them cuts off his tail, good for a two-cents bounty in nearby Aberdeen, South Dakota. The boy throws Zikky's body aside, assuming the little animal is as good as dead.

Zikky survives, however, and makes his way back to his den. Now he realizes his error in scorning Contentment. He is mortified at the loss of his tail, and hides his defect from other gophers; when they pass his way, he speaks to them only from the front opening of his burrow. They think he is proud and conceited; but he is only ashamed.

Background

Aberdeen was the South Dakota town where the Baum family lived through much of the 1890s.

Among the Animal Fairy Tales, this story shifts attention away from stereotypical jungle creatures, like tigers and alligators and chimps, to denizens of the American Great Plains. Baum wrote comparable stories in "Mr. Woodchuck" and "Prairie-Dog Town" in The Twinkle Tales of the following year, 1906.

As a parable on contentment, this story compares with another of the Animal Fairy Tales, "The Transformation of Bayal the Porcupine."

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