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The Troubles of Pop Wombat

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"The Troubles of Pop Wombat" is a short story by L. Frank Baum. It is the eighth of his Animal Fairy Tales, and was originally published in the August 1905 issue of The Delineator.

Summary

Pop Wombat's first trouble is a severe toothache; his pain and rage terrify his four children. Mom Wombat tells him what he already knows: that he needs to see Doc Pelican to have his tooth pulled. As Pop leaves their burrow, Mom warns him about the predators in the neighborhood; going out in daylight is a risky thing to do.

The local predators, Dick Wolf, Jim Leopard, and others, are well aware of Pop, and look forward to eating him. Pop finds Doc Pelican, and has his tooth pulled out — only to realize that the pelican has pulled the wrong tooth. The bird dives in again; but Pop, consumed in pain and frustration, accidentally bites off the pelican's head.

This attracts the predators; they attack, and Pop flees desperately. He takes refuge in the only place available, the mouth of a large cave. His pursuers are amazed — for the cave is the den of Mersag the grizzly, the dominant predator of the area. Mersag soon arrives home; he has just fed off a slaughtered deer, and is not hungry at the moment. When he hears Pop's story, he collapses in laughter. And Mersag makes Pop a deal: he will spare Pop's life and protect him...for a month; then, Pop must present himself to Mersag to be eaten. Pop has little choice but to agree.

In the ensuing month, Pop wastes away with anxiety; when the month is done, he has shrunk so badly that Mersag rejects him contemptuously. Mersag orders him to fatten up and come back in another month; otherwise the grizzly will eat Pop's family instead.

When the second month is up, Pop feeds on the tintain plant, which bloats up animals with gas. Temporarily rotund again, Pop goes to Mersag's cave to surrender his life. He is amazed to see that Mersag has been killed and skinned by human hunters. The other predators have fled the area in consequence. Pop returns home in great relief; Mom and the kids take pleasure in beating the bloat out of him. Predators gone, the other animals settle down to a peaceful life.

Background

A predator catches his prey, but allows the animal a timed reprieve; the same plot device appears in Baum's story "The Laughing Hippopotamus."

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