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Literature / The Story of Ferdinand

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A children's book written by Munro Leaf and illustrated by Robert Lawson, published in 1936, it is the story of a bull who would rather sit down and smell flowers than fight in a ring like all the other bulls.

In a pasture in sunny southern Spain, while all the other young bulls are constantly play-fighting and butting heads with each other, a young bull named Ferdinand would rather sit down and smell flowers all day. When he grows up, although he becomes very strong and powerful, he would still rather sit and smell flowers all day.

One day, several men come along looking for bulls for the bullring in Madrid. At that very moment, Ferdinand sits on a flower being visited by a foraging bee, which immediately stings him, causing him to go off on a wild rampage of destruction, which leaves an impression on the scouts, who take him away to the Great Bullring in Madrid.

Once there, it seems that everyone in Madrid came to watch the fight between Ferdinand and the matador. Once Ferdinand finally shows up in the ring everyone acts scared of him. Someone in the audience throws down a bouquet of flowers, and when he comes charging out everybody runs from him, including the matador, but he stops in the middle of the ring to smell the flowers. Nothing the matador does provokes Ferdinand into fighting him. Eventually Ferdinand is taken back to the pasture, where he lives happily sitting and smelling the flowers.

Adapted as a cartoon in 1938 by Walt Disney as the Silly Symphonies cartoon Ferdinand the Bull. A CGI feature adaptation starring John Cena called Ferdinand made by Blue Sky Studios was released in 2017.

Contains ecamples of:

  • All Deserts Have Cacti: Although the story is set in the rather arid regions of Southern Spain, we obviously see prickly pear cacti in the background.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Some readers have found it easy to see Ferdinand's refusal to conform to traditional gender roles as queer-coding, or at least a metaphor.
  • Beastly Bloodsports: Bullfighting is central to the story.
  • Bee Afraid: Sitting on a bumblebee is what initiates Ferdinand going mad and getting selected for the bullfight.
  • Bicolor Cows, Solid Color Bulls: An inversion: Ferdinand the Bull is black-and-white while his mother is white.
  • Brutish Bulls: Humorously and deliberately inverted: Ferdinand fits the usual physical stereotypes of the aggressive and violent fighting bull to a T — he's huge, strong and black as pitch — but he's a gentle and pacifist soul, and would only like to keep smelling the flowers.
  • Canon Illustrations: Munro Leaf wrote the story as a vehicle to show off the illustrations of his friend Robert Lawson. The book has been printed only with Lawson's drawings ever since.
  • Central Theme: Never judge a bull by its cover.
  • Deliberately Monochrome: The book was accompanied by finely detailed pen-and-ink illustrations, in contrast to most children's books, which are usually colorful.
  • Face Palm: The matador delivers an epic one when Ferdinand refuses to fight.
  • Gentle Giant: Ferdinand, who is an enormous bull who hates to fight and would rather smell the flowers.
  • Good Parents: Ferdinand's mother doesn't understand why her son doesn't play with the other bulls, but she lets him continue smelling the flowers.
  • Grows on Trees: The illustrations show a cork tree growing corks like acorns. In Real Life cork is the bark of the cork tree.
  • Spexico: Obvious in the dress of the bull scouts (one of them even wears a sombrero), and the architecture of Madrid.