Mr. Tod is a fox that has many houses, and is very rarely at home in any of them.
Benjamin Bunny has a family of very young little bunnies. While he and his wife Flopsy are out, his father, Old Mr. Bouncer, who is supposed to be watching the baby rabbits, plays host to Tommy Brock, a badger who bemoans the lack of frogs, pheasants' eggs, and other game. Tommy Brock manages to steal the young rabbits while Old Mr. Bouncer is asleep, after having a cabbage cigar. Benjamin and Flopsy return to discover Mr. Bouncer asleep and the babies gone, and Old Mr. Bouncer initially denies having let anyone inside the rabbit hole. The smell of badger is too strong for either Benjamin or Flopsy to believe that, and Flopsy slaps Mr. Bouncer.
Benjamin finds Tommy Brock's bootprints and immediately begins to track him. He follows the trail to what turns out to be one of Mr. Tod's houses, but then he smells fox, hears something break, and flees. Coincidentally he seems to have followed just where Tommy Brock has gone. He notes evidence of the badger's recent passing through the area, including a mole trap and bits of a burlap sack caught on a briar. He encounters his cousin Peter, and enlists his assistance in retrieving his young. It turns out Peter saw Tommy Brock with a burlap sack, but had no idea what was in it other than it was squirming, though Tommy Brock claimed they were caterpillars.
Peter surmises that since Tommy Brock has eaten something, that Benjamin's babies are alive and the badger will probably save them for breakfast. Knowing of Tommy Brock's habit of staying in any of Mr. Tod's vacant houses, Peter deduces he's gone to the one on Bull Banks, at the top of Oatmeal Crag.
They stop by Peter's sister Cottontail's home, and she reports having watched a winded Tommy Brock rested twice in the distance while lugging the sack. Benjamin implores Peter to hurry up and continue on their way, lest they get there too late.
They make it to the fox's house on Bull Banks, and peer in the kitchen window. They see a table set in preparation for someone's supper. Then they go to the bedroom window and observe Tommy Brock in Mr. Tod's bed, and Peter remarks that Tommy Brock has gone to bed in his boots. They return to the kitchen window and try getting it open but it's too dark. When the moonlight shines into the window, they see the oven. When they shake the window, the oven door shakes. The baby rabbits are alive and shut up in the oven!
Having no way of getting in the house, the two rabbits decide to dig a tunnel in order to get inside. By the end of the night they had got under the kitchen floor. When they exit the tunnel to clean themselves off they hear a fox barking, and foolishly dart back into it.
Fortunately Mr. Tod, in the worst of humors, is not aware of their presence, due to the overpowering stench of badger. He's too busy being annoyed by having broken a very precious china plate, the state of his other homes, and a jay bird that was warning other animals of the fox's approach. He goes to his house, unlocks it, and finds the tablesetting, and then he finds Tommy Brock sleeping in his bed. He ponders beating up the badger with a walking stick and a coal scuttle, but thinks instead finally that he'll play a nasty prank on Tommy Brock instead.
Tommy Brock pretends to be asleep, all while Mr. Tod gets a clothesline, and sticks part of the clothesline out the window, then goes outside and ties the end to a tree. He trips over the tunnel made by Benjamin and Peter, but thinks it's Tommy Brock's doing. There's a hook on one end of the clothesline and he goes back in the house with a pail of water, and suspends the clothesline above the bed with the full pail of water, on the part of the bed where curtains are supposed to hang from. He goes to untie the rope from the tree, but finds it too tight, so he gnaws it with his teeth for nearly twenty minutes. When the rope finally gives way it knocks him over with the force, but he hears no screams. So, he thinks Tommy Brock is dead. He thinks of all the cleaning he will have to do, and walks back into the house, only to find Tommy Brock sitting at his kitchen table, pouring himself some tea. Tommy Brock throws the scalding hot tea all over Mr. Tod, which provokes the fox to attack him. The two combatants make a mess of the kitchen, and eventually roll out the door, still wrestling and cursing. Peter and Benjamin take the opportunity to retrieve the baby rabbits and beat a hasty retreat. They make it home, and Flopsy gives back the rabbit tobacco she'd confiscated from Mr. Bouncer for being negligent, and the old rabbit is forgiven. The baby rabbits are none the worse for wear, though hungry.
Written in 1912, it can be read here.
This book contains examples of the following tropes:
- Affably Evil: Tommy Brock is friendly with adult rabbits, although they don't trust him. But then, he's not dangerous to a full grown rabbit.
- Alien Catnip: Rabbit tobacco (Lavender); a cabbage cigar.
- Animal Stereotypes: Averted, Mr. Tod, Tommy Brock and the otters are portrayed more along the lines of how foxes, badgers and otters would actually act than along the stereotypes.
- Bag of Kidnapping: Tommy Brock captures the baby rabbits in a sack.
- Carnivore Confusion: An anthropomorphic badger wants to eat anthropomorphic baby rabbits.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: Although the fight between Tommy Brock and Mr. Tod had no end in the book, in response to a letter from a reader Beatrix Potter said that Mr. Tod lost the fight very badly - he suffered a torn ear and lost most of the fur on his tail, whereas Tommy Brock only tore his coat and lost a boot.
- Darker and Edgier: Although most of Potter's books involve anthromorphic predators going after anthromorphic prey, The Tale of Mr. Tod is darker than most, largely by focusing on the lives of the deeply unpleasant antagonists. The prose is also a little more complex than in most of Potter's tales.
- Dirty Coward: Mr. Tod doesn't confront Tommy Brock directly at first and instead tries to play a nasty prank instead. It takes Tommy Brock throwing scalding tea in his face to goad the fox into an actual fight.
- The Dreaded: Mr. Tod to the rabbits. When Benjamin finds him at the stick house, he immediately bolts in fear. In The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends, the mere mention of the fox makes Mr. Bouncer jumpy.
- Evil Versus Evil: The story ends in a violent fight between Mr. Tod and Tommy Brock, which ultimately allows Peter and Benjamin to save their children.
- Extreme Omnivore: Tommy Brock eats, among other things, wasp nests, frogs, worms, pheasant eggs, pig nuts, and rabbit pie.
- Fat Slob: Even by Tod's standards, Tommy Brock is gross. He breaks into other people's houses, gluts himself on any food he can find, then goes to bed with his muddy boots still on. Doesn't help that, in line with real badgers, he has a strong smell.
- Full-Name Basis: Everybody calls Tommy Brock, Tommy Brock, never Tommy or Mr. Brock.
- Kissing Cousins: Benjamin married his cousin Flopsy.
- Kung-Shui: The entire kitchen gets wrecked in the fight between Tommy Brock and Mr. Tod.
- Maligned Mixed Marriage: Implied. Cottontail has married a black rabbit and moved to live on the hill. When Peter and Benjamin arrive, the husband pretends not to be home, although Benjamin sees his ears peeping out of the hole. Peter, however, tells him not to make a fuss about it. The implication is that neither Peter nor Benjamin's families approved of the marriage, but Peter is at least willing to let it slide.
- Meaningful Name: 'Tod' is an antiquated British word for fox while 'brock' is an antiquated British word for badger; Mr. Tod and Tommy Brock are respectively a fox and a badger.
- Older and Wiser: Peter and Benjamin, having learned from their mistakes as children, are much more sensible this time around.
- Predators Are Mean: Mr. Tod is highly unpleasant, and the Otters are so bad even other predators aren't willing to live near them.
- Slobs Versus Snobs: Tommy Brock, a filthy and foul-smelling wanderer who eats whatever he can get his hands on, vs. Mr. Tod, who dresses like a country gentleman and carries a fancy walking stick.
- Took a Level in Badass: Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny, who were Action Survivors at best in their own stories, are the main heroes in this one.
- Took a Level in Dumbass: Benjamin's father, who was the most capable character in The Tale of Benjamin Bunny, successfully rescuing Peter and Benjamin, is now stupid enough to invite a predator into the burrow, and lie badly about it. He's implied to have gotten senile in his old age.
- Uncertain Doom: It's not obvious what happens to Tod and Brock in the end; they literally roll out of the book fighting each other tooth and nail. The narrator hopes they roll off a cliff. It would be clarified later that, while both survived, Mr. Tod lost poorly (see Curb-Stomp Battle above)