When I first heard that my story Meena had been accepted to be in 'Gentle Footprints' it was about 1am and everyone in my house was asleep. With no-one to celebrate with I had to content myself with emailing everyone instead. My email went something along the lines of...
“Guess what?!? My story got into the animal anthology!!! You know- that one I reeeeally wanted to get in. The Born Free one. The one I was telling you about. You know! Virginia McKenna ... Richard Adams. Watership down. Remember?”
Needless to say I was excited and am almost as excited to be writing my Week of the Bear.
This week I will be writing some facts about bears, a bit about dancing bears (like the Meena of my story), a bit about the inspiration for my story, the work of the Born Free foundation to help dancing bears and a few other beary bits.
I thought that I would start with a lighter entry before we got to the gritty stuff, however, and write about the bear in literature and pop culture.
The bear has been much loved by adults and children throughout history. From the invention of teddy bears in the early 1900s (almost simultaneously in America and Germany) to the many bears of Disney, bears have found their way into the hearts of many a child.
One of the best selling franchises, especially in baby products, is Winnie the Pooh. If you ever have a baby and decide not to find out its gender before birth you can guarantee at least five Pooh Bear baby items will be gifted to you to celebrate the birth.
Along with Pooh the bear has popped up throughout the cartoon world in the form of Rupert, Baloo, Yogi, Barney, Brother Bear, Boog, the Gummi Bears, Berenstein Bears, Hillbilly Bears and Superted to name just a few.
The bear holds a particular appeal for children, and perhaps even more for those buying for children, because of its great strength and power and, in juxtaposition, its cuddly cute appeal. Unfortunately these are also the traits which create such an appeal in hunting, killing or ‘taming’ real bears from the wild, but that is something we will come back to later in the week.
The image of the bear has been used in products from breakfast cereal to honey and as a mascot for many teams and organisations including Smokey the Bear, the mascot for the U.S. Forrest Service. Even the bears of the colder regions get a look in. Who could forget that Coca Cola advertisement that often graces our screens at Christmas with the family of polar bears?
For many of you reading this, however, your true passion will lie in literature and here we also find some great stories featuring bears.
I have already mentioned Winnie the Pooh (though with the vast amount of merchandising it is easy to forget that Pooh Bear originally erupted from the pages of a book). And there are many other bears that have clawed their way from paper to screen. Among them are Paddington, Baloo and Rupert.
Some others are best known from the book they appeared in. Most are from children’s books however there are fleeting glimpses in adult literature too.
• Iorek Byrnison is an armoured polar bear in Phillip Pullman’s 'His Dark Materials' trilogy
• Goldilocks and the Three Bears (it features three of them!)
• Stephen King’s Shardik is a cyborg bear in his 'Wizard and Glass' trilogy and was named after a bear of the same name created by an author close to our hearts........
• Richard Adams who’s second novel 'Shardik' was about a giant bear (a bear who it would be ill advised to cuddle)
• Maurice Sendak’s 'Little Bear'
• The Bear and the Two Travellers (Aesop’s Fables)
• The classic stage direction from Shakespeare’s play 'The Winter’s Tale', “Exit pursued by a bear”
So it seems that a bear finds its way to us through our books, televisions, food, safety warnings and even on the Pooh Bear nappy covered bottoms of our babies, but there is a whole lot more to the bear than a cute, lovable friend.
Check back later in the week for some more serious facts about the bear, beginning tomorrow with the plight of the dancing bear and the work that the Born Free Foundation do to help them.