[amazon template=image&asin=0395150248]Today’s review is of The Biggest Bear by Lynd Ward. I wrote this review in August 2015. The Lady of the House saw it in a thrift store and picked it up for me. She picked it up at first because she thought a book about a bear would be cool. After looking at the last page, she read the whole thing, and sent it to me, even though the story is all kinds of fucked up.
This has got to be the saddest children’s book I’ve ever encountered.
Little Johnny Orchard carries a big gun. He is “humiliated” because while other barns nearby have bear skins nailed to them to dry, his family’s barn has never had a bear skin hanging on it. One day Johnny goes into the woods to shoot a bear and comes out with a (live) bear cub.
Where is the cub’s mother? That issues is never addressed in the book, but I suspect she’s nailed up to somebody’s barn. If mamma bear had been there, I bet she’d have fucked up that little shit Johnny.
Of course, the bear eats everything it can get its paws on. (And you thought giving a mouse a cookie or a pig a pancake caused trouble.) The bear wreaks havoc and grows huge.
After leading the bear far away on three occasions, only to have it return within days each time, Johnny and his father decide the boy will shoot the bear. (Ok, this impending shooting is not spelled out, but anybody over the age of six is probably going to look at the illustrations of a sad boy with a gun and figure it out.)
What passes for a happy ending still seems pretty sad to me, but I guess it’s better than having your best friend shoot you because the neighbors think you’re a nuisance.
I guess this book is what passed for children’s entertainment in the early 1950s. No wonder my parents’ generation is so messed up.
Unless you are from a bear hunting family, don’t read this to your kid unless you want to answer a lot of uncomfortable questions.
I do know this book……it is from another time so perhaps it illustrates how things change. Maybe it is even a forerunner of change. Since I am from a long line of hunting and gathering I see things a bit differently….I’m older too….and not ready to just eat vegetables and fruit yet. And so as ever I continually try to keep the good things of the past, and keep sorting out the new things coming up. There are kinds of ways to mess us up…..present, past and future, kinda like sorting out ones closet….if it’s got holes throw it out or maybe I should say….recycle.
Thanks for your insight, Jennifer. I appreciate reading your thoughts.
I’m not opposed to hunting for food, and I know life on the frontier was a lot harder…Folks couldn’t just go down to the supermarket and pick up a pound of hamburger for dinner.
I guess the part of this book I hated the most is what seemed to me to be the humans’ feelings of superiority over the bears (and probably other animals and all of nature too). Maybe the fact that this book upset me so much shows that at least some humans have reached a more enlightened view of nature and our place in it.
And I guess the ending of the book is showing (for the time) an enlightened way of thinking.