More than just a Teddy Bear, this creature features in mythology from all over the world
My sister had a Teddy Bear called Eduardo, who took part in many of our childhood games in the world we created for our stuffed toy animals. My sister had a Teddy Bear called Eduardo, who took part in many of our childhood adventures and stories. Bears are great characters for fantasy writing, featuring strongly in many myths and legends from all over the world. Many writers have introduced Bear characters to literature:
Baloo - from Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book”, he is the man-cub Mowgli’s best friend and sometime teacher/mentor. Baloo is the Hindi word for Bear.
Winnie-the-Pooh – AA Milne’s classic Bear who featured in his series of books inspired by his son’s Christopher Robin’s collection of toy animals. Other characters included Piglet, Eeyore and Tigger.
Shardik – Richard Adams’ giant Bear believed to possess the Power of God who is tracked by the hunter Kelderek. The hunter becomes involved in the politics of Adam’s fantasy world in a story of sin and personal atonement.
Shardik – Stephen King created a Bear-cyborg of the same name for his book “The Waste Lands” in his “Dark Tower Series”.
Corduroy – a teddy Bear from Don Freeman’s book of the same name, Corduroy belongs to a little girl called Lisa. His friends are Rosetta (a rat) and Buckaroo (a horse) among his friends.
Iorek Brynison - a Panserbjørne from “His Dark Materials” by Philip Pullman, Iorek is an armoured Bear with exceptional strength. He’s an expert smith who adheres to a strict code of ethics and will never break a promise.
Winkie – a teddy Bear who seems to have been in author Clifford Chase’s childhood because there’s a lot of detail about his human family. Winkie lives alone in an isolated cabin after losing his child. He is arrested and imprisoned, accused of terrorism and treason. While in prison befriends cleaning lady Françoise and lawyer Charles Unwin.
Archaelogists have discovered evidence proving the Bear was worshipped in ancient times by cultures all over the world. Prehistoric Finns greatly respected the Bear believing the creature was the spirit of their forefathers. Korean myths tell stories featuring the Bear as a symbol of their ancestors, and evidence of Bear worship has been found in studies of ancient Chinese and Japanese culture. One of the oldest and most famous legends featuring the Bear is visible in the northern hemisphere’s night skies. The constellations of Ursa Major and Ursa Minor, respectively meaning Great Bear and Little Bear, evolved from a rather romantic Greek legend.
Zeus, king of the Greek gods, had a wandering eye, and it happened to alight upon a huntress named Callisto. His jealous wife Hera was so angry she turned the huntress into a Bear. Her son Arcas, concerned that his mother was late coming home, went to look for her. One day, while wandering through a forest, he was startled to see a huge Bear rushing towards him. Arcas, wanting to protect himself, seized his bow and arrow, and carefully aimed at the Bear. Zeus had tried and failed to undo Hera’s spell, so to protect his love he changed Arcas into a small Bear. To make them safe and immortal he cast both Bear into the sky. Hera managed to have the final say in this sorry story – she moved both Bears into a part of the sky that never sets, condemning Callisto and Arcas to remain awake for all eternity.
There are, naturally, variations on this story. One of the most interesting belongs to a Native American tribe, who interpret Ursa Minor as three hunters pursuing a Great Bear. The first hunter carries a bow and arrow, the second a cooking pot and the third the firewood to light a fire beneath the pot. It’s interesting to see how two different cultures have created legends around the same constellations.
Because Bears hibernate in the winter, Native American cultures associate the creature with retrospection, or “dreaming the Great Spirit”. The Bear’s cave symbolises the mind returning to a higher level of consciousness during the winter sleep as well as representing a return to the womb of Mother Earth. This gives the illusion that the Bear is a feminine being with a nurturing, protective character. Cubs are usually born in spring, and spend the first formative seven years of their lives with the mother.
The Pawnee legend of White Bear Medicine Woman tells of a girl born with the spirit of a Bear when her father killed a Bear just before she was born. The Bear spirit gave her the power of healing, and she can be invoked when her help is being sought. The Bear is considered keeper of dreams, and will keep the lessons learned from our dreams until they are realised or needed. If you feel tired and need a lot of sleep, it may be the Bear working to help you take control of your life. The Bear will teach you to think before making a decision, to rationalise and consider all possibilities before taking action.
The Bear is a fierce warrior, and is very protective of its young. They may appear to be clumsy, lumbering and slow, but when threatened their reactions are quick and effective. Bears love fish, and also dine on berries, fruits and honey. They are real homebodies, and love their dens and the warmth and shelter provided by their home.
I hope some of the information above gives you some inspiration if you're looking for a character for your next fantasy story.