The Bear That Wasn’t

tashlinI am so psyched to mention something I’ve been doing for a couple of months now: blogging for Dover Books on Medium.

I KNOW right??? It’s the best thing ever! 

I write a weekly blog post focusing on one category of book or on a particular author or on the season or whatever is appropriate. I spend lots of time combing through the offerings at Dover and thinking, writing, and researching. And it can take up a chunk of time because, I assure you, you will never get to the end or the bottom of  Dover’s offerings. It’s crazy because there are always more books or some book by someone famous that you wouldn’t expect: Vincent Price and his wife Mary were gourmet cooks and they wrote two cookbooks! H.G. Wells wrote a book about playing war games with toy soldiers!  Graphic novels! Coloring books! Crafts! Education! You need to go to the website!

But seriously folks, it’s thrilling and an honor to be associated with Dover. I love this company and I have loved them ever since my parents bought me a copy of The Bear That Wasn’t by Frank Tashlin at a book store in Travers City, Michigan, in 1968 or so. The book was reprinted by Dover in the early 1960s after initial publication by E.P. Dutton in 1946. Tashlin was an animator for Disney, among other studios, as well as a writer and director. The man directed Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter? and The Geisha Boy (ah … well) among other films. I knew he was an animator but doing the IMDB thing lead me down one of those delightful rabbit holes and so I found out all of this stuff.

But it’s The Bear That Wasn’t that sticks with me, a story of a bear who no one believes is a bear. The poor creature had the misfortunate to wake from hibernation in a factory built over the top of his den. A foreman sees him wandering about and tells him to get back to work. “I’m a bear,” said the bear. “No you’re not,” said the foreman, “You’re a silly man who needs a shave and wears a fur coat.”

The bear insists he’s a bear and a series of higher-ups insists that he’s not a bear but that he’s a silly man who needs a shave etc. A zoo bear and some circus bears don’t recognize him as a bear because he’s not like them. And finally, the bear capitulates.

Isn’t this picture grand? The men at the bottom are as angular and stiff as buildings or furniture. The bear is round and furry, but he performs the same tasks as the faceless workers. Thetashlin_clockwork machine harks back to Chaplin’s Modern Times or even earlier, to Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It’s plain old brilliant, and the book does that great thing that children’s books and stories do, with an accumulation of characters (think of “I know an old lady who swallowed a fly” or “The farmer in the dell”). And the repetition of silly-man-who-needs-a-shave-etc. is so maddeningly wrong and kids can tell. They can tell the poor bear is being pushed into a role for which he’s unfit. And it’s funny and goofy and totally irritating.

The factory closes and winter comes again. But the bear is out in the cold and snow because he was trying so hard to be a man and do what he was told  — but it’s not working and he might die!

(You can see why I like this, yes? I bet you like it too.)

In the end, he goes back to being a bear. Of course. And he doesn’t die. And Frank Tashlin tells the reader,  “the truth is he was not a silly man…and he was not a silly bear, either.”

Add this one to the gift list for the little non-conformist in your life, OK?