As I’m on a quest to rediscover the joy of reading, I recently decided to delve into The Hobbit. I suspect this was partially owing to the latest Peter Jackson film, which I found to be humorous at best, and not at all in the spirit of the original. For the record, I don’t think I’ve read The Hobbit since I was about twelve. But the books I read at that age left an impression on me in a way that other epics of reading didn’t. I can still recognize the influence of Daphne du Maurier, Ray Bradbury, and Ernest Hemingway — all authors I read heavily at age twelve — in my prose and imagination.
I’m struck once again by Tolkien’s ability to write adventure, for a start. He never allows the adventure to languish for too long. Mostly though, as I’ve just crossed the midpoint in the book, I’m taken with Beorn. I’d almost forgotten about Beorn. At least, I’d almost forgotten what a great character he is. Peter Jackson virtually ruined him. Not entirely — he was still a skin-changer. But Jackson did render him goofy rather than primal and fierce, with cartoonish hair sprouting all over his face and accentuating his gentle features.
Now I’ll admit that Tolkien’s Beorn exemplifies the contrasts that bears represent: because of the nature of the beast, bears symbolize motherhood and nurturing, as well as ferocity and power. Beorn is indeed gentle to his fellow creatures; he’s, in fact, a vegetarian, dining on honey and cream rather than killing for meat. Nevertheless, as Gandalf warns Bilbo and the dwarfs, he isn’t a creature anybody wants to make an enemy of. He will act ruthlessly if the situation calls for it.
Whatever he is, he isn’t goofy. Goofy is all wrong for Beorn. He is a force of nature, a wild creature descended from early wild men (as Gandalf guesses, anyway). He’s peaceful until he’s provoked. This is very much in the nature of bears, as they cyclically hibernate and wake up. They are protective mothers and restful sleepers, but larger than life warriors when they are awake enough to rise up on two legs. In cultures that are steeped in dualism, the bear represents duality. But as thinking dualistically goes against my nature, I tend to view these contrasts as not existing in opposites. A bear-man such as beorn can afford to be peaceful only because of his fierce nature. Nobody dares to cross him, and if they do, they won’t live to tell about it.
In the past few years, I’ve had many dreams about bears, and about a man who changes into a bear. After reading the Beorn section in The Hobbit, I wonder if my twelve-year-old mind stored him and held him in my neurons until…? To be honest, I’m not sure why I would dream of a bear-man who, at least in one dream, chased me as I desperately tried to escape him. I’m sure there’s a reason. Perhaps he’s trying to wake me up from my hibernation. If I remember right, I wrote a blog post that was inspired by my dreams… Oh, yes, there it is: The Bear Cycle.