A list of Literary Bears Compiled by the Entropy Community
The Bear from In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods by Matt Bell
Where would a list of literary bears be without the mythic, sentient bear that rules over the woodland setting of Matt Bell’s debut novel?
Corduroy Bear from Corduroy by Don Freeman
When you were a kid, wasn’t there just something deliciously dreamlike about roaming through a furniture store? Certainly, Corduroy’s search for a missing button, and his subsequent discovery of a whole new world of mattresses and beds, delighted your imagination during story-time in kindergarten.
Susie (well, kind of…) from The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving
To call John Irving’s coming-of-age novel a little odd would be an understatement on par with saying the 2000 presidential election was marked by a small hiccup with the Florida voting system. But who could forget, in this dark narrative, Susie the “smart bear,” whose traumatic history resulted in her living inside a bear suite for most of her adult life?
Paddington Bear from the Paddington Bear series by Michael Bond and Peggy Fortnum
Inspired by photos of child evacuees fleeing London during World War II, Paddington Bear was found at the Paddington Railroad Station bearing (pun-intended) a note around his neck saying, “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” Any bear list would be remiss to leave out this polite, kindhearted spectacled bear descended from somewhere in Peru.
All the Berenstain Bears from the Berenstain Bears series by Stan and Jan Berenstain
If you were a child during the ’90s, chances are you learned about everything from manners to nightmares to the dangers of junk food and bullying from the beloved bear family who lived in a big treehouse down a sunny dirt road. So maybe the stories were formulaic and left us with a lot of unanswered questions. Why was the central cast referred to as Mama, Papa, Brother, and Sister but all the other bears had real names, for example? However, nostalgia alone cements the Berenstain Bears in literary bear history.
The bear from The Bear Coms Home by Rafi Zabor
The bear from this PEN/Faulkner award-winning novel loves to play his saxophone, hoping to emulate the style of Coltrane and Rollins, and quotes Shakespeare and Blake in casual conversation. What’s not to like?
Winne the Pooh from Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne
Okay, so maybe A.A. Milne was a highly respected playwright and author prior to creating silly stories of Winnie the Pooh and company. Maybe the stories were merely intended to entertain his young son and not generate the multi-million media empire surrounding the mild-mannered stuffed bear who lives in the Hundred Acre Woods (literally) under the name of Sanders. Milne despised Pooh, so deeply that he actually considered killing the bear off in the second installment of Pooh stories. The lesson here is that we cannot choose our own legacy. Once you release your work into the world, you surrender a certain amount of control.
Baloo from The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
While most of us remember Baloo in his fun-loving Disney form, teaching Mowgli that life is about getting by with no more than bare necessities, in Kipling’s original novel Baloo was a little darker. He teaches Mowgli about basic survival, following a tough love regimen that involves smacking Mowgli in the head when he slips up. Nevertheless, both the Disney and Kipling iteration of Baloo are equally dedicated to Mowgli’s well-being and safety.
Iorek Byrnison from His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials, was controversial in that it culminated in (spoiler alert) the series heroes more or less killing God. Regardless of your religious views, however, you have to admit the series was not without its bears. Specifically, the exiled polar bear Iorek Byrnison who helps Lyra and company on their quest to bring about the end of destiny.
The bear from Hatchet by Gary Paulsen
Most of us probably read Hatchet while learning about man versus nature, man versus man, man versus self, and so on. A classic survival tale, the protagonist ends up fending for himself in the wilderness with only a hatchet after a plane crash. A bear is one of many threats of nature fought off during this novel.
The bears from The Wilding by Benjamin Percy
“In the springtime,” Percy writes, “bears possess a terrible hangover, having slept through the long winter.” In this suspense tale, a grandfather takes his son and grandson on one last hunting trip before the woods near his home are stripped down by developers. These hungry and hungover bears prove one of many unfortunate circumstances to befall the trio.
The bear from Tender Morsels by Morgan Lanagan
A young adult fantasy novel set in two separate worlds, a men dressed as a bear mistakenly stumbles into a dream world where he becomes a bear for real. He then goes on to fall in love with a human woman.
The three bears from Goldilocks and the Three Bears
Goldilocks is, in some ways, a classic morality tale, but doesn’t it seem a bit harsh? Sure, snooping is wrong, home invasion is wrong, but does a little girls casual wandering really warrant death-by-bears as punishment? Nevertheless, you can’t have a literary bears list without Goldilocks.
The bear that chases Antigonus off state from Winter’s Tale by Shakespeare
A classic example of deus-ex-bear, Shakespeare apparently could not decide how to kill off the baby-abandoning Antigonus in his Winter’s Tale. The odd stage direction “Exit, pursued by a bear” is the only hint readers get of Antigonus’s ultimate fate. Presumably, he’s mauled to death somewhere offstage.
Honorable mentions, from film, song, and television:
Ursula from Joanna Newsom’s “Monkey and Bear”
Singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom is known for her strange and at times surreal imagery, as well as her use of a harp and odd singing voice. Her song “Monkey and Bear” tells the story of, well, a monkey and a bear. It opens with a stable boy bemoaning the fact the horses have died from colic after wandering out of the fence and eating the tall grass. He takes this as a warning not to wander too far from home, a caution disregarded by monkey and Ursula. The monkey encourages Ursula to abandon her life of servitude on the farm and run off with him, only to manipulate her into dancing for pay. What proceeds is a strangely tragic ballad of the pair’s escape.
Among the first breakout characters of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon empire, the smarter than average bear was granted his own TV show in the early ’60s. Based on Art Carney’s character from the Honeymooners, Yogi is a staple of cultural bears.
The many bears from Milo and Otis
It’s hard to make a movie with a cast comprised entirely of animals sustain itself for 77 minutes. Maybe that’s why there are at least three separate bear attacks during the adventures of a curious cat and a pug nosed pup, including an incident when – out of nowhere – a bear emerges from the sea and goes after Milo.