June 15, 2023

#08-318: Bearskin, Part I

The she-bear finds the baby drifting in the basket (Gutenberg)

Note: Howard Pyle not only illustrated and rewrote the stories of others, but also wrote a few of his own--though with heavy borrowing of common motifs. This one is sheer fun.

Get Ready: As you read, see how many plot elements you can recognize from other well-known stories.

"Bearskin" is a fairy tale written by the American illustrator, painter, and young people's author Howard Pyle.

A king was traveling in the countryside when nightfall forced him to stay at a mill. When the king's astrologer predicted that the miller's newborn son would marry the king's yet-to-be-born daughter, the king gave the miller $200 and rode off with the boy to prevent such a match.

He told his chief forester to take the child into the woods and kill him, and bring back his heart as proof. But the forester's wife would not allow it; she told him to substitute a rabbit's heart, and they set the babe in a basket and floated it down a river.

A great she-bear found the basket and, her cubs having been killed by hunters, she took the baby boy as her own. Growing up on bear's milk, the lad became as strong as ten men. But one day he saw his first human, and longed to leave the forest for the city.

The she-bear permitted him to go, but gave him a little crooked horn to blow in the forest if he needed anything.

Off he went wearing the skin of a bear, so the folk called him "Bearskin." He reached the king's castle, where he went to work for the swineherd. One day he heard a great hubbub, and learned that the king's daughter was to be sacrificed to a great fiery dragon.

"Is no one brave or strong enough to slay this dragon?" asked Bearskin. "Then I guess I will go." So he went to the forest and blew his little crooked horn. The she-bear came, and granted his request for a horse and armor with which to fight the dragon.

Meanwhile, the king's steward had brought the girl to a hill to meet the dragon, but, afraid to climb it himself, sent the girl up alone. When she reached the top, there was Bearskin looking splendid. He told her to hide in some bushes, and when the dragon came, he cut off the dragon's three heads in a fierce battle.

When it was over, he cut out the tongue from each head and wrapped them in his handkerchief. He asked the princess for three things: her ring, her scarf, and her golden necklace. She gave him these--plus a kiss!--and off he rode to return the horse and armor to the she-bear.

You can read Part II of the story in Lesson #08-319.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. astrologer
  2. hubbub
  3. longed
  4. sacrificed
  5. slay
  6. splendid
  7. steward
  8. substitute
  9. nightfall
  10. swineherd

  1. a person who takes care of pigs
  2. sundown
  3. greatly desired
  4. offered (and killed)
  5. a person who supposedly reads meanings in the stars
  6. kill
  7. the noise caused by a lot of people
  8. offer instead of something else
  9. excellent, very beautiful
  10. a person who manages a household

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for June 15, 2023

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