“Hey Aladdin, why are you writing a Rupert Bear story?”
That’s a great question, thanks for asking.
Bear Worship can be traced back to tribal cults of hunters in the late Paleolithic period, around 50,000 years ago. In Europe, depictions of anthropomorphism became prevalent over subsequent scores of millennia (well before agriculture), and remain some of early man’s most enduring works. In the early phases of supernaturalism and religious behavior, cartoon paintings on cave walls served as anchors to the unseen spiritual realms, accompanied by oral traditions; stories, and verse.
Whatever the shambling brown bear may have symbolized to our European ancestors, Mary Tourtel’s pale-faced Rupert operates as an avatar of civility, compassion, and perhaps, naiveté. In spite of their devotion to wonder and imagination, Rupert Bear stories follow a predictable model: Rupert begins an ordinary day and winds up on an fantastic journey with friends, then he helps someone out (often a whole kingdom), and the little bear makes it back home in time for dinner. Sometimes, Rupert cries along the way. It’s the basic narrative of Campbell’s monomyth, a blueprint for heroes as passed down from classic mythology.
Rupert, after almost a century of adventures, has amassed a cannon of trials and resurrections that surpass those of Christ or Osiris in their scope. Rupert has visited other solar systems, dimension hopped, travelled in time. In addition to his schoolyard pals, Rupert is friends with a sabbatic goat, Santa Claus, a woodland troll, and many other bizarre characters who provide opportunities for Rupert to become an agent of change and renewal.
What may initially appear as a mishmash of fairy tales and science fiction is actually a loose distillation of Classical Western literature, up to the modern British era. Rupert draws from the Bible, the Wonder tales of ancient Greece, the 12th century Historia Regum Britanniae, the Middle Age alchemists and cryptographers, Spenser’s epic Fairy Queene, the Gothic realism movement, the burgeoning fantasy genre, and penny-dreadful chapbooks (which were being hocked on street corners right along side the Daily Express, in which Rupert was published). All of these fragments of folklore and myth coexist in his world apocryphally; on any given day, Rupert may ride horseback with knights, or hop in a rocket-car with a mad engineer.
Meanwhile, the little bear remains suspended in time, never aging. And for all his adventures of unbridled imagination, that sense of wonder cannot be sustained. Rupert’s stories are for children, who, unlike he, will grow up and move on.
My work, Rupert in Providence, releases Rupert Bear from this cycle, and offers him one of infinite futures. It takes place two years after his traditional “timeline,” and, in shifting its setting to Rhode Island, this Rupert story assumes its supernatural elements from the appropriate literary traditions.
This is a story for those who have moved on from Rupert, but from whom Rupert can never move on. Like a painting on the wall of a cave, somewhere inside the minds of his readers, Rupert endures.
New episodes are posted Tuesdays at 10 AM. Rupert in Providence is sponsored in part by a grant from the American Eldritch Society for the Preservation of Hearsay and Rumor.