Brief Comment on Bearskin
The tale is of a
man who for a time wears a green coat and a bearskin. Sometimes the
individual is given as a brave soldier who, the war over, has no way to
earn his keep for all he knows is fighting. The Grimm version of
Bearskin depicts the individual, a soldier who has fled the battlefield,
as a coward, and the period of time he spends in the bearskin becomes
rather a time of proving himself and atoning, in a sense, for his
cowardice. Underneath there can be detected shades of
shape-shifting and the idea of certain individuals having familial
correspondences with the animals which they have exceptional skill in
hunting, the animal rather offering itself to that individual as a gift.
The green coat also alludes to the Green Man, an ageless symbol of
regeneration, and sometimes knowledge. He can be a trickster but in the
Grimm tale he has become devilish.
In my initial rewrite, I played down
the aspect of the soldier, portraying the individual not as a coward
but one who was weary of senseless war, and attempted to focus more on
the shape-shifting aspects, his time as a hermit-bear becoming a period
of revitalization. But then, reviewing the tale, I saw how the dynamic
of a soldier, unable to kill anymore for his living, had
its own place in the tale and brought up some very interesting
questions. So, rather than express the soldier as being one or the
other, I have rewritten the tale and left it up to the reader to decide
which individual his or her soldier takes after, the mercenary or deserter.
Here is a link to different versions of "Bearskin" at the University of Pittsburgh, "Folklore and Mythology Electronic Texts" edited and/or translated by D. L. Ashliman.
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