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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.

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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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