Review: “The Third Bear” by Jeff VanderMeer

3 of 5 stars.

Like a hybrid between a fairytale and a Miyazaki anime, this tale borrows liberally from common tropes [a rampaging monster, a banished witch, a wise village elder, a brawny hero] without explaining many circumstances. This is one genre that can get away it and still embed a concluding moral.

In a moment of village-wide sickness, the townsmen banished a blind old woman into the forest for being both the cause and a witch despite her knowing a mere few charms and foraging medicines. A year later, a scourge in the form of a bear-like beast menaces the village disemboweling forest interlopers and stealing their heads. Some blame the witch. Others wish to seek her for help–but they don’t.

One by one, heroes seek to defeat the beast, and never return. Farmers are cruelly killed with their families as they try to come to market. Finally, the elder goes to seek the witch. She admits the beast came to their forest in answer to her grief over her treatment. And that she’s finally learned some witch-like things, like a self-fulfilling prophesy.

The elder sees no alternative but to confront the beast and to see the “art” that it is making with the decapitated heads of its victims. It will continue its menace until it has completed its pattern. . .

When the elder never returns to the village, the villagers decide to never leave again. They go crazy for fear. They cannibalize and starve and do all sorts of horrible things–for fear of the beast–that they never see again.

This tale appears in Creatures: Thirty Years of Monsters edited by John Langan and Paul Tremblay after originally appearing in Clarkesworld Magazine. I’ve previously read this author’s “Fragments from the Notes of a Dead Mycologist”.
[Check out my other reviews here.]


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