It’s World Bee Day today. Thinking about these vital pollinators reminds me of a tale called The Bee-Man of Orn. Written by the American writer and humourist Frank R. Stockton, it is part fairy tale and part late-Victorian morality tale. In it, a poor and ugly bee-man is content with his lot until a junior sorcerer tells him that he has been transformed from something else. The bee-man sets out on a quest to discover his authentic self, and after some adventures, finds out… what exactly?
This could be a straightforward quest and return, or a morality tale about being true to yourself, or a meditation on Sophocles’ dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living, or perhaps on Heroclitus’ maxim that one can never step in the same river twice. Like many a good fairy tale, its meaning – if there is one – is ambiguous. It could spark some interesting philosophical discussions. There are some ideas here: Teaching Children Philosophy.
As a picture book, it’s lengthy. The narrative is rich and may be challenging for less confident readers, but the ideas and storyline are accessible to a wide range of age and experience. It would be a good choice to read aloud, and, usefully at the present, ideal to read to siblings of different ages.
Words and audio are available online, but this misses one of the great joys of the real book – the fabulous illustrations. As a picture book, this tale has attracted two of the greatest ever illustrators of children’s books, both multi-award winners: Maurice Sendak and P.J.Lynch. We have both versions in the Centre.
The theme of this year’s World Bee Day is simply ‘Save the Bees’.