I was sitting on the sofa just now, dreaming of days gone by, when I suddenly remembered a dear old book called The Hermit and the Bear.
I don’t know where my copy went, but even today, I can see it very clearly in my mind’s eye. It was a slim little book with illustrations by Quentin Blake. Thanks to my endless re-reading, the corners were worn smooth, and the blue cover was cracked all over. I suspect it’s out of print nowadays – although you can still hear it read by Tony Robinson – so the memory was a bittersweet pleasure that I wanted to share.
The Hermit and the Bear is about a hermit (drawn throughout with glasses and a straw hat) who decides to offer his services as a private tutor. A bear, who can talk, answers the advert. The chapters that follow are a series of slapstick vignettes, where each of the hermit’s lessons is ruined by the well-meaning but clumsy bear.
Despite growing exasperation on the part of the hermit, the story has a heartwarming ending, and Blake’s pictures of the unlikely duo are (in my humble opinion) among his very finest.
As a child, I loved this book for its humour and touching finale. Looking back, I really appreciate the ultra-economical style of storytelling. Apart from an appearance by the hermit’s friends, the only two characters are the hermit and the bear, and the only setting is the wood where the hermit lives. With those humble ingredients, the author works a low-key but powerful kind of magic. It’s an outdoorsy book, and I think it’s the perfect read for a sunny afternoon – so if you see a copy, do yourself a favour and snap it up. If it’s even half as good as I remember, it will be a real treat for you and your child to enjoy together.
That’s all for this blog post – and I even managed to avoid the word “anyway” for once! Catch you later.