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Literature / The Brown Bear of the Green Glen

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The Brown Bear Of The Green Glen is a Scottish Fairy Tale collected by John Francis Campbell in Popular Tales of the West Highlands.

A king in Erin sent his two older sons to find a cure for his blindness and his lameness. Finally, his youngest son, John, went also, despite being called a fool. He found his brothers in the first town and went on. He met a talking bear, who sent him to stay for three nights with giants, and the last giant told him how to get an eagle to carry him to the land with the healing waters. When he gets there, he takes three bottles of the water, and also a bottle of brandy, a loaf of bread, and a wheel of cheese that are always the same no matter how much was eaten of them. He also kissed a sleeping woman.

On the way back, he left the brandy, cheese, and bread each with one of the giants, but on the condition they give them to his sweetheart, if she came. He met up with his brothers, who tried to kill him, and left him where he was loaded into a cart of rusty iron, which made him rough-skinned and bald.

Meanwhile, the woman had a fine baby boy. Her henwife gave her a bird that would hop on the head of the man who was the father. She tracked him and got back the brandy, the cheese, and the bread. When she reached his father's court, all the men lined up, but the bird did not jump on them. She asked if there were others and was told of rough-skinned gillie who worked in the smith, and the bird recognised him as the father, which proved that he had gotten the water his brothers had stolen. His brothers were punished as they had attacked John, and John married the woman.

Full text here. Also compare to Sun, Moon, and Talia, the oldest known variant of Sleeping Beauty.

The Brown Bear Of The Green Glen contains examples of:

  • Bears Are Bad News: Subverted. At the beginning, John is afraid of the bear and refuses to come down trom a tree. However, the bear is harmless.
  • Beary Friendly: The Brown Bear runs into John, provides food, warm bed and a swift ride.
  • Big Bad Duumvirate: John's two elder brothers attempt to murder John to rob him.
  • Cain and Abel: John is hated by his older brothers, who threaten his life several times.
  • Don't Go in the Woods: At the beginning of his journey, John arrives at the edge of a huge and dark wood. John decides he would rather spend the night on the top of a tree than set foot in that dangerous place.
    Now John went away on his journey till he came to a great desert of a wood. "Hoo, hoo!" says John to himself, "It is not canny for me to walk this wood alone."
  • Fake Ultimate Hero: After murdering John, his brothers pretended they had found the bottles of water of the Green Isle.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: After being beaten up and abandoned by his brothers, John becomes a smith's apprentice.
  • The Fool: John is described as not overly bright.
  • Mama's Baby, Papa's Maybe: Unless you use magic.
  • Not Quite Dead: John.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: John runs into three giants who want to crush him or fight him. However, all of them decide to help John when he reveals he was sent by the brown bear of the green glen.
  • Panacea: The waters of the Green Isle are able to heal blindness and lameness.
  • The Quest: For the water.
  • Rule of Three:
    • The King of Erin has three sons.
    • During his journey, John meets three giants.
    • John takes three bottles of water of the green Isle to cure his father, as well as three magic food items: a bottle of brandy, a loaf of bread, and a wheel of cheese.
  • Shotgun Wedding: John and the woman.
  • Talking Animal: The Brown Bear is able to communicate with humans.