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Author Topic: EP146: Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk  (Read 23094 times)
Russell Nash
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« on: February 22, 2008, 06:08:43 AM »

EP146: Edward Bear and the Very Long Walk

By Ken Scholes.
Read by Stephen Eley.
First appeared in Talebones, Spring 2001.

“Do you know what’s happened to the children?”

Edward swallowed. Suddenly, he wanted to cry. “Yes. They’re…sleeping?”

He hoped and hoped and hoped and hoped, grimacing as he did. He looked around.

Makeshift beds lined the room. Small hands gripped blankets, small eyes stared at the ceiling.

“No.” The boy frowned. “They’ve died.”

“Because of Something Very Bad?”

“Yes. And I need you to be a Very Brave Bear. Can you do that?”


Rated PG. Contains strong images of death and violence. Almost certainly not appropriate for small children.



Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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eytanz
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« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2008, 10:24:19 AM »

I'm going to withhold commentary on the story itself for a while, since I think I need to think a bit more about whether or not I liked it. I just wanted to point out that after I read Steve's warning, I expected a story that used children's story language to describe adult themes, so that a parent might listen to a bit of it and think it's ok, not realizing that later on things get complex.

Instead, I got a story whose first sentence was "He was a bear and his name was Edward and he lay twitching in the corner of a room that smelled like death".

So I sort of have a feeling that Steve gave the wrong warning - I think the proper warning would be "this story may be more appropriate to (some) children that it initially seems", rather than "this story may be less appropriate to children than it initially seems".
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SFEley
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« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2008, 11:51:56 AM »

So I sort of have a feeling that Steve gave the wrong warning - I think the proper warning would be "this story may be more appropriate to (some) children that it initially seems", rather than "this story may be less appropriate to children than it initially seems".

The warning was based on my perspective as a father.  Alex is almost three.  He goes to sleep with a stuffed bear every night.  I believe he's almost at the point where the narrative of the stories I read to him matters as much as the pictures and cadence.

When I try to imagine telling him a story where his own stuffed bear wakes up in a room full of dead children, later gets torn apart by monsters, and dies in a protracted emotional scene, my brain shuts down.  I would consider it an act of cruelty to tell him that story.  I get emotional just thinking about how he'd respond.

Hence the warning.  Kids who are old enough not to personify their toys would probably be less affected.  (Or maybe they would be.  I was affected by this piece while narrating it.)

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eytanz
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« Reply #3 on: February 22, 2008, 01:46:26 PM »

Oh, I understand that completely. And I agree no-one should read this story to a three year old (when I said it might be more appropriate for children than may be obvious, I was thinking 8 or so year olds; still young enough to need their stories vetted but some of whom may be able to deal with the harsher elements of this particular story and learn something worthwhile about the nature of heroism). What surprised me was the fact that the very first sentence of the story makes this fact pretty clear. The warning led me to believe that the story first lulls you into a sense of security before it springs the nasty stuff on you, but that's very much not the case.

So I wasn't complaining about the warning, only recording my own reaction to it - as a listener who had no way of knowing what your reaction would be before hearing the story, the warning made me expect a very different story style than the one I heard.
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ajames
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« Reply #4 on: February 22, 2008, 02:22:50 PM »

Another comment that's not on the story yet but on the intro.  In general I think Steve's intro's are quite amazing, and I am continually impressed by how he states his ideas and the insights he has.  This time, though, I think Steve missed the mark with his analysis of the appeal of stories of the hero's journey.  I've probably taken the symbolism of these stories too much to heart, but I can't view them as tales about someone greater than me doing impossibly great things, but rather as stories about journeys we all take, and dangers we all face (symbolically, obviously) on our way to spiritual growth.  The appeal is that it is a familiar story told in heroic terms, which makes us and our own lives and travails seem more heroic, rather than an unfamiliar story that makes us feel better about ourselves because only really special people could pull it off. 

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CGFxColONeill
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« Reply #5 on: February 22, 2008, 04:30:18 PM »

from the intro that Steve gave I expected a very different type of story as well I mean the way he was talking about it made it seem like it was going to be an almost LOTR style leave home etc but then what the story actually came out as was  a story about a psuodheroic robot (?) bear that contained gratuitous Whinny the Pooh references.

that said great intro anyway ( made me think ) and great narration
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« Reply #6 on: February 22, 2008, 07:55:22 PM »

This is one of my all-time favorite stories, not just Escape Pod stories, but stories in general. 

I'm sure a lot of it has to do with my love for Winnie-the-Pooh.  And for those that don't know, Winnie-the-Pooh is the name Christopher Robin gave to Edward Bear.  I went to bed holding a Pooh Bear as a child and I loved him.  Sure I outgrew it, but have always remebered him fondly and loved the original Disney incarnation.  I now read my children the original stories by A. A. Milne.  They like them, but I think I enjoy them more.  (In many ways, it seems the humor of the books was for adults anyways.)

Childhood memories aside, I think the story was very well done.  It was told in a very whimsical way, despite the chilling reality of the environment, that stayed very true to Milne's style.  Though this Edward Bear was very upgraded from the original (he was on a shapeship after all), the overall personality and simplistic nature of the child's toy remained intact.

The emotion, from beginning to end, was very real.  From mourning the loss of the children to contmplating his own death, Edward, as always, is very simplistic yet poignant.  I, along with Steve, was affected by the telling.

I can understand how someone just looking for the adventure might not enjoy the story.  To me, there was a deeper art to the storytelling--the way storytelling should be, where the the emotions don't nesecarily come in the words, but the feel of the words.  The excerpt at the header is a perfect example of that:
Quote
“Do you know what’s happened to the children?”

Edward swallowed. Suddenly, he wanted to cry. “Yes. They’re…sleeping?”

He hoped and hoped and hoped and hoped, grimacing as he did. He looked around.

Makeshift beds lined the room. Small hands gripped blankets, small eyes stared at the ceiling.

“No.” The boy frowned. “They’ve died.”

“Because of Something Very Bad?”

“Yes. And I need you to be a Very Brave Bear. Can you do that?”

I love the capitalization of the terms "Something Very Bad" and "Very Brave Bear".  Very true to Milne.

I also liked to innocence of Edward Bear shown in direct contrast to the bleak reality of the situation, yet you know that Edward feels the gravity of the events.  Who else better to save the children? 

CGFxColONeill referred to him as a psuodhero, and I guess thats true.  But the important thing is that Edward acted, and he did what he could as a "bear of very little brain".  In the end, it was enough.
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Swamp
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« Reply #7 on: February 22, 2008, 08:03:54 PM »

This time, though, I think Steve missed the mark with his analysis of the appeal of stories of the hero's journey.  I've probably taken the symbolism of these stories too much to heart, but I can't view them as tales about someone greater than me doing impossibly great things, but rather as stories about journeys we all take, and dangers we all face (symbolically, obviously) on our way to spiritual growth.  The appeal is that it is a familiar story told in heroic terms, which makes us and our own lives and travails seem more heroic, rather than an unfamiliar story that makes us feel better about ourselves because only really special people could pull it off. 

This follows my line of thought as I listened to the intro as well.
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dragonpearl
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« Reply #8 on: February 22, 2008, 09:17:44 PM »

I was affected by this piece while narrating it.

I could certainly tell. It was a heartbreaking story and I commend your control.  I only wish I had that kind of control over my emotions sometimes.

Wonderful Story and a wonderful read Steve.  Keep it up.
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Sylvan
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« Reply #9 on: February 22, 2008, 10:33:40 PM »

Initially, I was expecting a Joseph Campbell-esqe tale about going away, having adventure, and returning ... looking back on the adventure as a reflection of what could be and/or what shouldn't have been.  But that's just how I initially expected it.  The truth is, that's the Stereotype of Campbell's work:  the narratives we've come to expect, especially after being assigned to read his thoughts in College.  But here we have another form of Classic Myth:  as Steve said in the outro, the essence of sacrifice.

I find it most interesting because, unlike in the movie "A.I.", here we have an artificial lifeform who has been programmed with choice.  Edward has to be cajoled and encouraged to do things beyond his programming.  He feels that he should do these things because of the love (simulated or otherwise ... that's another debate) he feels for the children.  Edward is simple most of the time and the narrator's trick of the brief "download" allows the reader to understand the scenario in an instant but not have that knowledge undermine the fundamental simplicity of the main character.

Edward was by no means assured to succeed - neither in "real life" nor in narrative reality.  That he worked so hard, out of such simple desires and feelings (not knowing what lay ahead) and feeling the fears and uncertainties everyone feels, makes him more human than most human protagonists.  He is, in another Campbell sense, the "larger-than-life hero" despite being just a Silly Old Bear.

His ending is tragic and beautiful; I think it's remarkable that here was some very well-thought-out science fiction that also tugs at the heartstrings like a masterful harpist.

Kudos to Escape Pod for evoking such great emotion!

Yours,
Sylvan
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blfane
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« Reply #10 on: February 23, 2008, 08:30:19 AM »

from the intro that Steve gave I expected a very different type of story as well I mean the way he was talking about it made it seem like it was going to be an almost LOTR style leave home etc but then what the story actually came out as was  a story about a psuodheroic robot (?) bear that contained gratuitous Whinny the Pooh references.

that said great intro anyway ( made me think ) and great narration

It wasn't an almost Lord of the Rings style? Frodo, a smaller-than-life "person," goes on a long journey, encounters "people" that either help or hamper, all to climb a mountain and toss a ring in some lava. Edward Bear, a smaller-than-life "person," goes on a long journey, encounters "people" that either help or hamper, all to climb a mountain and press a button.

The basic formula is very classic: an average person (or hobbit, or Silly Bear) faces almost insurmountable odds in order to accomplish something bigger than themselves, and despite the odds they manage to do it. In fact, if you change Edward into a thousands-ton metal, self-aware tank that's been crippled in some way facing overwhelming enemy forces, but wins the day while sacrificing self), you'd have a nice Bolo story.

In the end, what matters in this type of story is the execution. I found it very easy to become attached to this bear, who has an almost child-like innocence, but having the lives of the people on those last four ships riding in his actions. I think Ken Scholes really pulled this off.

Coupled with Steve's awesome reading of this story, this is probably my favorite EscapePod episode. I'm going to have to share this one around.

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« Reply #11 on: February 23, 2008, 09:33:49 AM »

Nice one, Mr. Scholes.
What a little gem of story!
This one keeps sticking to my brain like honey to a furry bear.
It even managed to throw me off track a couple of times, especially in the beginning.
Definitely one of your better finds, Steve!

I think that Steve's intro's practically always set the stage for the coming story perfectly well.
This intro was no exception to that.
However, I do believe that this story would appeal to children.
Children have quite a good sense of "what is right" and this story would fit in just fine with most of them.
After all, Roald Dahl was not afraid to dish out the most gruesome stories to kids and they seemed to like them very much.
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CammoBlammo
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« Reply #12 on: February 23, 2008, 02:52:07 PM »


It wasn't an almost Lord of the Rings style? Frodo, a smaller-than-life "person," goes on a long journey, encounters "people" that either help or hamper, all to climb a mountain and toss a ring in some lava. Edward Bear, a smaller-than-life "person," goes on a long journey, encounters "people" that either help or hamper, all to climb a mountain and press a button.


I thought of LOTR and the Hobbit, but I was struck by one difference --- in those two stories, the Frodo, Sam and Bilbo complete the task and have no hope of getting back home. Sam and Frodo are on the mountain waiting for lava to engulf them, and (IIRC) Bilbo gets squished by a troll in a pear shaped battle. In each case, though, the eagles turn up and rescue them.

There are other parallels too. Sam cheers Frodo up with the thought that people will sing songs and tell stories about him.

I was waiting for the eagles to show, but they never came.

Oh well. Edward was a hero, and the end was beautifully poignant.

I really liked this story, although I'm not sure it was that well suited to audio. Some of the characters were a little hard to keep track of. That could be my fault though --- I had to listen to it in about four sittings. I'll have another crack later.

I think the beauty of many hero stories is that they often involve ordinary people who discover they can do extraordinary things. Sometimes ordinary people turn out to be secretly great (eg King Arthur, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker). Other times ordinary people just turn out to 'have what it takes.' This is a major theme of 'The Hobbit'. Either way, they remind us ordinary people that we don't have to despair at our littleness. If Bilbo, Frodo, Edward Bear, Gideon, Arthur, Harry, Luke and just about every 'Chosen One' from modern fantasy literature can do it, so can we. If I were to end up in their situations, there is no reason to suspect I wouldn't be able to pull through.

This suggests another thought---do we need extraordinary circumstances to prove our heroism? I may not need to throw a ring into a volcano or fight hairy monsters to get my wagon back. But I do have to make some pretty big (and boring) sacrifices to be the best father and husband I can be. My job involves scary people, and I have to face them head on sometimes. If I'm going to be a hero, these are the things I'd like to be remembered for.

I wonder if we could get Norm Sherman to write the song... Grin
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ajames
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« Reply #13 on: February 23, 2008, 03:05:41 PM »


In the end, what matters in this type of story is the execution. I found it very easy to become attached to this bear, who has an almost child-like innocence, but having the lives of the people on those last four ships riding in his actions. I think Ken Scholes really pulled this off.


I'll second that.
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Bdoomed
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« Reply #14 on: February 23, 2008, 05:57:44 PM »

That was a beautifully sad story.

I was wondering when Tigger would show.  heh.
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« Reply #15 on: February 23, 2008, 11:46:10 PM »

Once again, a story I loved. For some reason that I can never quite put my finger on, I find it very very believable that if and when we manage to create spaceships and AI robots, that we will somehow find a way to make pooh bears...er Edward Bears like this one. It must have something to do with childhood being formative or something, being inspired by wonder and all that. Excellent Story, Many kudos.
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Windup
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« Reply #16 on: February 24, 2008, 01:44:42 AM »

Thanks, Steve, that was a great story. 

I teared up when Edward asked Christopher to "tell me about Someday again, very slowly, until I fall asleep."  Getting me that emotionally involved with an imaginary robotic bear is an unusual achievement.

The characterization of Edward was pitch-perfect.  Re-casting a more-or-less typical "Pooh and Friends" adventure into a literal life and death situation was brilliant.  The only thing that would have improved it would have been a single line from the manifestation of the ship's comptuer, saying that all the other robots had been destroyed or damaged in the crash, and that's why she had to rely on Edward.  It seems unreasonable that a ship that advanced wouldn't have been equipped with other intelligent, mobile devices.  But that is a very, very minor quibble.

I also thought the intro was absolutely right -- parents of young children should listen to the whole thing, and think long and hard about what their child is ready for before playing it for him or her.
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Roney
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« Reply #17 on: February 24, 2008, 08:13:38 AM »

I guess Edward's song was

The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
To see if he could transmit the life-saving medical data to the four remaining arkships


Brilliant story.  I liked some of the little touches, like the fact that Edward seemed to have been slightly over-specced, and have his own desires that he had to forgo to play the games that the children wanted.  To make it plausible that he could undertake the quest (and be a sympathetic hero) he had to be more than just a doll with pre-programmed play routines, but it was good to see it followed through.

I particularly love the idea of the grateful colonists erecting statues in every town square to their founding hero.  Bet they wouldn't, though.
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SFEley
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« Reply #18 on: February 24, 2008, 10:29:03 AM »

I guess Edward's song was

The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
The bear went over the mountain
To see if he could transmit the life-saving medical data to the four remaining arkships

Pre-emptively declaring this QOTW. 

(Not that that should stop anyone else from trying -- we can have more than one.)  >8->
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eytanz
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« Reply #19 on: February 24, 2008, 10:32:41 AM »

Not aiming for quote of the week, unless Steve will be in a really cynical mood at recording time, but didn't anyone else wonder whether the parrotchens (or however its spelt) realize that by aiding Edward Bear, they have basically enabled the invasion of their planet by an alien race which has stripped its own home planet dry of resources and is now coming to do the same to their planet?
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