Reserach for Beyond The Pyre took me deep into the pyrenees where it must be said that the lifestyle is far from typically French. I’m not going to analyse that now, suffice to say, it is very different up there. When I visit, I can feel it, it is a wonderfully spiritual feeling and life there is certainly not a breeze for many.
Like many places, there are myths and legends. Who knows, some of them might be true. If not the entire story, there might well be messages within.
Jean de l’Ours or John Bear is an old French legend that originated from a village in the French Pyrenees. Traditionally told by word of mouth and passed down through the generations. I have read and reread this story; there are so many possibilities of meanings and interpretations. What do you think?
Once upon a time, a woman meets a large bear in a forest. The bear takes the woman into a cavern and prevents her from getting out by putting a large boulder in front of the entrance.
The woman and the bear have a child named Jean de l’Ours, and he becomes very strong. One day, Jean pushes the boulder away from the entrance, and he and his mother leave the bear’s cavern.
Then, Jean works for a blacksmith, but the blacksmith doesn’t pay him well. So, with some pieces of iron, Jean makes himself a cane and leaves on a journey.
Jean eventually meets three strong men: Roue de Moulin, Coupe Chêne, and Porte Montagne. The four men travel together and find a castle in the middle of a forest. They enter the castle, and on the next day, they decide that three of them will hunt for food while one will stay home and prepare dinner. Once dinner is ready, the person will ring a bell to tell the huntrs to come back and eat. They will alternate who will stay home at the castle every night.
Roue de Moulin is the first one to stay at the castle, and he is preparing soup for dinner. He hears a noise coming from the chimney. Then, a hand, an arm, an ear, and a head fall down the chimney like hail, and they form together to become a man. This man is the devil, and he asks Roue de Moulin to light his pipe. However, Roue refuses, so the devil beats him up and prevents Roue from finishing the dinner or ringing the bell. The others come back to the castle without hearing the bell, but Roue fabricates an excuse and doesn’t reveal what really happened.
Coupe Chêne and Porte Montagne have the same experience as Roue de Moulin when it is their turn to prepare the meal.
A few days later, Roue, Coupe, and Porte are out hunting, and Jean stays at the castle to prepare dinner. When the devil comes down the chimney and asks Jean to light his pipe, Jean hits him and puts a large boulder on top of him. Jean prepares dinner, and he rings the bell to call everyone back to the castle. Before they get back, the devil escapes from under the boulder and goes down the water well next to the stove.
Jean de l’Ours tells his friends the story about the devil and that he has escaped, and the four men look around the castle. Eventually, they see the water well next to the stove and the rope that the devil used to escape. With the rope and the bell, Roue, Coupe and Porte follow, but they get scared and ring the bell to signal they want to get back to the kitchen.
Then, Jean takes his turn, and finds a castle at the bottom. An old woman there tells him she is the devil’s wife who introduces him to the devil. He gives Jean three treasure chests and three princesses. Jean rings the bell, and he and his friends use the cord to lift the chests and princesses to the surface. When they get the chests and princesses to the top, Jean’s friends run off with them and leave Jean at the bottom of the well.
Jean talks with the devil again, and the devil gives him a white eagle that’s locked up in a cage. The devil tells Jean that if he gives the eagle raw meat, it will fly. So, Jean gets on the eagle’s back, gives it some raw meat, and they begin to fly back up the well. However, Jean runs out of meat before the eagle brings him all the way up. So, he cuts off a piece of his thigh, gives it to the eagle, and they continue until they reach the top.
Then, Jean goes to the city with his cane in search of his former friends. When Roue de Moulin, Coupe Chêne, and Porte Montagne see Jean, they jump out of a window, run away, and Jean never sees them again.
Jean de l’Ours marries the youngest princess out of the three given to him. He uses some of the money from the chests to buy his mother a horse-drawn carriage. Jean, his wife, and his mother live happily ever after in the castle in the forest.