The King Of The Polar Bears

: American Fairy Tales

The King of the Polar Bears lived among the icebergs in the far

north country. He was old and monstrous big; he was wise and

friendly to all who knew him. His body was thickly covered with

long, white hair that glistened like silver under the rays of the

midnight sun. His claws were strong and sharp, that he might walk

safely over the smooth ice or grasp and tear the fishes and seals

upon which he fed.

The seals were afraid when he drew near, and tried to avoid him; but

the gulls, both white and gray, loved him because he left the

remnants of his feasts for them to devour.

Often his subjects, the polar bears, came to him for advice when ill

or in trouble; but they wisely kept away from his hunting grounds,

lest they might interfere with his sport and arouse his anger.

The wolves, who sometimes came as far north as the icebergs,

whispered among themselves that the King of the Polar Bears was

either a magician or under the protection of a powerful fairy. For

no earthly thing seemed able to harm him; he never failed to secure

plenty of food, and he grew bigger and stronger day by day and year

by year.

Yet the time came when this monarch of the north met man, and his

wisdom failed him.

He came out of his cave among the icebergs one day and saw a boat

moving through the strip of water which had been uncovered by the

shifting of the summer ice. In the boat were men.

The great bear had never seen such creatures before, and therefore

advanced toward the boat, sniffing the strange scent with aroused

curiosity and wondering whether he might take them for friends or

foes, food or carrion.

When the king came near the water's edge a man stood up in the boat

and with a queer instrument made a loud "bang!" The polar bear felt

a shock; his brain became numb; his thoughts deserted him; his great

limbs shook and gave way beneath him and his body fell heavily upon

the hard ice.

That was all he remembered for a time.

When he awoke he was smarting with pain on every inch of his huge

bulk, for the men had cut away his hide with its glorious white hair

and carried it with them to a distant ship.

Above him circled thousands of his friends the gulls, wondering if

their benefactor were really dead and it was proper to eat him. But

when they saw him raise his head and groan and tremble they knew he

still lived, and one of them said to his comrades:

"The wolves were right. The king is a great magician, for even men

cannot kill him. But he suffers for lack of covering. Let us repay

his kindness to us by each giving him as many feathers as we can


This idea pleased the gulls. One after another they plucked with

their beaks the softest feathers from under their wings, and, flying

down, dropped then gently upon the body of the King of the Polar


Then they called to him in a chorus:

"Courage, friend! Our feathers are as soft and beautiful as your own

shaggy hair. They will guard you from the cold winds and warm you

while you sleep. Have courage, then, and live!"

And the King of the Polar Bears had courage to bear his pain and

lived and was strong again.

The feathers grew as they had grown upon the bodies of the birds and

covered him as his own hair had done. Mostly they were pure white in

color, but some from the gray gulls gave his majesty a slight

mottled appearance.

The rest of that summer and all through the six months of night the

king left his icy cavern only to fish or catch seals for food. He

felt no shame at his feathery covering, but it was still strange to

him, and he avoided meeting any of his brother bears.

During this period of retirement he thought much of the men who had

harmed him, and remembered the way they had made the great "bang!"

And he decided it was best to keep away from such fierce creatures.

Thus he added to his store of wisdom.

When the moon fell away from the sky and the sun came to make the

icebergs glitter with the gorgeous tintings of the rainbow, two of

the polar bears arrived at the king's cavern to ask his advice about

the hunting season. But when they saw his great body covered with

feathers instead of hair they began to laugh, and one said:

"Our mighty king has become a bird! Who ever before heard of a

feathered polar bear?"

Then the king gave way to wrath. He advanced upon them with deep

growls and stately tread and with one blow of his monstrous paw

stretched the mocker lifeless at his feet.

The other ran away to his fellows and carried the news of the king's

strange appearance. The result was a meeting of all the polar bears

upon a broad field of ice, where they talked gravely of the

remarkable change that had come upon their monarch.

"He is, in reality, no longer a bear," said one; "nor can he justly

be called a bird. But he is half bird and half bear, and so unfitted

to remain our king."

"Then who shall take his place?" asked another.

"He who can fight the bird-bear and overcome him," answered an aged

member of the group. "Only the strongest is fit to rule our race."

There was silence for a time, but at length a great bear moved to

the front and said:

"I will fight him; I--Woof--the strongest of our race! And I will be

King of the Polar Bears."

The others nodded assent, and dispatched a messenger to the king to

say he must fight the great Woof and master him or resign his


"For a bear with feathers," added the messenger, "is no bear at all,

and the king we obey must resemble the rest of us."

"I wear feathers because it pleases me," growled the king. "Am I not

a great magician? But I will fight, nevertheless, and if Woof

masters me he shall be king in my stead."

Then he visited his friends, the gulls, who were even then feasting

upon the dead bear, and told them of the coming battle.

"I shall conquer," he said, proudly. "Yet my people are in the

right, for only a hairy one like themselves can hope to command

their obedience."

The queen gull said:

"I met an eagle yesterday, which had made its escape from a big city

of men. And the eagle told me he had seen a monstrous polar bear

skin thrown over the back of a carriage that rolled along the

street. That skin must have been yours, oh king, and if you wish I

will sent an hundred of my gulls to the city to bring it back to


"Let them go!" said the king, gruffly. And the hundred gulls were

soon flying rapidly southward.

For three days they flew straight as an arrow, until they came to

scattered houses, to villages, and to cities. Then their search


The gulls were brave, and cunning, and wise. Upon the fourth day

they reached the great metropolis, and hovered over the streets

until a carriage rolled along with a great white bear robe thrown

over the back seat. Then the birds swooped down--the whole hundred

of them--and seizing the skin in their beaks flew quickly away.

They were late. The king's great battle was upon the seventh day,

and they must fly swiftly to reach the Polar regions by that time.

Meanwhile the bird-bear was preparing for his fight. He sharpened

his claws in the small crevasses of the ice. He caught a seal and

tested his big yellow teeth by crunching its bones between them. And

the queen gull set her band to pluming the king bear's feathers

until they lay smoothly upon his body.

But every day they cast anxious glances into the southern sky,

watching for the hundred gulls to bring back the king's own skin.

The seventh day came, and all the Polar bears in that region

gathered around the king's cavern. Among them was Woof, strong and

confident of his success.

"The bird-bear's feathers will fly fast enough when I get my claws

upon him!" he boasted; and the others laughed and encouraged him.

The king was disappointed at not having recovered his skin, but he

resolved to fight bravely without it. He advanced from the opening

of his cavern with a proud and kingly bearing, and when he faced his

enemy he gave so terrible a growl that Woof's heart stopped beating

for a moment, and he began to realize that a fight with the wise and

mighty king of his race was no laughing matter.

After exchanging one or two heavy blows with his foe Woof's courage

returned, and he determined to dishearten his adversary by bluster.

"Come nearer, bird-bear!" he cried. "Come nearer, that I may pluck

your plumage!"

The defiance filled the king with rage. He ruffled his feathers as a

bird does, till he appeared to be twice his actual size, and then he

strode forward and struck Woof so powerful a blow that his skull

crackled like an egg-shell and he fell prone upon the ground.

While the assembled bears stood looking with fear and wonder at

their fallen champion the sky became darkened.

An hundred gulls flew down from above and dripped upon the king's

body a skin covered with pure white hair that glittered in the sun

like silver.

And behold! the bears saw before them the well-known form of their

wise and respected master, and with one accord they bowed their

shaggy heads in homage to the mighty King of the Polar Bears.

* * * * *

This story teaches us that true dignity and courage depend not upon

outward appearance, but come rather from within; also that brag and

bluster are poor weapons to carry into battle.