Grizzly's Growls

Grizzly's Growls presents readings of public domain stories.

“The life of a wild animal always has a tragic end,” as Ernest Thompson Seton said. This is the story of Metitsi Wahb, born a playful cub, orphaned young by the murder of his mother, his brothers and sister, raising himself surrounded by enemies, and growing to the fiercest creature anywhere in his vast range – though showing himself a gentleman in the Yellowstone National Park.

And finally, he is laid low by a smaller, more cunning enemy, and defeated in the end by age and injury. “The life of a wild animal always has a tragic end.”

I'll warn you this is a gentle and yet violent story, a natural violence, but not one you'd wish to face yourself, and not recommended for young children. This was the first full book I ever recorded for my “Stories from the Hiber-Nation” podcast, a natural choice, and in some ways my favorite. I hope I've done this fairly short story justice, and that you, too, will feel the passion for nature in Seton's writing.

A collection of essays by Gilbert Keith Chesterton, “Defences” of things at best less appreciated than they ought to be.

I think G.K. Chesterton explains his book rather well in his introduction, but it might help to start with a sense of the time in question. Chesterton started work on Eugenics and Other Evils in about 1910, but it was not completed and published until 1922. In his own introduction he talks about the period before and after “The War.” The war he refers to is now called World War One.

We now have a distaste for the word Eugenics, largely driven by events in World War Two. But at the time this book was published, Eugenics was lauded to the skies as a wonderful idea, and Chesterton was nearly the only person saying in writing that Eugenics was in fact evil. A case could be made, and has been made, that today, though the word Eugenics is avoided, some practices that are in fact Eugenic practices, and some sciences that are in fact Eugenic sciences, enjoy great popularity and engender great public enthusiasm. To which practices and which sciences I refer, is left as an exercise for the reader.

“Though most of the conclusions, especially towards the end, are conceived with reference to recent events, the actual bulk of preliminary notes about the science of Eugenics were written before the war. It was a time when this theme was the topic of the hour; when eugenic babies (not visibly very distinguishable from other babies) sprawled all over the illustrated papers; when the evolutionary fancy of Nietzsche was the new cry among the intellectuals; and when Mr. Bernard Shaw and others were considering the idea that to breed a man like a cart-horse was the true way to attain that higher civilisation, of intellectual magnanimity and sympathetic insight, which may be found in cart-horses. It may therefore appear that I took the opinion too controversially, and it seems to me that I sometimes took it too seriously. But the criticism of Eugenics soon expanded of itself into a more general criticism of a modern craze for scientific officialism and strict social organisation.”

The book is still controversial, and many people with many different political agendas point to “Eugenics” as backing up whatever claims they make. In any case, a remarkable number of comments and observations by Chesterton, on a wide variety of topics, could have been written last week. It was worth producing, and I think you'll find it worth reading.

Math. Geometry. Physics. Violence? Is this the same book I read in school? Yep.

One of the joys of rediscovering old books is that they still have the ability to surprise, even shock.

“If my poor Flatland friend retained the vigour of mind which he enjoyed when he began to compose these Memoirs, I should not now need to represent him in this preface, in which he desires, fully, to return his thanks to his readers and critics in Spaceland … But he is not the Square he once was. Years of imprisonment, and the still heavier burden of general incredulity and mockery, have combined with the thoughts and notions, and much also of the terminology, which he acquired during his short stay in Spaceland. …”

You may remember Flatland as a clever children's story about squares and triangles and such living a happy life in a sheet of paper, a story about math and geometry and such. No, not so much.

Sure, there's no Adult Language or Sex. But there's plenty of violence. I recall recording one scene wherein over 120,000 people were stabbed to death, torn to pieces and eaten by their fellow Flatlanders. Yes. Way.

Assuming you consider Isoceles Triangles people. In Flatland, they are. Mostly.

“Imagine a vast sheet of paper on which straight Lines, Triangles, Squares, Pentagons, Hexagons, and other figures, instead of remaining fixed in their places, move freely about, on or in the surface, but without the power of rising above or sinking below it, very much like shadows–only hard with luminous edges–and you will then have a pretty correct notion of my country and countrymen. Alas, a few years ago, I should have said 'my universe,' but now my mind has been opened to higher views of things. …”

Flatland is very old Hard Science Fiction, if you look at it right. It's clever, satirical, funny and sad. It includes well-fleshed-out alien society with similarities to our own, several different alternate universes, genetics, politics, religion, slavery, tyranny, war, rebellion, imprisonment, madness, and death.

And math. And geometry. And some rather clever Puns. “Written by A. Square?” Also known as Edwin Abbott Abbott. Get it?

As if the Brothers Grimm had gotten much, much Grimmer.

“To The Inhabitance of SPACE IN GENERAL, And H.C. IN PARTICULAR, This Work is Dedicated By a Humble Native of Flatland, In the Hope that Even as he was Initiated into the Mysteries Of THREE DIMENSIONS, Having been previously conversant With ONLY TWO, So the Citizens of that Celestial Region May aspire yet higher and higher, To the Secrets of FOUR, FIVE, or EVEN SIX Dimensions, Thereby contributing To the Enlargment of THE IMAGINATION, And the possible Development Of that most and excellent Gift of MODESTY, Among the Superior Races Of SOLID HUMANITY.”

Bring a pencil. And use your imagination. I dare you.

“Being sundry explorations, made while afoot and penniless in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. These adventures convey and illustrate the rules of beggary for poets and some others.”

Published in 1919, this is poet Vachel Lindsay's description of his travels “afoot and penniless” across the southern and eastern United States, staying with strangers, reciting or trading poetry for dinner, and along the way, describing in stories and poetry, mostly stories, the people and places he encountered. Think “Travels With Charlie,” minus the dog and the Winnebago, and much, much earlier.

From the Dedication and Preface:

“There are one hundred new poets in the villages of the land. This Handy Guide is dedicated to the younger sons of the wid earth, to the runnaway boys and girls getting further from home every hour, to the prodigals still wasting their substance in riotous living, be they gamblers or blasphemers or plain drunks; to the heretics of whatever school to whom life is a rebellion with banners; to those who are willing to accept counsel if it be mad counsel.”

If you remember the 1960's, you'll feel right at home. If you wish you remembered the 1890's, here's your chance. You might also feel right at home, at that.

“Heretics,” a series of essays by Gilbert Keith Chesterton. First published in 1905. Read by David “Grizzly” Smith.

Chesterton had a sense of humor, had a sense of drama, and had sense. He was a man of strong opinions, and quite willing to argue vehemently for his own opinions, even with his friends – and they remained his friends – like George Bernard Shaw and Rudyard Kipling. Seems to me that is hard to find anymore.

He wrote prolifically. He wrote humor. He wrote mystery novels, the Father Brown mysteries in particular. But he also wrote his opinions, his religious opinions and his opinions about religion.

“Heretics” is a book about religion and politics, theory and fact, morals and efficiency. What I most admire about “Heretics,” written a bit over a century ago, is that his arguments are exceptional, and that so many of them are still quite recognizably true. He argues that the weakening and devaluing of religion has also weakened and devalued heresy. He argues that people should be able to speak freely – but that freedom of speech has actually decreased people's willingness to speak about important issues. And so much more.

The one disclaimer I feel I must offer is that this book was “timely.” Some of the people and events he mentions will be familiar. Many other people and events would have been familiar to you, if you'd lived in England at the beginning of the last century. The ideas he opposes, however, are either regaining popularity, or have never lost it. And his arguments are as valid and wise now as they were.

In some ways, he was ahead of his time. You may disagree with him, but you can't deny his intelligence and wisdom. This isn't the book you might expect it to be. I think you'll enjoy it, and maybe even learn something. Even if you disagree.

Ernest Thompson Seton's book, “Monarch, the Big Bear of Tallac.” Published in 1919, it tells the story of a tiny Grizzly cub who grew to be the Monarch of the Plains – and the Prisoner of humanity's arrogance.

“Kind memory calls the picture up before me now, clear, living clear: I see them as they sat, the one small and slight, the other tall and brawny, leader and led, rough men of the hills. They told me this tale–in broken bits they gave it, a sentence at a time. … They told of the river at our feet: of its rise, a thread-like rill, afar on Tallac's side, and its growth–a brook, a stream, a little river, a river, a mighty flood that rolled and ran from hills to plain to meet a final doom so strange that only the wise believe. … reverencing the indomitable spirit of the mountaineer, worshiping the mighty Beast that nature built a monument of power, and loving and worshiping the clash, the awful strife heroic, at the close, when these two met.”

- Ernest Thompson Seton

“On Liberty,” a seminal work by philosopher John Stuart Mill. Mill felt there were no definite standards for defining what society has standing to regulate and punish, and what is solely the business of individual to choose for themselves, if they accept the consequences to themselves. It is a discussion that needs to be remembered, and it is a discussion that needs to be revived in the modern world. Liberty still matters.

“Orthodoxy,” a series of essays by Gilbert Keith Chesterton. First published in 1908. Read by David “Grizzly” Smith.

“The only possible excuse for this book is that it is an answer to a challenge. Even a bad shot is dignified when he accepts a duel.” This is how Chesterton explains “Orthodoxy,” the sequel to Heretics. “I have attempted in a vague and personal way, in a set of mental pictures rather than in a series of deductions, to state the philosophy in which I have come to believe. I will not call it my philosophy; for I did not make it. God and humanity made it; and it made me.”

This is a book about Everything, about the reasons for the entire Universe and the existance of Humanity. Andit's kinda funny. except for the serious parts and the sad parts. It's about all of life, and human life includes humor, drama and sadness, so that's all in the book, too. The chapters look longer than they are, each being roughly an hour – and no, it wouldn't have worked to break them in half. I've found them a very quick listen.


Ernest Thompson Seton was an influential naturalist, and a sometime professional hunter and trapper. Much of this book speaks to the contradictions between these roles.

In November 2008, both the PBS series, “Nature,” and the BBC series, “Natural World,” presented episodes called “The Wolf That Changed America,” about Seton, focused in particular on the first story in this book: “Lobo, King of the Currumpaw.” Their contention was that his experiences in the capture of Lobo made him the outspoken and controversial activist for wildlife preservation he became.

From the Forward:

“THESE STORIES are true. Although I have left the strict line of historical truth in many places, the animals in this book were all real characters. They lived the lives I have depicted, and showed the stamp of heroism and personality more strongly by far than it has been in the power of my pen to tell…

“Such a collection of histories naturally suggests a common thought a moral it would have been called in the last century. No doubt each different mind will find a moral to its taste, but I hope some will herein find emphasized a moral as old as Scripture: we and the beasts are kin. Man has nothing that the animals have not at least a vestige of, the animals have nothing that man does not in some degree share.

“Since, then, the animals are creatures with wants and feelings differing in degree only from our own, they surely have their rights. This fact, now beginning to be recognized by the Caucasian world, was first proclaimed by Moses and was emphasized by the Buddhist over 2,000 years ago.”

– E.T. Seton