As a child I loved Rupert the Bear. Magick, talking animals, an embrace of nature in the Norfolk UK style setting of Nutwood and the bizarre friends he had.
The goat always stuck out for me. He was often pictured with Masonic emblems about like the globe and clock, he had a penchant for ceremonial robes and had a science lab that looked like a place Merlin could have some fun.
Did the writers know that he was potentially a Freemason? I checked and while there are many many types of Magick in Nutwood, there isn’t a boring old Solomans Temple style Lodge. Alfred Bestall had an eye for the more mystical elements and painted a world where just out of shot the mischievous imps and witches secretly roamed always invisible to the world at large. It almost seemed like his work outside of Rupert was an echo of what he perhaps wanted to say in the Rupert stories. The obvious limitations like story length and bigger picture considerations allowed only subtle parallels to speak this.
In an interview just before he passed over to the hidden realms he painted (one hopes Bestall is now young and roaming in the background like the spirits above), Bestall spoke of the changes he had made to the Rupert character. Ruperts creative mother, Mary Tourtel who married but remained childless had aged Rupert as the years passed by. Bestall noted that he got into scrapes and situations and back home safely alone in her stories. Rupert to her was perhaps the child she never had and as such took form in her mind and as any child became a young man. Bestall set to reducing him back to a little boy and added friends who also ended up in strange situations with zany adult characters before escape or resolution allowed the heroes to return home unharmed.
The Magick of Rupert was in part down to the imagination of Bestall as his paintings that fused John Constable with tarot cards gave birth to some of the best loved characters in Ruperts Nutwood universe.
The tolerance and positivity of the universe created and the innocence and judgement of Rupert and his young friends was a foreshadow to the postmodern age of acceptance. Rupert often found himself in vulnerable situations, entrapped by adult characters or at the mercy of witchcraft, unnatural beings or in dreamlike realms but the story redeemed the otherwise monstrous adversaries. More often than not he would part from his captors in a friendly manner before returning home to mum and dad bear who seldom worried about his safety. A more innocent time perhaps?
Equally, it can’t be overlooked that Ruperts existence in a more innocent era took the liberty of cleansing taboos in a way that can’t be viewed entirely as constructive. Rupert wandered the woodlands and wonders of Nutwood with adult characters, took lightly his entrapment by would be criminals and all the time pitched the case that this all remains innocent through the eyes of a child. The intention cannot have been anything but innocent and maybe it’s only looking back from this modern era. We are how awake to a world where cultural coercion is rife and children cannot roam as Rupert.
Rupert for better or worse poses a question to anyone taking the time to look over the work in full, the history of those involved and the reoccuring themes of Nutwood with its imps, talking animals, friendly adult captors, overt Masonic references and sanitised satanic symbols. Random adults holding children hostage is something we are very much aware is a bad message today and unlikely to appear in modern childrens stories. Perhaps it was back then too and if so then could the writers of our favourite bear dropped that central theme earlier?