In Yellowstone Park in 1962, a young child left unattended and smothered in honey was eaten by a grizzly bear.
This child was Bobby Berenstain, 3-year-old son of Stan and Jan Berenstain. The tragedy prompted the husband-and-wife team to write their first Berenstain Bears book, a pamphlet entitled “Why All Bears Should Be Slaughtered.” The pamphlet was based on a spoken-word rant of Jan Berenstain’s, unofficially called “Untitled: Oh God! AAAAAHHH!,” which she delivered spontaneously on finding the bear finishing up the last of its yummy, chubby little honey-coated-kid snack. Adorned with police photos, the pamphlet was a moderate success among park rangers, and prompted a follow-up book, entitled A Bear Ate My Baby.
A string of books followed, flowing from Jan’s manically scribbling pen: I Told You to Stay in the Car; Give Me My Baby Back, Mr. Grizzly; and I’m Going to Eat Your Cubs and See How You Like It. These early books are notable for being written in all caps, without periods.
As anger gave way to crushing despair, subsequent books slowly eased from vitriolic streams of gibberish to tender reflections on life. Since their only child was gone, and since Jan was unable to make love because she was now pretty much dead inside, they fashioned a fictitious family for themselves in their books, and (get this) made that family all bears! They even had them living in a place called Bear City! Can you believe that? Talk about crazy!
At first glance, these choices may seem odd, but there are numerous historical precedents. Early civilizations often worshipped the predators that hunted them, in an effort to appease them. The Native Americans respected the bear and sought to become bears themselves through religious ceremonies.
Jan and Stan had been humbled by the Great Bear, and sought to become one with it. In their home, they took to walking around nude on all fours, and Jan stopped shaving her legs. They were eventually shot by the Park Service when they began trying to eat other people’s babies.
After the deaths of Jan and Stan, the intellectual property and name of the Berenstain Bears were sold to Dr. Seuss, who sold them to Dalton Trumbo, who wrote the remainder of the series under the pseudonym “Dan and Jan Berenstain” (putting the man’s name first—typical), sometimes collaborating with Mario Puzo, most notably on The Berenstain Bears Get the Gimmies.