Rupert Little Bear Library


In 1921 Thomas Nelson and Sons published The Adventures of Rupert, The Little Lost Bear--the very first Rupert book by Mary Tourtel (1874-1948). Rupert proved to be a popular character and Tourtel produced a total of eighty-five strips over the course of the next fourteen years. But the Rupert phenomenon didn't end with Tourtel's retirement in 1935. It evolved in the decades to follow with Tourtel's literary successors Alfred Bestall, Alex Cubie, Freddie Chaplin and John Harrold carrying on the Rupert Bear legacy.

The world of Rupert Bear is a rich one spanning more than eighty years. Rupert, or "Little Bear" as he's often called, has appeared in dozens of books, "annuals," videos and even postage stamps. My own interest in Rupert focuses on a specific series of books.

When I was about six years old I was given two Rupert books: Rupert and Edward at the Circus and Rupert and Bill and the Pirates. Sadly Rupert and Edward is long gone, but--miraculously--I still have Rupert and Bill and the Pirates. Since I received that book I've moved a total of sixteen times in several different cities--often (in my youth) with all my worldly possessions piled into the trunk of a car. For some reason Rupert and Bill and the Pirates stuck with me through it all. In fact, now--forty-three or so years later--that Rupert book is the one and only item from my childhood that I still have. I've always had a real affection for that little yellow book.

Recently in a fit of nostalgia I did a search on Ebay for Rupert books. On any given day this can yield more than 200 results. As I said, the world of Rupert is a vast one, but I was most interested in the series of twelve, small, yellow books published by Purnell and Sons Limited in the late 1960s. These books, called the "Rupert Little Bear Library," were reprints from earlier books by Tourtel and were only available from the British department store, Woolworth's. The books in this series aren't as common as the many annuals that are out there, but they do turn up from time to time. Over the course of several months I managed to buy the remaining eleven books and completed the series.

The Followers of Rupert Bear website is an excellent resource for all things Rupert. But barring that, the vast majority of information available on the internet is from book dealers with Rupert books for sale. There's very little information about the books themselves, and even this modest page focuses only on the Little Bear Library series from long ago. Still, I thought that this page might be of some interest to those who, like me, enjoy the stories of Rupert the Bear. His adventures take me back to those more carefree days of childhood; his yellow scarf and red shirt never fail to remind me of happy times.

Last updated: 16 March 2013

Description:

Rupert meets the Magic Toy Man, a kindly and seemingly benevolent man with a collection of interesting toys. Rupert soon learns from Susan, a toy cat, and Belinda, a doll, that the Toy Man is in fact evil and plans on turning Rupert into a teddy bear. Rupert, Susan and Belinda (in actuality a princess) escape and find refuge in Belinda's parents' kingdom. Once there, however, they find that the Toyman has transformed everyone into lifeless statues. A frog advises Rupert to seek Moorland Will at the House of Rocks. Rupert's journey is surprisingly uneventful and he finds Moorland Will--a Robin Hood type figure--easily. Using his magic horn, Moorland Will returns the frozen villagers to normal and then goes on to punish the evil Toy Man by turning him into a jack-in-the-box.

Characters:

Rupert, a lizard, Mrs. Sheep, the Magic Toy Man, Susan the toy cat, Belinda the doll, various magically frozen members of Belinda's kingdom, Coachman John, a frog, a toad, Moorland Will.

Comments:

This is the first book in the Rupert Little Bear Library series and, while entertaining, Tournel's art and story telling were clearly still developing. Rupert's look is different in this book from the rest of the series--he seems older and "shaggier" as compared to the neat and ingenuous little bear we see later. The rest of the art, too (Susan the toy cat in particular), is somewhat crude. And the story is perhaps a bit more bland than the later books in the series. But these are mere observations and not criticisms. It's an enjoyable introduction into the world of Little Bear.

1.  Rupert and the Magic Toy Man

Description:

Rupert and his family make a trip to the seaside resort Shrimpton Sands. While there he and his cousin, Joan, make friends with two boys, Pete and Sam. As if usually the case in the Rupert books, Little Bear gets into trouble while his parents aren't paying attention. Rupert pairs up with Peter while Joan makes friends with Sam. Both pairs separate and get lost: Rupert and Sam in a strange underground lair not unlike the one in Rupert and Bill and the Pirates. Eventually all the children are returned safely to their families.

A brief second story follows Rupert at the Seaside: Rupert and Bingo in which Little Bear finds a stray dog and befriends him. Bingo (as Rupert names him) returns the kindness by saving Rupert's life. Eventually Bingo's rightful owner returns to claim him, but promise that Rupert can come and visit.

Characters:

Rupert, Mr. and Mrs. Bear, Aunt Emma, Joan, Pete, Sam, a kindly dame. In Rupert and Bingo: Rupert, Bingo (a dog), Mr. Bear, Bill Badger, a tramp, a woman.

Comments:

The story of this Rupert book is surprisingly tame, given the nature of Rupert's later adventures. It's true that Rupert and Sam do discover a strange underground lair with trap doors and large barrels, they never discover what the purpose of this hide-out is, nor are they ever in any real danger. Rupert at the Seaside is probably the most British of the Little Bear Library books and the most anthropomorphic (Rupert's father drives a car, rent a room at a bed and breakfast and, like any good English family, bring their umbrellas.)

This book is also unusual in that it contains a second and much shorter story. Strangely enough Rupert almost drowns in Rupert and Bingo which puts him at far greater risk than he ever was in the main book. The story is a good one, though, and the final drawing, in which Rupert watches Bingo and his owner drive away, is touching--as are so many of Tourtel's original illustrations.

2.  Rupert at the Seaside

Description:

A desperate king orders Rupert brought to his castle and sends Little Bear on a quest to rescue his daughter. Others have failed to find her, but a brave Rupert promises "I will try." Along the way he encounters various characters who provide clues how to find the princess and save her. Rupert outwits an ogre, a dragon (with an unusually kind nature) and three witch sisters. In the end, Rupert finds the princess, imprisoned in the witches' garden as a golden flower, and escapes with her. The king is eternally grateful and, at Rupert's request, returns Little Bear home to his family.

Characters:

Rupert, Bill (a badger), a king, a cat, a dog, a gnome-like man who rides a hare, a tinker, Wayland Smith (a blacksmith), Brimbor (an ogre), Golden Shoes (a horse), a dragon, a princess, three witches.

Comments:

Rupert's friend, Bill Badger, has a cameo role in this book. He's more of a full-fledged partner in Rupert's fifth adventure Rupert and Bill and the Pirates.

3.  Rupert and the Enchanted Princess

Description:

Rupert and his friend, Edward Trunk, ask Rupert's aunt if they might go fishing. "Yes, you may go. If you will take great care," she says. Sound advice, but this is a Rupert book, after all. Soon Rupert and Edward are kidnapped by the owner of a circus and taken overseas. Rupert is trained as an equestrian (of all things) and Edward as a circus clown. After several weeks, the circus returns to England and, during a show, Edward spots some friends in the audience. During his performance Rupert throws their friends a note explaining their plight. Soon, Rupert and Edward are rescued and the circus workers responsible for the kidnapping are sent to prison.

Note: This book, like Rupert at the Seaside, includes a shorter second story: Rupert and the Birthday Cake. It's the Wise Old Goat's birthday and Rupert, after a series of misadventures, delivers the cake to the house of Miss Betty Belinda who is hosting a birthday party for the W.O.G.

Characters:

Rupert and Edward at the Circus: Rupert, Edward Trunk (a young elephant), Rupert's aunt, Joan--Rupert's niece (cameo), Rupert's Uncle Ben, various evil circus folk, Margot, her gran, Mr. Bear; Rupert and the Birthday Cake: Rupert, Mrs. Bear, Tommy Stout, Beggar Dog, Mr. Reynard (a fox), Mr. Keeper, Selina Jane and Millicent (Betty Belinda's strange, doll-like nieces), the Wise Old Goat.

Comments:

The main story, Rupert and Edward at the Circus is the standard tale of kidnapping, suffering and rescue. It's puzzling why the first circus hand to capture Rupert and Edward is so fascinated with them and "stared with amaze." It's true that a bipedal, talking bear and elephant aren't every day sights in our world, it's nothing unusual in Rupert's. Upon hearing of missing children, Uncle Ben, a bear, goes to the police station and it's business as usual. In any event, it's gratifying to see the evil-doers in this story actually get what's coming to them in the end--something often lacking in the Rupert books.

4.  Rupert and Edward at the Circus

Description:

Rupert and his friend Bill are playing in an old rowboat at the beach when two mischievous boys push the boat out to sea. Eventually Rupert and Bill land on an island and are found by a gang of pirates seeking treasure. The cruel pirates force Rupert to help them find the treasure. Rupert and Bill eventually escape and find refuge with a group of kindly Indians. The Indian chief arranges for their safe passage home where Rupert's parents are there, as always, to welcome him back.

Characters:

Rupert, Bill, Mrs. Badger, two boys, a pirate captain, his crew, an Indian, Fighting Bull (an Indian chief), Wood Dove and Jumping Deer (Indian children), a kindly ship captain, a sailor, Rupert's father, Mrs. Bear.

Comments:

An unusually dark book in the Rupert series. As with most Rupert books, Rupert and Bill and the Pirates deals with the archetypal theme of trying to return home. Along the way, though, Rupert and his friend Bill encounter characters more menacing than those normally found in the Little Bear books. One Indian is shot dead through the heart--the most violent moment in the entire Rupert Little Bear Library series.

5.  Rupert and Bill and the Pirates

Description:

Rupert buys an umbrella at a market only to discover that the umbrella is magic. When he opens it, Rupert and the umbrella fly off to a forest where he meets a frog who offers to help him. The rest of the story turns into the basic "quest" tale with Rupert having to go and retrieve various objects from an evil magician's home in order to secure the frog's help in returning home. Rupert is helped by a fox that he saves from hunting dogs. In the end, the magician is defeated and his spell, which turned a regal young man into the frog, is broken.

Characters:

Rupert, a market woman, a frog, a fox, a magician, the Wise Goat,

Comments:

Although the story is enjoyable, it does seem to be a mish-mash of elements from other stories (keep in mind that I've read these books out of order). The magic transportation, the umbrella, is reminiscent of the magic boots in Rupert and the Wonderful Boots. In addition, both these stories include an evil magician who owns the magical object and both magicians are served by underlings whom they abuse (in this story, the magician abuses his servant the fox, in Wonderful Boots the magician is abusive to the cobbler. At least in Rupert and the Magician's Umbrella the magician (who really isn't magical at all) is defeated. No such luck in Rupert and the Wonderful Boots.

One might interpret Tourtel's portrayal of the magician in Rupert and the Magician's Umbrella as anti-semitic. The magician has a distinctly Shylock-like look to him, complete with skull-cap and dark robes. But that's almost certainly reading too much into the story.

6.  Rupert and the Magician's Umbrella

Description:

Rupert and his friend, Timothy the pig, go for a walk and discover a mysterious glade. In it, they find a beautiful caged bird and set it free. The bird warns them not to touch or taste anything in their travels, but eventually the hungry bear and pig can't resist. As a result, Rupert and Timothy are trapped with a prince, a princess and several others in the "Wood of Mystery." A spiteful gnome has imprisoned them, but the caged bird honours his debt to Rupert by delivering a plea for help to the Wise Goat. Wise Goat rushes to find Rupert and his new friends and confronts the gnome who reluctantly sets his prisoners free.

Characters:

Rupert, Timothy (a pig), a beautiful bird, a prince with a boar's head, a princess, Grundolf the Gnome, the Wise Goat.

Comments:

The plot in Rupert in the Wood of Mystery contains many familiar elements: being lost, a transformed prince or princess, an evil captor, etc. But the climax in this book is more thin than most. The conflict is resolved when, simply, the Wise Goat orders the gnome, a strange and powerful creature, to surrender. Why is Grundolf so afraid of the Wise Goat? Perhaps it's the same as the mysterious power Professor Dumbledore holds over Voldemort: it's left to the reader's imagination.

7.  Rupert in the Wood of Mystery

Description:

In a situation similar to Rupert and Bill and the Pirates, Rupert goes fishing only to be set adrift by two juvenile delinquents: this time of the vulpine (Percy Fox) and porcine (Podgy Pig) variety. As is often the case in the Little Bear Library books Rupert finds himself a stranger in a strange land and is taken to a king's court. This time Rupert is ordered to keep the king's son, Prince Humpty Dumpty, company. The prince was transformed into an egg-like being by a vindictive fairy. Rupert and the prince become fast friends, but are unaware that the king's brother is plotting to kill his fragile nephew in a plot to assume the second in line to the thrown. The wicked uncle lures the prince into a tower and pushes him out a window. Prince Humpty Dumpty falls to the ground and is critically injured. Meanwhile, Rupert's mother seeks the counsel of the Wise Old Goat to find her missing son. Ever reliable, the Wise Old Goat peers into his Magic Box and takes action: this time scoring a triple victory: he finds Rupert and returns him to safety, restores the prince to health and to his former self as a little boy and exposes the treachery of the king's brother.

Characters:

Percy Fox, Podgy Pig, a soldier, a king, Prince Humpty Dumpty, a chamberlain, a nurse, a jealous fairy, the king's brother, Rupert's mother, the Wise Old Goat.

Comments:

The plot of Rupert and Prince Humpty Dumpty employs the standard formula used in many of Mary Tourtel's books: Rupert lost in unknown territory, a royal family, treacherous villains and the Wise Old Goat--that ever trustworthy deus ex machina stepping in to save the day. The prince himself is somewhat unusual in the Little Bear canon in that he's adapted from another fairy tale. And the prince is surprisingly well adjusted for someone transformed into an egg (unlike, say, the bad tempered princess in Rupert and the Greedy Princess who was merely overweight). All in all, this book is standard (but enjoyable) fare.

8.  Rupert and Prince Humpty Dumpty

Description:

Rupert rescues a strange little man from a well and is rewarded with a magic whistle. Later Rupert goes off to visit the Wise Old Goat who is gravely ill. The little man (who is actually a fairy) returns and tells Rupert that if he wants to help the Wise Goat, he must go to the go to the garden of Castle Pervenche and bring back a potent healing herb. What follows is another standard Little Bear "quest" adventure in which Rupert must overcome various obstacles to achieve his final goal. These obstacles include ferocious giants and an evil sorcerer. In the end Rupert is successful (and also happens to help an enchanted princess along the way) and the Wise Old Goat is restored to health.

Characters:

Rupert, a little man, Mrs. Bear, the Wise Old Goat, a kindly older couple, a farmer's wife, a fisherman, a lordly stag, a giant, a sorcerer, a cat, a princess.

Comments:

Rupert and the Magic Whistle is one of the better stories in the Little Bear Library that follow the standard quest formula. The story is entertaining and the characters a good mix of good and evil. The Wise Old Goat has saved Rupert on a couple of occasions. It's nice to see the brave bear return the favour.

9.  Rupert and the Magic Whistle

Description:

Rupert, on an errand for his mother, foolishly accepts a drink from a dwarfish man. He passes out and awakes in a strange forest. Rupert then rescues a prince from inside a tree and together they set out on a quest to return home. Along the way they're helped by a kind old woman who offers them food and drink and the use of her beloved pony, Dapple. A fairy's gift, Dapple can protect those who take a hair from her tail--but no more than three. Rupert and the prince encounter dangers on their way home (luckily only three), but return to the king's palace safely where they find Rupert's father awaiting them.

Characters:

Rupert, his mother, a mischievous dwarf, a young prince, a kindly old woman, Dapple--a magical pony, a helpful dove, a family of giants, an evil bird, a king--the prince's father, Rupert's father.

Comments:

In an unusual departure for the Rupert books, the king offers the use of his airplane to return Dapple and Little Bear's family home safely--an atypical example of 20th century technology in Rupert's timeless world.

10.  Rupert and Dapple

Description:

Rupert is kidnapped by two evil men and taken to a castle. There the castle's queen tells him that he is to entertain her daughter, a somewhat manic-depressive girl with an eating disorder. Rupert's mission is to improve the greedy princess's social skills, but even brave Little Bear is unsuccessful. Rupert and the Princess are later kidnapped and left alone deep in the woods. They meet a mysterious old woman who asks them for food. As always Rupert follows good fairy tale logic and agrees, but the princess refuses and they continue on. Later, Rupert and the Princess are taken captive by the old woman, actually a witch of some kind. During several weeks of imprisonment both Rupert and the princess are forced to perform manual labour and starved. Eventually the old dame decides that the greedy princess (now much slimmed down and humbled) has learned her lesson and she returns the princess to her mother and Rupert back home.

Characters:

Rupert, two sinister men, a queen, a glutinous princess, an evil page, two ruffians, a kindly woman, an old dame, several strange little men, Mrs. Bear.

Comments:

As with Rupert and the Enchanted Princess Rupert is taken against his will and asked to help a princess in need. The circumstances in Rupert and the Greedy Princess are far more grim, however. Rupert is kidnapped not once, but twice, and also shares the princess's punishment when he is, in fact, guilt-free. The Queen seems to think nothing of kidnapping Rupert and, when he and the princess are returned safely, it's suggested that he'll be seized again to amuse the Queen and her daughter. Even the old dame, whose intentions are arguably good, uses her squad of little men to torment the princess with food and then withholding it. Kidnapping, threats of murder, psychological torture--strong stuff for a Little Bear Library book. And why does Mrs. Bear even let Rupert out the door? This time he's kidnapped and held captive for several weeks, but there she is--as usual--at the end of the book welcoming Rupert home, but not especially put out.

11.  Rupert and the Greedy Princess

Description:

A cobbler stops by Rupert's house and is asked to repair Mr. Bear's boots. The cobbler chats with Rupert and shows Little Bear a pair of magic boots he's just mended. These boots belong to a wizard and can carry whoever wears them to far off places. Curiosity gets the best of Rupert and he tries on the boots and flies away. The boots take him on a series of adventures in which he's inevitably captured and the boots are almost stolen. Eventually Rupert encounters a kindly fairy in disguise who commands the wonderful boots to return Rupert home. The cobbler, who is the unfortunate pawn in this story, sees Rupert safely back to his cottage.

Characters:

Rupert, his mother, a cobble, a servant girl, two dwarves, an old housekeeper, an ogre, a robber, the Robber Chief, the Robber Chief's daughter, a fairy disguised as an old dame, a wizard.

Comments:

Despite its whimsical title, Rupert and the Wonderful has a surprising dark undercurrent. In most Rupert books, Little Bear's adventure ends successfully and, along the way, evil is defeated. In Rupert and the Wood of Mystery Grundolf the gnome promises never to be cruel again; in Rupert and the Enchanted Princess the three evil witches are so vexed at being defeated that they all die the same day. In this book, however, Rupert encounters cruel and vicious characters all along the way, but then he just bounces off to the next chapter of his adventure. Of those downcast unfortunates he leaves behind: the dwarves' servant girl, the ogre's housekeeper, the Robber Chief's daughter--they're all on their own. Even the wizard, whose boots are returned safely, promises the cobbler a beating if it happens again. Usually one of Rupert's adventures leaves his magical world a better place, but not this time.

12.  Rupert and the Wonderful Boots


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