Beekeeper Review: Mirasol

“When human beings first discovered honey, they had hunted the wild bees and followed them back to their nests. Some enterprising honey-lover must have noticed that bees often nested in hollow trees, and so, perhaps, rolled or dragged or hacked out a suitable log nearer hoe, left it at a convenient spot, and hoped a passing swarm might settle in it. Eventually someone began experimenting with making hives out of straw, mud, clay, pottery, and with sowing the seeds of plants bees were seen to like; and eventually with breeding more docile bees.”

This history of beekeeping comes from the point of view of a young lady called Mirasol. The protagonist of the novel “Chalice” by Robin McKinley, Mirasol lives in a place called the Willowlands in a fantasy universe that relies very heavily on traditions. The Willowlands are governed by a body called the Circle, eleven mystically appointed individuals who keep the realm from tearing itself apart, literally and figuratively.

At first, Mirasol is just an ordinary civilian, keepin’ bees out in the forests of the Willowlands. Even at this point, she’s damn good at beekeeping. From a line of beekeepers going back at least as far as her great-grandmother, she is the most successful beekeeper in the Willowlands. It is widely acknowledged that her bees produce the best honey “because they like [Mirasol]” and she knows how to treat wounds, such as burns, with honey and make candles from beeswax that contain honey for scenting. Her bees are “unusually large” and “only their bellies were striped yellow; their backs were a black as velvet-gloss as a fine horse’s.” She also has a policy of helping her colonies survive through the winter, instead of culling them as the other beekeepers in the realm do (which probably is why the bees like her).

But that’s just the beginning for ol’ Mirasol! Because after a tragic turn of events that results in the death of several members of the Circle, Mirasol is chosen by the mystical powers that guide the land. Mirasol is made the new Chalice, which is not only a member of the Circle, it is the highest ranking member. The bad news is that Mirasol was never given the training she needed for a magical and highly ceremonial role. To make things worse the turmoil of Willowlands are “teetering on the edge of disintegration” because of this traumatic changeover. Spoilers though: in the end thing turn out well enough for the Willowlands. I’m here to talk about her powers.

Becoming the Chalice gives Mirasol’s already impressive Beekeeping Stats an incredible boost. Every Chalice is connected to a symbolic fluid, mostly water or wine, though there are historical precedents for milk or blood, but Mirasol becomes the very first Honey Chalice. Almost as soon as she is chosen as Chalice, her bees just go into overdrive. They dedicate whole hives to storing honey without combs, so Mirasol can drain the honey without the need to break anything, and in other hives they store empty wax for her to use for things such as make candles. They even seem to store excess pollen for the winter. Furthermore, she develops an ability to “listen” to honey and tell what kind of benefits it has, which is good because her bees produce a bunch of different types of honey. There’s a honey for helping one sleep and another for giving one energy to stay up. One is good for curing stomach-aches and another keeps dogs from barking. Basically, she’s got a bunch of magic potion honeys on tap and ready to use.

Given that they already liked Mirasol, it is no surprise that in her powered-up form, her bees never sting her and she never needs smoke to calm them. They also develop a tendency to follow her around in small groups, helping her out or protecting her. When the final climactic scenes of the book come, her swarm is joined by bees that aren’t from her hives, and even wild bees.

Finally, Mirasol does get angry from time to time, but never to an extent that it seems to be Beekeeper Rage. Thus, I have to say that the one and only thing that keeps Mirasol from getting a perfect score is that she shows no skills as a fighter. And personally, given how well she picked up being the Chalice of the Willowlands, I bet that if she tried it out, she’d master it pretty easily.

Four Honeycombs out of Five.

Beekeeper Review: Mr. Andretti

“‘Your average beekeepers usually wear gloves,’ he explained. ‘A lot of the brave ones use gloves with no fingers and thumbs so they can work with the bees more easily.’

Mr. Andretti thumped himself on the chest and went on. ‘But your truly outstanding beekeeper – such as myself – likes to work with his bare hands. My bees trust me.'”

Mr. Andretti is a beekeeper who appears in a Goosebumps novel called “Why I’m Afraid of Bees” and, as the above quote proves, he’s kind of a boastful sort. I fully admit that when I set about reading this book, I was under the impression that the beekeeper was going to be the bad guy, responsible somehow for the main kid getting his brain switched into a bee’s body. Disappointingly, that ain’t the case. The kid gets himself into that mess on his own. Andretti is just an ancillary character, the kid’s neighbor. He’s seems to be a decently successful beekeeper, though he’s kind of a jerk. He seems to know that the main kid is afraid of bees and likes to make him think the bees are out of control just to laugh when he gets scared. He also tends to yell sarcastic remarks at the kid if he catches the kid staring at him. And he’s got a strong tendency to laugh at his own bad jokes. I can only assume that all this jerkish behavior is Andretti’s way of dealing with a relatively mild case of Beekeeper Rage.

I’m taking Andretti at his word that his bees trust him. He also claims to “have complete control of those bees at all times.” He apparently doesn’t mean this in the sense of literally having mental control of the bees (he uses a net to catch straggler bees), but this is as close as Andretti gets to any kinds of powers or badassery. With that in mind, I can only give him:

Two Honeycombs out of Five.

Beekeeper Review: Beorn

“He is a skin-changer: sometimes he is a huge black bear, sometimes he is a great strong black-haired man with huge arms and a great beard [. . .] He lives in an oak-wood and has a great wooden house; and as a man he keeps cattle and horses which are nearly as marvellous as himself. They work for him and talk to him. He does not eat them; neither does he hunt or eat wild animals. He keeps hives and hives of great fierce bees, and lives most on cream and honey. As a bear he ranges far and wide.”

That is Gandalf the Grey’s description of Beorn, today’s Beekeeper. Beorn is a character in the Hobbit, and there’s no getting around it: this is one awesome beekeeper. With such an open-and-shut case for beekeeper greatness, it’s a good chance for me to look at what I consider when I rate a apiarist.

First, there’s the general quality of their beekeeping skills. Beorn apparently keeps a large area of bee pastures, and his bees “were bigger than hornets. The drones were bigger than your thumb, a good deal, and the bands of yellow on their deep black bodies shone like fiery gold.” Whatever Beorn is doing, it’s working. He’s got healthy bees and plenty of ’em. He also knows how to work with bee-products: he is noted as having “red beeswax candles” and he knows how to make “twice baked cakes that would keep good a long time, and on a little of which [one] could march far” with honey. He’s a good beekeeper.

Second, are they badass? A beekeeper needs to know how to fight. Today’s guy certainly is: “Beorn was a fierce enemy” the text tells us, and it sounds true: he is a “huge man with a thick black beard and hair, and great bare arms and legs with knotted muscles [and] a large ax.” But we can’t go too far into this element of beekeeper reviewing without brushing up against the next, because next…

Next comes the matter of supernatural powers. They don’t have to be actually “supernatural” in nature, they can be technologically based or whatever, but a great beekeeper needs something that sets it apart from mere mortals. For starters, Beorn can turn to a freaking bear. He’s apparently massive in both human and bear form, so he has the advantages of two separate powerful forms. It seems he prefers fighting in bear-form, though. Check out some quotes from the Battle of the Five Armies:

  • “But even with the Eagles they were still outnumbered. In that last hour Beorn himself had appeared – no one knew how or from where. He came alone, and in bear’s shape; and he seemed to have grown almost to giant-size in his wrath.”
  • “The roar of his voice was like drums and guns; and he tossed wolves and goblins from his path like straws and feathers.”
  • “[N]othing could withstand him, and no weapon seemed to bite upon him. He scattered the bodyguard, and pulled down Bolg himself and crushed him.”

Beorn essentially won that battle. But don’t go thinking that being a bear is Beorn’s only skill. He can also talk to animals, all types of animals, and they like him well enough that they help him out around the house. That’s a sweet deal.

The final element to consider is, how do they handle the Beekeeper Rage? It’s a constant problem and Beorn is no exception. Before dropping in for their unannounced visit, Gandalf warns his comrades: “He can be appalling when he is angry, though he is kind enough if humoured. Still I warn you he gets angry easily.” And that’s how it is. He is angry, but if you can get past it, he is a pretty good guy. At first he doesn’t trust the protagonists, since they are strangers to him, but once he checks out their story “Beorn was most jolly for a change; indeed he seemed to be in a splendidly good humour and set them all laughing with his funny stories.” It is Beorn’s good luck that he exists in a fantasy world in which objectively evil people exist, so he can channel his Beekeeper Rage into mostly productive areas like Goblin removal.

So that’s it. I, as an expert, am able to give or take some ratings based on certain intangible qualities, my gut instincts or just a “certain something” that a character may possess, but the above metric is the most reliable way to tell how good a beekeeper is. So where does that leave us with Beorn?

“Beorn indeed became a great chief afterward in those regions and ruled a wide land between the mountains and the wood; and it is said that for many generations the men of his line had the power of taking bear’s shape, and some were grim men and bad, but most were in heart like Beorn, if less in size and strength. In their day the last goblins were hunted from the Misty Mountains and a new peace came over the edge of the Wild.”

Holy smokes.

Five Honeycombs out of Five. He’s top of the line.

The Story of My Second Year Classes

Okay, there’s been two days of school so far and I’ve only had a glimpse at three of the four courses I’m taking this year so far, but I’ve got some comments to make:

First, I have so much reading to do! So much! As I have already mentioned, my plan to get ahead on my reading by doing as much as possible over the Summer did not go flawlessly. I lucked out in the sense that the new reading list for my Comics and Cartoons class included several things I’d already read, such as Superman Chronicles Vol. 1, the Dark Knight Returns, and Maus (though, not owning any, I still had to shell out mo’ money), but there was much I still had to do. This weekend I read V for Vendetta, which, honestly, I would have gotten to at some point given my love for Alan Moore’s work, but I still have at least one sizable graphic novel and a collection of Doonesbury strips to get to for that class. The real reading intensive class of this semester is Pulp Fiction, which thankfully includes Frankenstein, as well as excerpts from Gulliver’s Travels, Murders in the Rue Morgue, and Maus (again), all of which I’ve read. Unfortunately it also includes Pride and Prejudice, Much Ado About Nothing, Lonesome Dove, and a romance novel of my choosing, along with various other excerpts and short stories. Honestly, Shakespeare plays don’t usually take me too long to get through and I’m nearly halfway through P&P already, but Lonesome Dove is nearly a thousand pages on its own. As a slow reader, I am currently mildly fretting about all this. I assume that my Creative Writing class will also require reading of some kind, but I haven’t learned about it yet, so I’m keeping that out of my mind for now.

I am more thankful than ever for the whim that saw me taking a Geography class this semester. The English literature classes may be the ones that I care the most about, but a bit of variety is welcome, especially when it comes with less reading for me to do.

Book it!

Ooooohhhhkay. Detective Made Easy, the latest of John Swartzwelder novel about Frank Burly is out. As is tradition in the Nation of PDR, this means it is National Bookorderin’ Day! That’s the day when I’m supposed to get all kinds of the books I want to read in a single order from the Internet. Here’s the thing, though. I was already given Dave Barry’s Insane City and Max Barry’s (no relation) Lexicon for my birthday, so I don’t need that much. And to make it worse, just today I noticed an email from school saying that the Comics and Cartoon’s class I am starting next week will has changed professors and, with that, changed the books we need to read for the class. This means that four of the books I got and read over the Summer are now unnecessary and I will have to get and read other books for class. Ugh.

So anyway, the moral of the story is that I’m getting Detective Made Easy for National Bookorderin’ Day, but apart from that, it’s all about school.