Beekeeper Review: The Savage Family

“I repaired old hives, constructed new ones. Not standard hives, not in this family. We had our own design. The drawings hung on the wall of the dining room– framed. It was Emma who had done it. She had found the drawings in a clothes chest in the attic, where they lay because everyone in my family knew the dimensions by heart anyway. The chest, a real going-to-America trunk, could easily have been sold to an antique shop for a nice lump of cash. But it was nice to have it up there, I thought. Reminded me of where I came from. The chest had traveled across the pond from Europe, when the fist person in my family put her feet on American soil. One solitary woman. Everything stemmed from her, from this chest, from the drawings.

The Savage family are among the lead characters in the novel The History of Bees by Maja Lunde and a bunch of them keep bees. Here’s some of the relevant folk:

  • William: A man living in England in the mid-1800s, William is not a Beekeeper by trade, but does keep bees. He’s not in the game to harvest honey, his interests are in scientific research and in attempting to create a perfect hive for bees to live in. He’s also riddled with personal problems, including severe depression and general obliviousness. He sees the ultimate goal of Beekeeping as “taming” bees.
  • Charlotte: One of William’s many children, but the only one who takes an interest the bees. She helps him design the “Savage’s Standard Hive” design that will be custom-built by the lineage for the rest of their time in apiary pursuits. She’s basically a living saint even before she saves the hive design plans from her despondent father and brings it with her to America.
  • George: A man living in America in the “present” (the early 2000s), George has a fairly successful operation with hundreds of hives and a couple of paid workers alongside him. But as he gets older and the industry is threatened by Colony Collapse Disorder, the weight of things gets to him and he grows bitter that his son doesn’t want to follow in his footsteps.
  • Tom: George’s son, who is a skilled Beekeeper helping around the family’s farm, but who goes off to university and wants to be a writer. It’s only the significance of the CCD threat that finally pulls him back into the family business, and though the struggle to keep the bees around is in vain, he does manage to write a book about Beekeeping that will be important to the future.

George is the one whose actual Beekeeping gets the most focus, and he’s also the least sympathetic of the batch, though his crankiness is, if nothing else, understandable. He’s a grumpy old man who hates change and is sexist and wants to control his son’s life. George made me realize something about Beekeeper Rage that I had not really caught before, though it is kind of obvious in hindsight: Beekeeper Rage stems from wanting to control the world around you, but failing. I’ve said before that keeping bees is an attempt to create a community that all works together. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of society looked after one another as a good Beekeeper looking after their bees? But it doesn’t always work that way and that is frustrating. But it’s “beekeeping” not “beecontrolling” and in this book we see a lot of parents who want to control their children. I have in the past, and am going to again here, marked up a Beekeeper’s rating if they come from a long tradition of Beekeeping. It’s cool. But that lineage it doesn’t have to be familial, especially if you are forcing the children into it. Instead, maybe do an apprentice situation with someone who is actually interested instead of foisting it on the kids. Support one another, don’t control them.

Reading the novel, I hadn’t expected I would be rating the family very highly. They don’t have any supernatural powers or solve murders or any of the stuff Beekeepers are supposed to do. That said, William and Charlotte do science and Tom is a skilled writer, if not as prolific as he might have been. But George is such a stick-in-the-mud Beekeeper, even though he invents a myth about bees one time to entertain Tom, he otherwise drags down the whole group with both his temper and his attempts to keep his son out of academia. But, importantly, the novel’s story is also about the world in the year 2098, long after the bees have seemingly all died and the world is basically an ongoing ecological post-apocalypse. In those bad times, when wild bees are finally found again, it’s Tom’s book that teaches people how to not kill the bees all over again and the family’s hive design comes back into use. Basically, though none of them live to see it, the Savage family save humanity. That’s gotta earn a decent rank even for a family who would otherwise be mere “normal” Beekeepers.

Four Honeycombs out of Five.

(There are other Beekeepers spread throughout the book, most notably Gareth Green, a childhood friend of George’s who gets into the industry and is more successful than George, who sees him as a jerk. He also loses most of his business to CCD. None of these ones are worth a full review because they’re just normal apiarists given little to no focus, but I note they exist for completeness sake.)

Beekeeper Review: Aristaeus

“That man invented the riddled hive with its rows of cells, and made a settled place for the labours of the wandering bees, which flit from flower to flower over the meadows and flutter on clusters of fine-fruiting plants, sucking dew from the top with the tips of their lips. He covered every limb from toenails to hair with a closewoven wrap of linen, to defend him from the formidable stings of the battling bees, and with the cunning trick of smothering smoke he tamed their malice. He shook in the air a torch to threaten the hive-loving bee, and lifting a pair of metal plates, he clapt the two together with rattling hands over the brood in the skep, while they buzzed and humblebumbled in ceaseless din; then cutting off the covering of wax with its manypointed cells, he emptied from the comb its gleaming treasure of honeydripping increase.” –Nonnus, Dionysiaca 5. 212

Aristaeus is a pretty big deal as far as apiarists are concerned, what with being none other than the Greek God of Beekeeping. As I mentioned in the Friar Tuck review, being a legendary figure elevates a fictional character to another level, and the Greek Gods start at that level. Aristaeus may not have as many stories as Heracles or Odysseus, but you can be sure that there are many stories about Aristaeus that go together or contradict. Even for such a relatively minor figure of myth, I can’t cover them all. But we can look at the basics.

Aristaeus is the son of Apollo, the god, and Cyrene, a nymph or mortal princess depending what tale you’re listening to. In any case, Aristaeus may have been born mortal, but was elevated to godhood either because of his family or because of his skill making honey. What we do know is that he learned to keep bees alongside a lot of other skills such as herblore and cheesemaking, because even the best Beekeepers know that it pays to expand one’s knowledge base. But the thing about Aristaeus is that he shared his knowledge with humans. He travelled the world educating mortals and teaching them things that might help them get by. This sort of Promethean kindness goes a long way with me.

But there are things I don’t care for when it comes to our man here. I’ve read several accounts that describe him “enslaving” the bees, and I don’t like that, so I have to chalk it up to a translation thing. More significant is that, in some tellings, he had a role in the death Eurydice. Apparently he was enamoured by her and “chased her” which led to her running into a snake pit and getting bitten. I don’t like the idea of anybody actually physically chasing someone like that because it makes you wonder what he intended to do if he caught her. He may not have been intentionally responsible for her death, but geez. We do have stories that follow up on this event. The gods decide to punish Aristaeus for his role in her death and they kill off all his bees. To get them back he has to perform a lot of sacrifices and do rituals to make it up to Eurydice and Orpheus. He does all this and is apparently forgiven because he gets his bees back. As it is presented, he does this for his bees rather than because he actually feels bad about what he’s done. But that’s the thing about legendary figures, we don’t get much of their interiority unless someone rights that story. Anyway, none of this comes up in Hadestown, so I don’t even really need to consider canonical if I don’t want to.

There’s more to the guy. I’ve seen at least one account of him solving a murder, which is a big Beekeeping plus for me. He eventually marries a princess named AutonoĆ« and from what I can see their marriage is above average for Greek gods, if we ignore what happened to one of his children. Oh, and his name literally means “The Best”.

Five Honeycombs out of Five. He’s a literal God of Beekeeping. I feel like I couldn’t go any lower than this.

Beekeeper Review: Delia Gunning

Delia Gunning is a Beekeeper who appeared in a Johnathan Creek mystery. I’m on the record of liking it when Beekeepers use their bee-related skills to get involved in investigating mysteries and whatnot. Sadly, that’s not what happens here.

Delia is the editor of a small town’s daily newspaper who keeps bees on the side. She’s got at least three hives and makes enough honey that she can give it away as gifts. This all speaks well of her beekeeping success, but it all comes crashing down when she falls in love with the wrong guy, a guy who is a magician! And also he’s a murderer.

To abet this murderer, Delia arranges to have the victim apparently caught on video alive after going missing, so nobody thinks she’s really been killed. This is done by filming the footage before the murder. She prints up a false front page to a newspaper, has that paper visible in the background on the video, and then makes sure that news comes true on the day after the killing. Thus, a headline about a swarm of bees disrupting a city council meeting comes true when she releases some bees at that meeting on the day in question. Sheer genius in its simplicity. Sure, some of it might have been the magician’s idea, but Delia is the one who pulled it off and, given her skills both journalist and apiarist, I’m inclined to give her credit.

But it ends poorly for Delia anyway, when the killer turns on her, because she is the only one who can turn him in. He pushes her down some stairs and attempts to bludgeon her to death, only stopping because the show’s titular investigator arrives in time.

Two Honeycombs out of Five. Kind of clever and good at lateral thinking perhaps, but also led astray by love of a bad boy.

Beekeeper Review: Mr. Werner

It seems too soon to go back to the Scooby Doo franchise for the sake of another Beekeeper Review, but I’ve found yet another one in there and it’s an easy review, so here we go:

A small town is being ransacked by a bunch of giant monster bees. There are rumours that “the local beekeeper” is the cause of it all by going against nature and developing strange mutant insects. Mr. Werner, the apiarist in question, is being called “the Mad Bee Doctor” (in spite of the fact that he is not actually a doctor). Given the franchise, it should surprise nobody that when Mystery Inc. are brought in to investigate, they discover that Werner is actually being framed by costume-wearing criminals who want to disgrace him so he will be forced to sell the lakefront property on which his farm exists.

Mr. Werner’s Bee Farm seems to be very successful, he sells honey by the barrelful, so that’s a point to him. When he learns that he is being framed, he helps the Gang investigate, rather than waiting at the sidelines like a typical Apiarist in Distress. And his bees help chase and fight the criminals during the climactic confrontation. I do usually give points for a beekeeper that dabbles in science, and Mr. Werner does not, but overall he does rank as an above average beekeeper.

Three Honeycombs out of Five. I actually think this might be the last Beekeeper found in Scooby Doo to date, but I wouldn’t risk money on it.

Beekeeper Review: Amanda and Chrissy Williams

The Beekeepers I’m looking at today run a honey farm called “Chrissy’s Honey Bees” and are the main characters in the 2022 movie Umma. Only two people run Chrissy’s Honey Farm, those being Chrissy and her mother Amanda Williams, with the former being the one who instigated this family business. When she was just a child Chrissy acquired a book about beekeeping, brought it home, and demanded that they start doing it. Until then Amanda had been an accountant, but she always tried to be a perfect mother, so she overcame her own dislike of bees to indulge her daughter’s hobby. Starting with a single hive, they grew the operation into a business that could provide for them both. They’re so successful at the start of the movie, when an online influencer has spoke well of them online causing an unprecedented demand for their honey, they have to expand the farm even more to keep up.

But things aren’t perfect for this duo. Amanda was raised by an abusive mother who would go so far as to use electricity to harm Amanda. This has left Amanda emotionally scarred and terrified of electricity, to the extent that she claims to have a medical allergy to electronics (It’s likely Amanda’s original dislike of bees was because their buzzing reminded her of electricity). With this background, it is no surprise that Amanda abandoned her mother, changing her family name and ignoring her cultural heritage, even creating a fictional “grandparents” to tell Chrissy about. Now Amanda and her daughter live “off the grid” on a farm with no phones, no lights, no motor cars, not a single electronical luxury. (They do use candles at home, but I don’t know if they use their own bees’ wax to make them.)

The problems they face in this movie stem from Chrissy growing up. She’s lived a sheltered life and wants more, she wants to go to college. Amanda is protective of her daughter, who has trouble fitting in, and doesn’t want her to go, but risks becoming controlling in a way that reminds her of the abuse she went through. Coinciding with all this, Amanda learns her mother has died and the ashes have been brought to her. What results from this emotional turmoil is a haunting in which three generations of women have to deal with their emotions and traumas and place in the world. Beekeepers versus ghosts is a great setup for me, but the fact that the family keeps bees doesn’t really factor into the horror plot here. At one point the bees do seem to respond to the haunting, but not in any way that matters.

In the end Amanda breaks the cycle of abuse by confronting the ghost of her mother and making a kind of peace with her, but never denying the damage done. I’d consider this a very beekeeperly move, if the bees had been in any way involved (maybe as psychopomps to help the souls of the living and the dead communicate?). And Chrissy does get to learn more about her culture and gets to go to college, but I’m sure she won’t give up on Beekeeping. Her name is in the company’s name after all.

Three Honeycombs out of Five. They’re above average Beekeepers for sure, but the beekeeping doesn’t tie into their supernatural adventure here, so I can’t go higher.