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The Bee-Man of Orn

By Frank Richard Stockton, Candlewick Press

Summary

By Jayme Johnson

In the ancient country of Orn lived an old man called the Bee-man, because he spent his life in the company of bees. All seemed well and fine in the life of the Bee-man until an unexpected visit from a Junior Sorcerer sends him on a mission to examine himself. You see, the Junior Sorcerer told the Bee-man that he has been transformed into something else. "If you will find out what you have been transformed from, I will see that you are made all right again," the young Sorcerer tells him. Could it have been a giant, or a powerful prince, or some gorgeous being whom the magicians or the fairies wish to punish? The Bee-man sets out to discover just what his original form might be.

Guidelines for Philosophical Discussion

By Jayme Johnson

The story of the Bee-man of Orn can be read as a journey of self-exploration and examination. When told that he has been transformed into a Bee-man from some original form, the Bee-man is insistent to determine what he it is he is "supposed" to be and to become that thing. In framing the story this way, one is reminded of the mission of Socrates, the quintessential philosopher who swore to the importance of knowing one's self, and of examining one's life. Socrates made a mission out of examining his life and knowing himself. In quite a comparable way, the Bee-man does as well.

In his journey to discover to his true self, the Bee-man rules out many possibilities. His intuitions guide him, as he immerses himself in various contexts, seeing if they feel natural to him. In doing so the Bee-man always does what feels natural and right to him. An interesting philosophical topic that gets raised here is the role of intuitions in doing philosophy. The Bee-man's quest for his true identity is a philosophical one. The Bee-man seeks to discover his nature, what he is most fundamentally. Yet in doing so, he is relying on what feels natural, or in other words, what intuitively seems right. Philosophers often make appeals to intuition or common sense. But can we trust our intuitions? Why think they lead us any closer to the truth? Questions like these are important because one needs a sense of the tools available to do philosophy. If the Bee-man had not trusted his intuitions, what tool may have he used in its place? Or are our intuitions indispensable? left? A significant event happens to the Bee-man during his adventure. When given the chance to save a baby from the gnashing jaws of a surly dragon, the Bee-man sacrifices his bees to save him. In doing so, the Bee-man stuck to his methodology of doing what seemed natural. When the Bee-man himself realizes how strongly connected he feels to the baby, he realizes that he has discovered his original form: a human infant. What the Bee-man does not to seem to realize however, even after returning the baby to his mother, is that he had been quite courageous in his act of saving the child. In acting naturally, the Bee-man performs a heroic deed, an act of self-less virtue. This raises an interesting philosophical question: how could the Bee-man been so courageous, and not even realized what he was doing was courageous? It seems that there is an underlying assumption about human nature being made in the story, namely that people are naturally capable of doing good and heroic things. Hence, another topic sure to inspire good philosophical discussion is about human nature. Are we naturally capable of doing altruistic things like the Bee-man did, or are we naturally just selfish and greedy?

Shortly before being sentenced to death, Socrates claims that the unexamined life is not worth living. The Bee-man lived a long unexamined life before ever embarking on his quest. But after his examination, and his discovery, and finally his return, the Bee-man's life ends up just as it was before. He is the Bee-man, and nothing, it seems, is going to change that. So what of his journey then? Is there any value in embarking on a journey if it is only going to lead you right back to where you started? According to Socrates, it is indubitably valuable. So if Socrates is right, even though the Bee-man ends up being the same old Bee-man he always was, there is something profoundly different about his at the end of the story than from the beginning. In short, if Socrates claim is true, then the Bee-man's life is meaningless at the beginning of the story, but meaningful at the end. This raises another philosophical point of discussion. Is the Bee-man's life somehow better for having gone on this quest of self-examination?

Questions for Philosophical Discussion

By Garreth Matthews and Jayme Johnson

The Junior Sorcerer says that the Bee-Man has been transformed from something else into a bee-keeper.

  1. Caterpillars change into butterflies. What other living things are transformed in nature?
  2. Bees transform nectar from flowers into honey. What animals transform food they eat into foods for people?
  3. The Junior Sorcerer says that people and animals are sometimes magically transformed. What is the difference between being magically transformed and being transformed through growth?
  4. Growing up has changed you from a baby. How are you different from the baby you once were?
  5. How long does it take you to change into something else? What stays the same as you change?

When the Lord of the Domain kicks him, the Bee-Man decides he could not have been a mean person.

  1. Do people who were once good and kind sometimes become mean and cruel?
  2. What might change them?
  3. Do people who were once mean and cruel sometimes become good and kind? What might change them?
  4. Think of a way that you are different than you were a year ago. What changed you?
  5. How would you like to be different when you grow up?

The Bee-Man throws his bees at the dragon and rescues the baby.

  1. This is a brave thing to do. Is the Bee-Man always brave, or is this the first brave thing he ever did?
  2. The Bee-Man knows what to do. Have you ever ben in a difficult situation when you did not know what to do? What happened?
  3. The Bee-Man feels good about saving his baby. Do you feel good about something you did? What? Why?
  4. The Bee-man did not realize that it was brave to save the baby. Can you still be brave, even though you don't know that you are acting bravely?

The Sorcerer returns to the country of Orn and discovers that the Bee-Man has grown up to be a bee-keeper, just as he did the first time.

  1. Do you think grown-ups might like to start life over and become someone different? Why?
  2. Do you think it might be fun to have more than one chance to grow up? Why or why not?
  3. Can you imagine being born in a different country? Speaking a different language? Enjoying different customs?
  4. What is something about you that might not change? Why?

This book module deals with metaphysics, specifically essentialism, and ethics, specifically friendship. It is suitable for intermediate philosophers. You can buy this book on Amazon.

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