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American Studies
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01 Mar

Chapter on Canadian Bear Horror

Written by Michael Fuchs
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"I can't believe this is happening!" Bear Horror, the Species Divide, and the Canadian Fight for Survival

When Europeans began to settle the area today known as Canada, they did not find the paradisiacal place they were looking for. Instead, they saw themselves confronted with an environment "actively hostile to man" (Atwood 71). The settlers felt to be "silently swallowed by an alien continent" (Frye 217). Canada, Margaret Atwood has elaborated, is a menacing, Gothic (if you will) place, a "world of frozen corpses, dead children, and the ever-present feeling of menace, not from an enemy set over against you but from everything surrounding you" (30). Accordingly, the settlers' primary aim was "hanging on, staying alive"; an attitude accompanied by "an almost intolerable anxiety" (33). While "[t]o feel 'Canadian' was to feel part of a no-man's-land with huge rivers, lakes, and islands" (Frye 218), the Canadian "garrison mentality" (influenced by European thinking) led to humans starting a "war against Nature," which "assumed that Nature was hostile to begin with" (Atwood 60), creating a gulf of exclusion between the human and the nonhuman.

In my contribution to this edited volume, I will draw on these seminal ideas on the Canadian identity while discussing four recent examples of Canadian bear horror—the movies Grizzly Rage (2007) and Backcountry (aka Blackfoot Trail; 2014) as well as the novels The Bear (2014) and Eaten (2015). Unsurprisingly, all of these texts focus on bear predation on humans. Indeed, a review of The Bear stressed exactly this point, noting that human beings are "attacked and killed by a large male black bear for no apparent rationale other than predation." While there might be "no apparent rationale" for such animal behavior (from the human vantage point, that is), my chapter will argue that animal predation on humans provides a powerful symbolic vehicle for overcoming the human–animal divide. After all, this divide is primarily based on what has come to be known as "human exceptionalism"—the idea that humankind is superior to the other animal species inhabiting this planet and except from the laws of nature. However, animal predation reintegrates human beings into the natural food chain, reducing human beings to their fleshly materiality; a potential food source; a mere supplier for protein. Accordingly, animal predation on humans becomes a vehicle for overcoming, bridging, the species divide.