I was curious as to if the text had any relations to old English fairy tales, like Hanzel and Gretel, which involved the eating of one’s own children or young. However, I could not think of any that I had read as a child that seemed even somewhat similar to this.
There is a theme of cannibalism present in many Fairy Tales, but an obscure Scottish fairy tale called “Molly Whuppie” tells the story of three girls who visit a giant’s home. At the end of the story, the girl in the story tricks the giant into beating his wife (who is hidden in a sack) to death. I thought some of the themes of this tale were similar to some of the events in the book, where a person or thing is mistaken for something else.
Another obscure fairy tale of Italian origin actually has direct references to a female bear, although there is no mention of children in the story. In this story, a princess who is sent from her widowed King is pining for a prince who has not yet married is advised to slip a piece of wood in her mouth which transforms her into a bear.
She eventually wins the adoration of the Prince and his subjects, and breathes life into his body when she kisses him (as a bear..?)
“But when the Prince saw these pretty offices they only added fuel to the fire; and if before he wasted by ounces, he now melted away by pounds, and he said to the Queen, “My lady mother, if I do not give this bear a kiss, the breath will leave my body.”
This mention of breathing into him to revive him is similar to how the father in our novel makes a pact with the bear mother. While “The She-Bear” bears only vague similarities and references to “In The House Upon The Dirt….” I thought it worth considering where Matt Bell may have gotten some of the motifs or characters we are discussing.
I also discovered that there is a complex classification system meant for fairy tales called the Aarne-Thompson index. I was not able to spend the time to classify “In The House Upon The Dirt…” with it, but I wonder how many of the motifs it may match, if this is indeed able to be called a “fairy tale”.