But that wasn’t the first rune bear that Phil designed. Phil also experimented with configurations based on actual runes, specifically Elder Futhark (c. 150–800 AD).
A futhark is a type of alphabet that starts with some variation of F, U, Þ, A, R, and K, and Elder Futhark is the earliest known form. The alphabet was used by Germanic tribes during the ‘Barbarian Invasions’ (the Germans have a better word for it—Völkerwanderung while English academics have a more boring description—the ‘Migration Period’) which may or may not have led to the fall of the Western Roman Empire. Today, Elder Futhark is often found on old weapons, amulets, tools, and, yes, this is real life, runestones scattered across the European landscape.
Phil sent me three designs based on the futhark.
While I loved the diamond nose and frumpy grin, the ears, while stylish, gave the bear an undesirable ant-like quality.
The test market (me) liked the sideburns but thought the bear looked too grumpy.
For a while I had settled on this design for the magazine.
But there was still this itchy inkling (writer’s rash?) in the back of my mind. I wanted something that would allow other artists to create their own variations. And something more blue, more realistic. My attempt looked like this:
No, wait, that’s something else.
My first design was this:
In his mouth I wanted the futhark word “alu” (ᚨᛚᚢ). The alu’s meaning is a contested issue, but some of its definitions hint at a strange, disturbed state created by sorcery or induced by ale (we’ve all been there). It is usually inscribed on artifacts of magical or mystical import. Other potential meanings include “taboo,” “strange,” “distraught,” and the “world between the living and the dead.” (I also considered ᛒᛖᚨᚱ, which is the word “bear” spelled out in futhark letters.)
In the end, Phil drew this:
… and the rest is rune history.
Chuck E. Nietzsche’s
Where a Nihilist can be a Nihilist
Rune Bear claims to be a digital literary magazine dedicated to the Strange, Surreal, Supernatural, and Speculative.
We ordered the genres like that for the soft soil of sound; a sussuration as subdued as Robert Frost’s sound of sense. Sometimes alliteration is an aroma, an allure. But if we wish to sustain submissions, we’ll need to suss out exactly what we’re looking for.
By Strange, we mean Weird fiction, a subgenre of the speculative encompassing horror and tales of the macabre. Science, myth, and horror blend into stories which estrange the familiar, break the laws of Nature, and bring the reader into contact with madness. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, editors of the incredible anthology The Weird, add that “With unease and the temporary abolition of science can also come the strangely beautiful intertwined with terror.” But Weird fiction is not necessarily terror-inducing. As Jake King explains “Weird Fiction is about things that aren’t just unknown, but essentially unknowable to humans. Given that we as humans fear the unknown, we usually assign it as horror, but it doesn’t have to be.”
By Surreal, we refer to writing that tries to capture the wilds of the unconscious through irrational juxtaposition. André Breton, founder of the literary movement, defines the Surreal as a proposal to “express—verbally, by means of the written word, or in any other manner—the actual functioning of thought.” He adds that it’s an assertion of “complete nonconformism.” In this way, surrealism is better than realism—a rejection of the refined, a rapture of the raw. The bizarre, unreal, incongruous, paradox, and perverse are elements of Surreal, as well as thirty-six blue rabbit trucks.
By Speculative, we mean fiction of the “what if?” As David Bowling describes, these are worlds “that could have been, or might have been, if only the rules of the universe were altered just a bit.” Often the grounding is in the sciences. Innovations or alternatives in psychology, sociology, biology, and technology lead to wild human problems and wilder solutions. In this way, Andy McCann describes, speculative fiction is “preparation for all futures”—an anticipation of infinite destiny. Ultimately, however, Steve Tully writes that the genre is “about you and me” (Lilly). The otherworld, be it magical or mechanical, is a testament to the human imagination, but also human reality.
By Supernatural, we mean fantasy, a genre of imaginative fiction. Sometimes there is a natural world, with the supernatural pressings against its edges. Sometimes the supernatural is the world; the rules of reality re-adapted to make-believe. Tolkien writes that fantasy “touches on or uses Faerie” which “may perhaps most nearly be translated [to] Magic—but it is magic of a peculiar mood and power.” Or, as George R.R. Martin writes, “Fantasy is silver and scarlet, indigo and azure, obsidian veined with gold and lapis lazuli. Reality is plywood and plastic, done up in mud brown and olive drab” (Perret). In this genre are epic, urban, high and low fantasy, fable, myth, steampunk, arcanepunk, a whole slew of other punks, and what Tolkien calls “the Perilous Realm.” We, of course, take all of the above.
Breton, André. Manifesto of Surrealism (1924). Ann Arbor :University of Michigan Press, 1972.
King, Jake. Weird Fiction Discussion Group. Facebook, 26 March 2018.
Lilly, N. E. “What is Speculative Fiction?” Green Tentacles, March 2002.
Perret, Pati. The Faces of Fantasy: Photographs by Pati Perret. New York: TOR, 1996.
Oziewicz, Marek. “Speculative Fiction.” Oxford Research Encyclopedias—Literature, March 2017.
Tolkien, J. R. R. Tree and Leaf (1939). New York: Harper Collins, 2001.
VanderMeer, Ann and Jeff. “The Weird: An Introduction.” Weird Fiction Review, 6 May 2012.
Shi Xin Ch’ng created her own line art of Rune Bear.
Check out her other awesome artworks @shixdingusdoodlez.
Dry sparkling wine, orange juice, and a dash of determinism.