His eyes were closed, but clearly he was not asleep. Instead, he was singing raucously while beating a small drum with his massive hands. As I looked on, he continued to tap the drum with his big fingers, bleating out his song. After repeating the words a few more times, he let loose a booming laugh as if he'd just heard a rare jest. He laughed so hard he put down his drum and opened his eyes. (16.9)
This is our first look at Bear, and we don't blame Crispin for thinking he might be mad—he is sitting alone in the middle of a plague-stricken village singing and laughing to himself, after all.
"Do you ever smile, boy?" he demanded. "If you can't laugh and smile, life is worthless. Do you hear me?" he yelled. "It's nothing!" (19.17)
Ah, our explanation for why Bear is sitting in the middle of a plague-stricken village singing and laughing to himself. YOLO seems to be his motto.
"For ten years I traveled with those people," he said. "They became my dearest friends. We went all about the kingdom. Mind you, we lived only a tad beyond beggary. But my companions taught me better languages: the language of song, of hand, of foot. And most of all, of laughter." (21.20)
Yeah, laughter's definitely more valuable than Latin, French, German, or any of those other languages you might run into in Medieval England. Just laugh at people when they try to communicate—it totally works.
What's more, everything he talked about was stitched with laughter. It was as if life itself were a jest. Except, every now and then he'd cry out with an awful anger at what he called the injustices of the world. (22.25)
Now we discover that the heart of Bear's laughter is tragic. He laughs to keep from crying.
"Because sorrow is the common fate of man. Who then would want more? But wit and laugher, Crispin, why, no one ever has enough. When I think on the perfections of our Savior, I choose to think most upon His most perfect laughter. It must have been the kind that makes us laugh, too. For mirth is the coin that brings a welcome. Lose your sorrows, and you'll find your freedom." (24.16)
Essentially, Bear is telling Crispin that nobody likes a downer, and we can't say he's wrong.
At this Bear thrust his hand aloft, "O God," he cried. "Look upon Thy miraculous gift. This wretched boy has given the world a smile." (26.18)
Bear's having a little laugh at Crispin's expense, but only because he's happy Crispin is finally starting to lighten up.
I hastily made the sign of the cross over my heart, called on Saint Giles to protect me, and with trembling fingers took up the recorder and began to play. Bear began to beat his drum and dance. People turned to look. There were smiles on their faces, and from some, applause. That included the soldiers.
We fairly well danced our way up to the gate and through the town walls with not so much as an unkind look from anyone. (34.9-10)
Bear uses the old distraction trick to get himself and Crispin safely into Great Wexly. People seem to figure that if you're drawing attention to yourself, you must be okay.
"Crispin," said Bear as we moved away from the walls, "in that place they had me, I heard chants coming from the cathedral. The priests were singing, 'Media vita in morte sumus,' which means, 'In the midst of life, we are in death.' But, Crispin," he said, "can't you see the new truth we've made? In the midst of death, there is life!" (58.40)
Count on Bear to turn it around. They are literally dancing (almost) over John Aycliffe's dead body.
I took out the recorder. When I began to play, Bear laughed. Then he began to sing. Though he did not sing in his usual bellowing voice, it was his voice all the same. (58.43)
Only Bear would be singing a few minutes after being tortured in a dungeon. You really can't keep this guy down.
And by the ever-loving God who sits above, my heart was full of more joy than I had ever felt before. I was unfettered, alive to an earth I hardly knew but was eager to explore. (58.46)
We'll say it along with Bear: Finally! It took Crispin almost the whole book, but he's feeling the joy.