Whoosh! Issue 46 - July 2000

By Kym Masera Taborn
Content copyright © 2000 held by author
Edition copyright © 2000 held by Whoosh!
20980 words

Author's Note: In late 1999, I prepared an edition of the collected works of Bongo Bear [Note 01] for a Sword & Staff Charity auction [Note 02] to take place in Pasadena during the January 2000 Xena Convention Bards' Brunch. In this edition, I wrote an introduction and commentaries for most of the stories. This article is based largely that material; however, I have made significant alterations and added new sections.

Literary criticism has a very honored and learned past, one in which I am inadequately versed. I am indeed the first to admit that I am overeducated, but not, alas, in the area of literary criticism. Therefore, I have not attempted an empirical, definitive, or even objective study of the works of Bongo Bear. What I present is a record of my observations about Ms. Bear's contribution to Xena fan fiction, and of the effect that her writings have had on me as a reader. I disclaim openly that I enjoy her writings. I have found them challenging and satisfying, and have found myself returning to them often to re-read, re-savor, and re- think.

I am also surprised that Ms. Bear's works have not been more discussed in the informal Xena fan fiction culture. Therefore, I am writing this personal memoir of my admiration and enjoyment of Bongo Bear's stories in hopes that others may discover and share with me the excitement, the cleverness, and the challenge that I have found in her stories.

Introduction (01-05)
The Xena Fan Fiction Tradition (06-11)
The Fiction Of Bongo Bear (12-120)
     Testing The Waters (14-33)
     The New World Order Of Xena Fan Fiction: Uber (34-42)
     Humor Enters The Picture (43-44)
     The Price Of Innocence (45-58)
     Humor Redux (59-65)
     Drama Redux (66-68)
     A Sentimental Bear? (69-73)
     1997 In Review (74-76)
     Got A Life (77-88)
     1998 In Review (89)
     Return Of The Jedi (90-92)
     You Ought To Be In Pictures (93-104)
     Painting Interruptis (105-116)
     1999 In Review (117-118)
     The Future (119-120)
How Do We Solve The Problem Called Bongo? (121-130)
A Chronological List Of The Works Of Bongo Bear

A Chronological Survey of the Fiction of Bongo Bear


[01] Bongo Bear's work to date contains some of the most original and ambitious short stories in Xena fan fiction. Yet she is also a misunderstood and underrated bard [Note 03] whose work is often viewed as difficult and challenging. I was quite excited to review her work and see if I could shed some light on these matters. Even if I could not succeed in that respect, I would at least have a pulpit where I could share the delight and fascination I have had with this bard's work.

[02] Is "Bongo Bear" her real name? No, it is an alias. For reasons that are legion, many people active on the Internet prefer to be known only by aliases. This custom becomes especially prevalent in the world of sexually explicit or controversial character traits and/or described events. With a name such as Bongo Bear, not only is species blurred -- I will assume that Bongo Bear is a human being for the remainder of this paper -- but also gender can be hidden. For the sake of continuity, I will refer to Bongo Bear as a "she" throughout this paper. However, because of the nature of the Internet, no one can ever really be sure of a person's gender, age, ethnicity, or social position unless they have external information. Just because a person uses a male or female name, or states she is a 22 year-old woman with a great body and hot for you, does not mean that he or she indeed is.

[03] Many years ago, The New Yorker magazine had a cartoon that perfectly set forth the problem of identity on the Internet. It was a picture of a dog sitting on a chair in front of a desktop computer talking to a cat. The tag line had the dog saying to the cat, "No one knows you're a dog on the Internet". As such, Bongo Bear prefers to take the pseudonym of a polar bear.

[04] Bongo Bear's literary output thus far has been almost exclusively Xena fan fiction. There have been some notable exceptions, INTIMATE STRANGERS and SEX. Although both these stories have some strong ties with Xena fan fiction, they nonetheless offer the reader a peek at what one might encounter if Ms. Bear ever decided to leave the fan fiction arena.

[05] To enjoy Bongo Bear's works, it helps to have at least a rudimentary knowledge of what Xena fan fiction is, someof its genres, and what makes it unique compared to other media fan fiction traditions. Ms. Bear wrote within a highly defined structure that evolved out of the fan interaction and discussions of the television show Xena: Warrior Princess on the Internet.

The Xena Fan Fiction Tradition

[06] Fan fiction based upon the television show Xena: Warrior Princess has been around since the first episode aired in late 1995. At first it followed the usual course of other media fandoms such as STAR TREK, DR. WHO, and BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, but soon it developed two rather unique aspects.

[07] The show was about the adventures of two women travelling alone in pre-Mycenaean Greece. Many fans found romantic undertones to the show, which they dubbed "subtext". Because the show never overtly addressed the subtext, fan fiction enthusiastically took over the job. The fans adopted the term "alternative fiction" to indicate that the stories assumed that Xena and Gabrielle, the lead characters of Xena: Warrior Princess, were in, were about to have, or were flirting with idea of having a romantic relationship.

[08] To be sure, other fandoms have had gay perspectives projected onto their characters. The one that started it all was the fandom of the classic STAR TREK, which introduced the term "slash" to describe a gay relationship between Kirk and Spock, from the convention of using "K/S" in the subject headings presenting the stories. Subsequent to STAR TREK, other fandoms created slash fiction. Traditionally the main producers of slash were heterosexual women. In these traditions, slash was considered non-mainstream, and operated on the fringes of the fandom. For Xena though, it was quite the opposite. Output of alternative stories soon outnumbered the general ones. As a result, the portrayal of Xena and Gabrielle as lovers became the norm. Also, although heterosexual women still played a major role in the production of Xena alternative stories, many lesbians and bisexuals joined their ranks along with a small but hardy contingent of heterosexual and gay men. This predominance of subtext in the fan fiction was the initial unique aspect of Xena fan fiction.

1940's stuff was usually shot in black and white

Uber with a capital 'U'.

[09] The other unique aspect of Xena fan fiction was the development of Uber [Note 04]. Uber is a name used by online Xena fandom to describe fan fiction which features either a descendent, reincarnation, or the essence of Xena in another culture during a time other than that of the Xena on the television show [Note 05]. Uber appeared in its complete form in June-July 1997 in several independent places. The idea had been in the air since the release of the episode THE XENA SCROLLS in early 1997. THE XENA SCROLLS featured the descendents of Xena ("Mel Pappas") and Gabrielle ("Janice Covington"), where Mel was a direct descendent of, and was possessed by the spirit of, Xena. After the episode, fans created the genre of Mel and Janice fan fiction, which interestingly enough incorporated the same subtextual elements as regular fan fiction (i.e., the descendents were just as lesbian as the ancestors). Since Mel and Janice were show-created characters, the fan fiction about them should be considered traditional fan fiction. However, around June 1997 a few fan fiction writers started to experiment with different (aka non-canon) descendents [Note 06].

[10] The first true Ubers appeared on private writers' discussion lists. The first publicly posted Uber on the nascent World Wide Web was Bongo Bear's short story, THE HITCH HIKER, on July 22, 1997. The privately posted Ubers soon followed online along with independently inspired Ubers following the example of THE HITCH HIKER, and within a year Ubers started to outnumber the non-Uber alternative stories [Note 07].

[11] Since the beginning of her writing endeavors Bongo Bear has embraced the alternative fan fiction tradition. Throughout all of her fiction, there is a basic assumption that Xena and Gabrielle are, or about to become, romantic partners. She continues this foundation in her Ubers as well.

The Fiction Of Bongo Bear

[12] Bongo Bear is at once both representative and non-representative of the popular developments of Xena fan fiction. On one hand, she does not deviate from the lesbian-esque interpretation of alternative fan fiction. Furthermore, she has more than just dabbled in Uber, but she independently created the first publicly posted Uber. On the other hand, she writes in a highly unsentimental, unromantic style that is the antithesis of most Xena fan fiction.

[13] According to legend, Bongo Bear surfed on the Internet one day looking for cheap and easy erotica [Note 08] and came across some Xena fan fiction. She read. She enjoyed. She read more. Then she found a notice about a Xena fan fiction short story contest. She decided to enter TEARS OF SILVER. Despite coming in at third place, she was severely bitten by the fan fiction bug.

Testing the Waters

[14] Like many fan fiction writers in the Xenaverse, Xena fan fiction was Ms. Bear's first foray into fiction as an adult. She later publicly posted a major revision to TEARS OF SILVER on July 22, 1997. Although TEARS was written first, it appeared on the web after QUEEN OF AIR AND DARKNESS, which was publicly posted eight days before.

Why you need to get those wisdom teeth taken care of

There was all that bacchae unpleasantness in GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN.

[15] TEARS OF SILVER was designed to be a straightforward alternative story based on the Xena episode GIRLS JUST WANNA HAVE FUN. Consequently, it was one of Bongo Bear's most traditional and conservative stories. QUEEN OF AIR AND DARKNESS was less conservative in that it introduced a new major character, Lilith, and it expressed a preoccupation with darkness that would pervade many of her later works.

The dream came unbidden yet again into Xena's unconscious mind. She saw, she felt, a darkness pour out from the Abyss and enfold her body and her mind. The darkness had substance, a cool, silky clinging weight. The darkness settled around her shoulders, torso, and thighs. Where it touched her flesh, it first tingled like ice, then burned like fire. The darkness had a voice, too. It murmured in Xena's head in cloying, dulcet tones, "I heard you call me. I'm here. Just for you."


[16] TEARS OF SILVER is as mainstream as you will ever see Bongo Bear. It follows the usual pattern of the first work of someone who eventually dabbles in the avant garde. It is a student piece. The artist is clearly learning her craft by conservative and highly derivative means. Written for a short story contest, Bongo Bear uses all the conventions that she could not doubt stomach.

A rustling in the trees above and the call of doves announced their arrival in the Amazon Nation. Xena raised her arms and clasped her hands together in a peaceful salute. Gabrielle tucked her staff into the crook of her arm and did the same. A half dozen sleek forms rappelled from the trees and came to rest on bended knees at Queen Gabrielle's feet.

Gabrielle reached down for the nearest Amazon warrior whose blonde ringlets peaked out from under her headdress. She lifted up the feathered mask. "Rise, Ephiny," she said with grave formality. Ephiny, the Queen's regent, rose gracefully and with equal grace picked up Gabrielle and swung her around. "It's so good to have you back home! How long will you be staying? We have rooms set up for both of you."

Laughing, Gabrielle exclaimed, "Ephiny, please put me down. It's just a little embarrassing. I'm very glad to see you, too. We're here for the harvest festival. I guess we'll stay for as long as the festival lasts." Gabrielle looked over at Xena for confirmation. The warrior nodded.


[17] TEARS OF SILVER foreshadows Xena's conundrum in the episode DEVI, where Xena had to deal with a possessed Gabrielle and had no choice but to kill her to get rid of the evil within. TEARS also foreshadowed the pair's doing unspeakable things to cute 'lil bunny rabbits, as in the episode PARADISE FOUND.

Rising with Apollo's ascent as usual, Xena went out to check the snares. What she saw had her running back to camp and tipping Gabrielle out of her bedroll. Gabrielle flopped limply out of the bedding and on to the hard earth. Thoroughly awakened and pissed off, she rolled over and stood up quickly, trying to disentangle the bedding from her legs while throwing an evil look at Xena.

"What's your problem this morning? Are we out of tea, again? There was some at the market. You should have bought some when you had the chance."

"No, no, stop chattering. That's not it. I checked the snares this morning."

"And that explains what?" Gabrielle said, throwing her hands up in the air.

"There were rabbits in them all right. Dead from having their throats torn out. It must have been some wild beast. Except that none of the meat was eaten. What animal kills without feeding? Why didn't I know it was out there last night? We have to leave now. It's too dangerous staying here any longer than necessary."


[18] The device of using Gabrielle as Artemis's chosen was used not only in TEARS OF SILVER but also in QUEEN OF AIR AND DARKNESS. In both stories the status of being "The Chosen" ultimately saved Xena's and Gabrielle's relationship. Like the petty and jealous Greek gods of the television series, Artemis required both characters to go through hell before she would come to their aid.

Artemis, I never knew you could be so cruel. This is your precious Gabrielle you're talking about!" Hades exclaimed.

"It can't be help. Gabrielle needed to make that sacrifice. Without it, that demon Lilith would be ruling from Mount Olympus today and we would be powerless to do anything about it! I can't tell them the truth. Not yet," Artemis said. "But with your help, I can make it up to both of them. Hades, will you hold up your end of the bargain? No matter what?"

Hades hesitated, "It's easy to decide for Gabrielle. She was always destined for the Elysian Fields. But as for Xena; I don't know."

"The Elysian Fields might as well be Tartarus if Gabrielle is not with Xena! Xena will spend the rest of her life atoning for a decade of evil. Isn't that enough for you?" Artemis said.


[19] If Bongo Bear's fan fiction is anything, it is original. Her twists on old stories consistently delight. QUEEN OF AIR AND DARKNESS merged two distinct and traditionally incompatible myths, something which the television show attempts all the time. Ms. Bear pitted the gods of ancient Greece against the Hebrew myth of Lilith. In cabalistic lore, Lilith was the first woman created for Adam and when she did not submit properly, she was replaced by the allegedly more submissive Eve.

Zeus knew that Lilith would destroy the World without hesitation, so great was her hatred. When Artemis returned from her sojourn in the East, she explained to the pantheon just who their enemy was. Lilith was the First Woman who was banished because of her disobedience to the First Man. She was imprisoned in the Abyss, where she was driven both mad and made incredibly powerful. She drew upon the raw energy of creation itself to become a goddess. In the World, she commanded the demonic spirits of the air and exploited the darkness that resides in every human heart.


[20] Xena has touched upon this merging of separate myth traditions in its general "decline of the gods" story arc over the show's entire run and also in the latter part of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. However, Bongo Bear wrote QUEEN after the "decline of the gods" story arc had been alluded to briefly in less than a handful of episodes. The "decline" would not begin in earnest until THE DELIVERER in the third season, some three months after the release of this story.

[21] QUEEN has a languorous poetic tinge that was lost by Ms. Bear in her middle works. QUEEN, like TEARS OF SILVER, is very much a student work, where the earnestness and hard work is very much in evidence along with a persistent attention to conservative methods of exposition and content. Bongo Bear would jettison this conservative approach in her next short story, THE HITCH HIKER, and consequently produce her first truly avant garde fan fiction and herald the coming of Uber.

[22] Notwithstanding THE HITCH HIKER, this break with tradition was foreshadowed in QUEEN OF AIR AND DARKNESS, with her merging of the two competing myth systems and her introduction of a very-much-so-not-a "Mary Sue" character of Lilith [Note 09]. It is ambitious for an early work, and does not let down the reader. Furthermore, the ability to create her first major new character outside of the canon of the show, and NOT have it be a "Mary Sue" demonstrated that Bongo Bear started out of the gate with more potential for originality than your average fan fiction- writing bear.

[23] The poetic nature of Ms. Bear's earliest writing even extended to the title of the story, QUEEN OF AIR AND DARKNESS. Ms. Bear used the concepts of dark/light, and air/ground in QUEEN to convey the ambiguity of the Lilith character. Further, it alludes to Lilith being associated with early vampire myths.

Lilith twined her arms around Xena's torso. She rubbed her breasts against her willing captive's back, nibbled her ear, and began nuzzling her neck. Xena slowly closed her eyes and languorously stretched her neck back, exposing her white throat. As Lilith sank her sharp fangs into the proffered neck, she eyed Gabrielle as the bard approached the throne. She finished drawing just enough blood to stain her lips.


[24] QUEEN OF AIR AND DARKNESS also foreshadows issues raised with Xena's relationship with Lao Ma and the ways in which Xena's intensity with others affected Gabrielle. QUEEN was released over three months prior to the airing of the episode THE DEBT I, which introduced the character of Lao Ma. Gabrielle's reaction to Lao Ma was not expressed until the episode FORGET ME NOT, which aired some four months after THE DEBT II. In QUEEN, Gabrielle's reaction to Lilith with Xena was much more spontaneous.

"So, little one, you wish to pay homage to my Queen?" Lilith said in a low, sultry voice. She licked an errant drop of blood running down Xena's neck. Gabrielle winced at hearing her pet name spoken by Lilith.

Gabrielle gathered her resolve. She straightened her back and stamped her staff by her feet, proclaiming, "No, I'm here to take her back. She can never be your Queen. Her heart is not pure evil, unlike yours." Extending her hand, she called to Xena, "Come with me. I can help you."

Lilith's laughter filled the chamber. It sounded like the tinkle of broken glass. "Are you so sure? Let Xena speak for herself." Lilith untangled her limbs from Xena and pushed her forward. Xena stood up and approached the bard until they were a few paces apart.


[25] There are other similarities between Lao Ma and Lilith, as well. Lao Ma wants Xena to be her "Warrior Princess", and Lilith wants Xena to be her "Queen of Air and Darkness". Both women are the means of introducing an equally ancient and equally powerful alternative to the supernatural tradition of the Olympian gods.

[26] A further prescient issue in QUEEN is the question of sacrifice and how it could/would cause a rift between Xena and Gabrielle. This issue is the underpinning of TEARS OF SILVER as well. Both stories concern a rift between Xena and Gabrielle that cannot be healed without a death. In TEARS, the resolution occurs after Xena kills Gabrielle, who is instantaneously brought back to life by Artemis. In QUEEN, the rift is healed only after Gabrielle and Xena are both dead. This apparently was a major early breach of the "Lunacy Factor" [Note 10], and may have set the course for Bongo Bear's tendency towards obscurity.

[27] The twist ending of QUEEN is cultivated by Bongo Bear's ability to make the reader know that something more is going on beneath the surface narration. She leaves enough clues to indicate that something is up, but not enough to know exactly what until the very end. Although the ending is awkward, it does adequately pay off all the anticipation. Bongo Bear explains where Lilith was coming from, how she did it, and why Xena got to be the lucky warrior princess crowned the Queen of Air and Darkness. I find the Lilith-Xena-Gabrielle triangle in QUEEN more satisfying than the Lao Ma-Xena-Gabrielle triangle in the episode, FORGET ME NOT.

[28] Granted, parts of the plot, such as Lilla's being brought back to life without either Gabrielle's or Xena's knowledge, are contrived. Although it is reasonable to accept that Gabrielle had to be kept in the dark, keeping it from Xena was cruel and begged the question of why people would choose to follow such gods.

"Oh, we wasted so much time," Gabrielle cried. "Our lives were too short to have spent it hating one another. Now that you understand. Now that I understand."

"Time is of no matter now," Xena said, embracing and kissing Gabrielle for the first time in the Afterlife. "We have the rest of eternity."


[29] These contrivances raise another paradox in the story. Gabrielle has to live with the knowledge that she has committed a murder and is denied the company of her sister for life. True, the implication is that this was "the sacrifice" that Gabrielle thought she had to make to get rid of Lilith--whereas the real sacrifice was in causing Xena to hate her and to have nothing to do with her for the rest of their natural lives. But then, how real was that? Would Xena really dump Gabrielle so completely when it was clear that Gabrielle did what she did only to save the world and to remove the evil that had been released? That was extremely self-centered of Xena (but then, is this something new?). The threat of Lilith, after all, did completely justify the serious measures necessary to remove her power from the world. However, it would have been nice had Gabrielle done it to save the world rather than out of petty jealousy.

[30] Then again, this foreshadows a similar mistake made by the Xena writers concerning the character of Gabrielle. The show's writers justify Gabrielle's bizarre behavior in THE DEBT by having her realize (in FORGET ME NOT) that she betrayed Xena out of jealously of Lao Ma. A motivation made even more pathetic because Gabrielle knew Lao Ma was dead and clearly Lao Ma could not be a true contender for Xena's affections. All of this begs the question of whether it is not a mistake, but rather a character flaw in Gabrielle.

[31] One of Bongo Bear's most beloved tendencies is the shaggy dog story element in many of her humorous writings [Note 11]. In these stories, the reader is led down a path of incessant prose, only to be the victim of a punch line consisting of a groaning pun or some twist of words at the end. QUEEN does not have this type of ending, but does foreshadow Ms. Bear's future idiosyncrasy by constructing the story around the twist of the nature of the sacrifice that Gabrielle has to make.

[32] Bongo Bear's first two stories were her most mainstream writings. Even QUEEN foreshadows Ms. Bear's innovative ways of exploring the common themes in Xena (and later, Uber) fan fiction. THE HITCH HIKER, PRICE OF INNOCENCE, and the as yet unfinished CONSPIRACY THEORY still shine as her most intellectual works, whereas THE PAINTING and NEWSFLASH! are her most capable stories.

[33] Ms. Bear's intellect and originality are apparent even in her early conservative writing phase. It is painfully obvious, though, that these early tendencies yearn to get out and express themselves in ways more complex and descriptive than her abilities allowed at the time. This may be an annoying predicament, but it is also an excellent trait for an up-and-coming writer. It is arguably preferable to have a better grasp than reach, since you can always learn to stretch your reach, but what is the point if you cannot grasp anything? For these early writings, Bongo Bear is clearly aching to grasp more than she could reach at that moment. A survey of her later works demonstrates her journey towards having a greater reach, which bore significant fruit in the year 1999.

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