Introduction: Review of Bunker Bean by Harry Leon Wilson
Published in 1913, Bunker Bean by Harry Leon Wilson is one of the many novels written by the author during his writing career, which spanned over decades. Bunker Bean – adapted into film three times: 1918, 1925 and 1936 – has an amazing start which many of us can relate to,
“Bunker Bean was wishing he could be different. This discontent with himself was suffered in a moment of idleness as he sat at a desk on a high floor of a very high office-building in “downtown” New York. The first correction he would have made was that he should be “well over six feet” tall. He had observed that this was the accepted stature for a hero,” because most of us are never happy with the hand we’ve been dealt in life.
I must admit that this was my second attempt reading this book. Let me explain, I am an active reader, so I interact with the words on the page, which is good most of the time. But other times, I get so caught up with what’s unfolding in the story that it stresses me out. I found Bunker Bean to be a character, who really stressed me out, and I wondered if people were that naive. Bunker Bean was recommended to me a few years ago, so I decided to give it another shot – and I am glad I did. There are many lessons interspersed throughout the novel.
What is Bunker Bean by Harry Leon About?
Harry Leon Wilson is very skilled at his craft, and the book is very well written. There were a few times while reading that I found the text difficult, and those were the times when the characters spoke in very bad and weird English (couldn’t figure out what kind of dialect they would have in the United States, even if it was the early 20th century), which stretched my imagination more than I liked trying to figure out exactly what they were saying.
Bunker Bean’s mother was very elitist and believed that she had married beneath her. She was ridiculously strict with Bunker and did not nurture or encourage him in any way. She constantly criticized and corrected him, and I suppose in that environment after a while you would think that you cannot do anything right. Though his mother died a few days after the birth of her second son when Bunker was seven, he grew up to be a very timid and fearful adult. Despite being very timid and fearful, he criticized others quite severely, but did so behind their backs: either in writing that would never see the light of day, or in his head, quite safe ways.
After graduating from business college with a specialty in stenography and typewriting, his first job was with
“a noble-looking old man, white-bearded, and vast of brow… He was a believer in the cult of theosophy and specialized on reincarnation. [Bean] learned that the old gentleman was writing a book and would need an amanuensis. They agreed upon terms and the work began. The book was a romance entitled, “Glimpses Through the Veil of Time,” and it was to tell of a soul’s adventures through a prolonged series of reincarnations.”
This encounter sparked an interest in Bean to learn about his past lives, but he didn’t act on it until a few years later when he saw an advertisement in the newspaper placed by Countess Casanova, Clairvoyant … Clairaudient…Psychometric. Bunker Bean went to see Countess Casanova and learned that he was Napoleon Bonaparte in a previous life. He enjoyed reading, so he scanned his memory banks, and brought up, “A Corsican upstart, an assassin, no gentleman!… Emperor of France.”
After his psychic consultation, he studied Napoleon and the more he studied, the more distressed he became so he decided to consult Countess Casanova again – he wanted to know who he was before Napoleon.
On his second visit, the Countess realized that she was in over her head, so she called on her sidekick Professor Balthasar, and offered to split her $20. Shortly after the Professor arrives, he goes into a trance-like state, and the dialog is quite amusing.
“What is this? A statesman, still crafty, still the lines of cunning cruelty about the mouth. The city is Venice in the fourteenth century. He is dressed in a richly bejewelled robe and toys with an inlaid dagger. He is plotting the assassination of a Doge—”
“Please get still farther back, can’t you?” pleaded Bean.
The seer struggled once more with his control.
“I next see you at the head of a Roman legion, going forth to battle. You are a tyrant, ruling by fear alone, and with your own sword I see you cut off the heads of —”
“Farther back,” beseeched the sitter. “I—I’ve had enough of all that battle and killing. I—I don’t like it. Go on back to the very first.”
Patiently the adept redirected his forces.
“I see a poet. He sings his deathless lay by a roadside in ancient Greece. He is an old man, feeble, blind —”
“Something else,” broke in the persistent sitter, resolving not to pay twenty dollars for having been a blind poet.
The professor glanced sharply at him. Perhaps his control did not relish these interruptions. He seemed to suppress words of impatience and began anew.
“Ah! Now I see your very first appearance on this planet. You were born from another as yet unknown to our astronomers. You are now”—he lowered his eyes to the sitter’s face—”an Egyptian king.”
Detecting no sign of displeasure at this, he continued with refreshed enthusiasm.
“It is thousands of years ago. You are the last king of the pre-dynastic era —”
Bunker Bean liked the idea of having been Ram-tah, an Egyptian in one of his previous lives. He was transformed, and started to think and act like a king. After his second visit to Countess Casanova, Bunker Bean inherited $10,000 with $7,000 more to come. He wasted $5,000 trying to secure the mummified remains of King Ran-tah. To gather strength, Bunker consulted what he thought was King Ram-tah, and acted courageously.
As part of the money he received, he got 50 shares in the Federal Express Company. Some of his co-workers, his boss and the board of directors of Federal Express pressured him into selling his shares. He acquiesced, then snuck out of the office, used the funds he received from the sale of the shares and bought a much larger amount of shares, and ended up with close to $400,000. The joke was now on those who tried to use him for their gain.
One day, he accidentally discovered that he’d been duped by Countess Casanova and Professor Balthasar, and what he thought was the mummified remains of King Ram-tah was actually papier-mâché. His newfound way of life quietly slipped away, and he reverted to his old timid and fearful self. Fortunately for Bunker, someone he met soon after, kept on saying to him, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he!” Bunker thought about these words and their meaning, and one day he finally got it.
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Final Thoughts: Bunker Bean by Harry Leon
Bunker Bean by Harry Leon Wilson highlights the dangers of seeking satisfaction in things outside of yourself, it also demonstrates what can happen when you are desperate, and when you try to be something you are not. These are the key lessons for me, and I am sure that you will have your own lessons. I recommend Bunker Bean, and you can get an electronic copy by clicking here. If you do not like e-books you can purchase a copy of Bunker Bean by Harry Leon Wilson from Amazon (affiliate link)
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Harry Leon Books
Other Books Mentioned
As a Man Thinketh, James Allen