The Bees by Laline Paull

King's College Beehive

King’s College Beehive

Bees are fascinating creatures. They make up more than 20,000 species of insects. They are entirely dependent on flowers for food, and the practical value of bees as pollinators is enormously greater than the value of their honey and wax production.*

Collecting honey

Collecting honey

In 2012 New Zealand had 422,728 beehives owned by 3,806 beekeepers. However, bees are having a hard time at the moment and unfortunately things like ‘colony collapse disorder’ and varroa mites are killing bees worldwide. Recent research has also shown that bees themselves seem to have a death wish by preferring to eat pesticide-contaminated foods.

This Easter President Obama was trying to read “Where the Wild Things Are” of all things, when bees (or was it the screaming children) interrupted him.

The Bees by Laline Paull is a story about an individual in a particular society; namely a bee in a beehive. It is a story of survival and adventure set amongst the mystery and magic of a beehive. Flora 717, “her kin was Flora and her number was 717”, is a member of the lowest order, she is a worker bee and she hides a deformity. Flora unlike her kin-sisters can speak and as an experiment she is saved from being killed at birth by Sister Sage.

The hive is very structured with each bee allocated a certain job (foragers or nurses for example) but above all they must follow the religion and mantra of the hive “Accept, obey and serve”. The bees worship the Queen, and in return they receive the sacrament of Devotion, which is the Queen’s Love. The religion has many laws and mottos– Discord is a sin, Greed is a sin, From Death comes Life Eternal – and poor Flora finds herself breaking all the rules because of her body (I wont give away what she does).  The social structure of the hive, and the religion that wraps round it are both defences against the enemies of the hive and a way of continuing its survival.

This is a very sensuous story where the scents, the sights, the bobs and curtseys and movements of feet and antennae are all vividly described. The hive itself seems to have a mind, or “Holy Chord” of itself. But I wasn’t too clear about how precisely knowledge, and intelligence was shared amongst all the bees of the hive. I loved the idea of the Dance Hall where the foragers passed on information about their flights to and from sources of nectar. However, at times Flora seemed to just know what to do, and at other times a Sage would delete her memories with a just swipe of the antennae. On the whole this is a page-turning, intriguing story.

To hear Laline Paull discuss her book, see here.

To hear Laline Paull talk about her inspiration, see here.

This is a fabulous film full of facts about bees, and the close-up filming is stunning.

More stories about bees in the college library:

*”Bee.” Britannica School. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 2015. Web. 28 Apr. 2015.

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