Sicilian Bears On The March

For some summer distraction from the tragedy that is American presidential leadership, let’s look at the international affairs of another kind. The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily (La famosa invasione degli orsi in Sicilia) written and illustrated by the novelist Dino Buzzati (1906-1972) is a 1945 Italian children’s book, published at the end of World War II that takes us back to when politics was rationally irrational.

The invasion begins with a group of bears who live in the mountains on the majestic Sicily. One harsh winter they loose all their food stocks, so driven by hunger, the bears leave the mountain to avoid starvation. The bear king, Leander, also wants to get revenge on the humans that kidnapped his son Tony, and he is determined to get him back.

The Grand Duke of Sicily starts a military campaign against the bears. The bear’s valor is no match against the humans’ technology, but when the bears procure the tools, they proceed against the capital city with surprising number of weapons. The bears are victorious.

Tony, is found performing in the capital’s theater, and is happily reunited with his father. King Leander now rules over Sicily, with bears and humans peacefully coexisting in the city. However, King Leander’s bears lose their innocence and adopt human habits. The situation deteriorates when the King’s bear Chamberlain, Salpetre establishes a gambling den, robs the treasury, orgies. and attempts to take power by killing the king is, however, prevented by bear Dandilion. On his death-bed, King Leander orders his bears to denounce all human ways, and return into the mountains to their former life. They are to leave the riches behind, to find again peace of mind.

Buzzati’s writing mixes narrative and poetry. His drawings, however, feel applicable today. The simple abstract lines, the character composition and the wonderful color choices give this volume a contemporary aura.

Lorenzo Mattotti is currently in post production of a film version of this book, using his own drawings.  The illustrations here are taken from the original Pantheon version but a current volume is available here. And see Buzzati’s site here.

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