The Bears’ Invasion, seven decades later

In 1945, Dino Buzzati wrote and illustrated The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily. It was a children’s book. Yet like The Little Prince, by Saint-Exupéry, it makes for thoughtful adult reading. Buzzati’s work will soon become a feature film, quite belatedly.

Buzzati’s book was almost an afterthought. He wrote it to entertain his nephews and had forgotten about it, when in 1947 Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera asked him if he had any material for a kids’ supplement. That’s how he submitted it. What was only for family consumption became available for a universal readership.

The plot is simple. Bears are starving on the mountains, so they descend into the city in search for food. They also want to rescue the son of Leonzio, their king. After putting a brave fight and a thousand adventures, they beat back the soldiers of the evil Grand Duke.

In the process, however, the comforts and vices of men rub off on the bears, corrupting them. Worried, King Leonzio tells the bears: “Go back to the mountains. Leave this city where you have found wealth, but not peace of mind. Take off those ridiculous clothes. Throw away the gold. Throw away the cannons, rifles, and all the devilish things that men have taught you. Go back to what you were before.”

If that sounds familiar, it’s because it resembles a plainer summary than Orwell’s Animal Farm of what was wrong with mankind in the first half of the 20th century. Other things were also eerily predictive. Only three years ago, your correspondent saw an army of hungry bears descending over a garbage dump to scavenge for food.

It’s remarkable that after so much pain and loss in the Second World War, Buzzati was farsighted about men destroying more than other men (by the millions, as it happened). They were destroying the Earth.

“The more the dominion of man spreads over the virgin land, the more his possibilities of salvation diminish, and, at some point, he will become prisoner of himself, they will barely able to breathe and for a corner of authentic forest he will be willing to give away all its evil cities, but it will be too late, the ancient forests will no longer have a leaflet left.”