Books Magazine

Umberto Eco: the Gnomes of Gnù

By Winterthorn
UMBERTO ECO: THE GNOMES OF GNÙA LITTLE OVER TWENTY-FIVE YEARS after they published their first two children's books, Umberto Eco and Eugenio Carmi published the ecological parable The Gnomes of Gnù. Like in the earlier works, The Gnomes of Gnù carries a heavy-handed message, in this case that we should work on cleaning up the earth. But unlike The Bomb and the General and The Three Astronauts, The Gnomes of Gnù lacks a clear protagonist that undergoes some kind of change meant to represent the change we should all make to improve the world. There is a protagonist, the Space Explorer (called SE throughout), but he functions simply as a lens that focuses on all of the ecological horrors that plague the earth: smog, oil spills, deforestation, not to mention drug abuse and automobile accidents, not quite ecological, but still a problem. He's willing to then be the messenger of change, but not through any conviction, simply because, why not? As a result, the book isn't that compelling, which is perhaps why it is so scarce. Only five libraries hold the English edition worldwide according to WorldCat.UMBERTO ECO: THE GNOMES OF GNÙ"ONCE UPON A TIME there was on Earth -- and perhaps there still is -- a powerful Emperor, whose greatest desire was to discover a new land." His ministers have to inform him that all of the land on Earth has been discovered, and that space exploration is the future of discovery. So he sends out a Space Explorer, SE, to find a beautiful planet to which they can bring civilization.After combing "the immensity of space for a long time," finding only barren rocks and spitting volcanoes, SE finally finds an inhabited planet: Gnù.UMBERTO ECO: THE GNOMES OF GNÙThe gnomes of Gnù come out to meet SE, and SE tells them he's discovered them. They say that they discovered him, but they won't quibble over the matter, "otherwise we'll spoil our day." SE says he's come to bring them civilization. The gnomes ask what civilization is."'Civilization,' SE answered, 'is a whole lot of wonderful things that Earth people have invented, and my Emperor is willing to give it all to you free of charge.'"The gnomes require more of a definition than this, so SE pulls out "his megalactic megatelescope and trained it on our planet."UMBERTO ECO: THE GNOMES OF GNÙThat's where, somewhat embarrassed, SE has to admit that Earth has smog, oil spills--"'You mean your ocean is full of shit?' the second gnome asked, and all the others laughed, because when somebody says 'shit' on Gnù, the other gnomes can't help laughing.'"--, litter, deforestation, traffic jams, automobile crashes, disease from smoking, intravenous drug abuse, and motorcycle accidents. The gnomes are understandably not interested in receiving civilization."'Listen, Mr. Discoverer, I've just had a great idea. Why don't my people go down to Earth and discover you?'" The gnomes can then teach everyone to take care of meadows, gardens, trees, to collect litter and end pollution, and to walk instead of drive.SE just says, "'All right then..I'll go home and talk about it with the Emperor.'"At home, the ministers aren't going to let the gnomes come without the proper papers. Then one of them trips on chewing gum and is grievously injured, thus changing the subject."For the moment our story ends here. We're only sorry we can't add that everybody lived happily ever after." Let's just hope we can do on our own what the gnomes would have taught us.TO READ THE GNOMES OF GNÙ in its entirety, you can view it as a Flickr set here.  To answer your question, yes, the book actually uses the word "shit."All images are copyrighted © and owned by their respective holders.

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