Umberto Eco and the Gnomes of Gnú

“No doubt your civilization has some very interesting features: but if you bring it here we’ll loose our meadows, our trees, our rivers and we’ll be worse off. Would you mind not discovering us?”

So said the chief gnome in Umberto Eco’s The Gnomes of Gnú, a children’s book beautifully illustrated by Eugenio Carmi. Author and philosopher Umberto Eco has not yet addressed environmental issues to any degree in his mainstream work. He has, however, also authored a number of children’s book among which The Gnomes of Gnú. In this book, the Earth has become known in its every nook and cranny and the Emperor dispatches his men on a voyage of discovery in the universe. Eventually they discover Gnú, “A lovely little planet, beneath a blue sky barely dotted by a few fluffy white clouds, with green valleys and forests that were a pleasure to behold.” Through a mega telescope, our intrepid explorers tries to show the gnomes the wonders of our Earthly civilization. The gnomes remained unconvinced. All they could see was smog everywhere, dirty oceans, uncollected garbage and people in moving metal boxes (cars) and getting injured in accidents.

Rather than being discovered by earthlings and taking on our civilization, the gnomes offered to come over and clean up the Earth. This seemed like a good idea except that, to do so they would need to “have passports and visas, they’ll have to pay the immigration tax; and furthermore, they’ll have to get permission from the Department of Forests and The Port Authority….”

The Gnomes of Gnú is a gentle parody of our civilization. It is a short children’s book that does not offer some great philosophical insights but gently helps children question the concept of ‘civilization’. The book seems difficult to come by but Ariel Winter has scanned each page and put the whole book up on Flikr. It is worth a read and the illustrations are great.

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