Brain Pickings

The Gnomes of Gnù: Umberto Eco Teaches Kids About Ecology Through Abstract Art


A beautiful allegory about ecological collapse and salvation.

In the 1960s, celebrated novelist, list-lover, and philosopher Umberto Eco partnered with illustrator Emilio Carmi on an unusual children’s trilogy. First came The Bomb and the General, a primer on semiotics that used language as a malleable toy to comment on the nuclear age and deliver a message of peace. Then followed The Three Astronauts, employing recurring symbols in teaching kids to draw connections between text and image. Finally, nearly three decades after the original two, in 1992, Eco and Carmi produced the last installment: The Gnomes of Gnù (public library) — an abstract allegory about ecological collapse and the capacity for change, told through a Space Explorer (“SE”) who sets out to find a beautiful new habitable planet to which to port human civilization. But when he does find Gnù, the gnomes that inhabit it turn out to be less than interested in receiving civilization.

The Gnomes of Gnù is fairly hard to find, but Ariel S. Winter has kindly scanned it and made it available on Flickr in its entirety.

We Too Were Children, Mr. Barrie

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