And perhaps if we showed a little more confidence they would become friendly

From Dino Buzzati’s The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily, a childhood favorite that I find almost better as an adult thanks to how respectfully Buzzati speaks to his prime audience. He also offered endless subversion of tropes before subversion became itself the dullest of tropes.

In the neighbourhood there was an old castle – in fact at that time there were many old castles, but the one we mean is Demon Castle, which was all in ruins and hideous, and full of wild beasts, but which was the most famous because it was inhabited by ghosts. As you very well know, all old castles are generally haunted by a ghost or, at most, by two or three. But in Demon Castle there were so many that you could not count them. There were hundreds of them, if not thousands, lying hidden by day: there were even ghosts in the keyholes.

There are some mothers who say: “I cannot imagine what pleasure people get out of telling children ghost stories: it terrifies them, and afterwards at night they start screaming if they hear a mouse.” Perhaps the mothers are right. Still, there are three things to remember. First of all, ghosts, always supposing they exist, have never done children any harm – in fact they have never done anyone any harm: it is simply that people insist on getting frightened. Ghosts and spirits, if they exist (and today they have almost vanished off the face of the earth), are natural and innocent things like the wind or the rain, or shadows of trees, or the voice of the cuckoo in the evening – and they are probably sad at having to live all by themselves in dreary, old, uninhabited houses – and they are probably afraid of people as they hardly ever see them, and perhaps if we showed a little more confidence they would become friendly and would enjoy playing with us at, say, hide-and-seek.

Secondly, Demon Castle does not exist any more, the Grand Duke’s city does not exist any more, there are no more bears in Sicily, and the whole story is now so remote that there is no cause for alarm.

Thirdly, that is how the story was, and we cannot alter it.

And Buzzati’s accompanying art (skipping a bit forward in the story)

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