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The Crimson Bears, Part I

Tom La Farge

Digital Only

Price: U.S. $5.95
Tom La Farge
The Crimson Bears, Part I
Series No.: NAF 26
ISBN: 978-1557130747, Pages: 272
American Literature, Fiction

A Sun & Moon title.

* * *

Alice and Edgar, two half-grown bears, set off on a two-month journey by foot to see the world and visit their uncle, Claudio, a ruler of sorts. When the siblings arrive, they discover Claudio's kingdom under threat of attack; he intends to send them home but they accidentally evade him and their porcupine nursemaid, and undergo a sequence of adventures reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland.

In 2022, The Tom La Farge Award was created.

Also by Tom La Farge:
Terror of Earth [Sun & Moon], $14.95
The Crimson Bears, Part II: A Hundred Doors [Sun & Moon], Digital Only
Zuntig, $9.95

Book Review(s)

THE COLLIDESCOPE, August 7, 2022

by George Salis

From “The Heart’s-Blood of Story: An Unfinished Interview with Tom La Farge”

Reading and travel — twin vectors of escape — have formed me as a writer by exciting a love of strangeness and an impatience with exclusive concepts (adult/child, male/female, human/animal) and proprietary domains (realism/fantasy, serious fiction/genre fiction). I have always written to readers as a reader.

My first book, the novel The Crimson Bears, grew out of a bedtime story I was telling my son Paul. It is rooted in my love of foreign cities and of animal stories, to both of which I was introduced very young by my father. He took me to Europe for three years when I was two, in 1949, and his farm in Rhode Island offered me a pool full of frogs and a library full of illustrated books…. READ MORE


by Henry Wessells

From "Ticket to Bargeton: The Writings of Tom La Farge"

La Farge's talking animals, like his thinking, are devoid of fuzziness, imprecision, or cuteness. The world of his books is one where human beings are literally irrelevant and therefore not part of the evolutionary and political hierarchy. (Unlike, for example, the work of Scott Bradfield, whose Dazzle stories are dependent for their humor upon the human context against which the dog rages or whimpers.) The world continues to turn very well without humans, thank you very much; the beings populating this world are under the sway of the full range of economic and emotional complexities; and, most importantly, these beings experience change and growth in the course of their adventures.

As The Crimson Bears opens, Alice and Edgar, adolescent bears, sister and brother, are on a walking tour across the Commonwealth of Bears. Their goal is Bargeton, a riverport and commercial center, with

a large population of other kinds in permanent residence: merchants, brokers, bankers, factors, and artisans, but also actors, dancers, singers, jugglers, tumblers, mountebanks, zanies, story-tellers. Any kind of food at all was to be had from Bargeton's cookshops. All sorts of books turned up in the stalls there. And yet the city was under the peaceable rule of the bears, whose Senate regulated all aspects of life and business; and their father's brother, Claudio, was President of the Bargeton Senate. They would be privileged visitors and could see everything.

Alice has an ambition of her own that is central to the novel and indeed to understanding La Farge's writings as a whole: "Being fond of stories and poems, she had formed her own little project of an Anthology of the Literature of Other Kinds."

Alice and Edgar are joined by a Slizz along the way. This large green wool-bearing lizard, languageless and kept as cattle by the bears, has a unique trait: "every ten thousandth hatching will produce an individual capable of speech," who is then reared as befits one of the speakable kinds. Known as the Ceruk (feminine Cerugai), they are most often associated with the trade in precious metals. Alice and Edgar quickly reach the Citadel Hill at Bargeton, the massive fortified city-within-a-city that is the residence of the ruling bears. After a night-time glimpse of intrigue and high politics in their uncle's rooms, they go for a walk into the teeming warren of stairs and corridors and streets that is Bargetown. Away from the closed society of the ruling bears, and in the jostle of the marketplaces, they experience a different city:

[Alice] saw Citadel Hill then as the head of a great amorphous body, which was Bargeton. The head contained as many dreams as rooms; for all the glittering windows, there were more thought chambers that never saw the light than ones, like the attic she had slept in, that let in sun and air. The hill had swallowed her whole; now she held back from the border of the crowd, fearfully resisting her final ingestion into the gorged tissues of the city.

What they find is a city on the verge of insurrection from within and threatened by alien invasion from the desert across the Flood, the river upon which Bargeton is situated. They stumble into a vast decaying suburb, the home of the outcast Clowncats, rulers of Bargeton before the bears took power. These cats, whose head is the Chief Hooburgaloo, have a fondness for elaborate rhetoric and weird gastronomy, and a fetish for devices and debris (huge Ballardian heaps of mechanical detritus and just plain garbage). They are implacable enemies of the bears. In short, Alice and Edgar have walked right into the heart of the Revolution. And they love it. There ensues war, complete with devil's bargains, complex strategy, deus ex machina, and a genuine hero. Bargetown endures the confusion and remains a living, bustling city. (After publication of The Crimson Bears La Farge and his wife Wendy Walker lived in Morocco for a year; there he found the real-life equivalent of the city he sought to evoke in Bargeton).

In The Crimson Bears, La Farge chronicles the growth of individuals raised in the restrictive comfort of elitism when they shake off the fetters of class and privilege. Literature is at once the key and the doorway and the final result of this embrace of the wondrous and the forbidden. That early hint, the Anthology of the Literature of Other Kinds, emerges as the central transition of the first part of the novel, as the voices of beings other than bears begin to be heard. The second part, A Hundred Doors, is radically different in form, reflecting a greater openness to the many speakable kinds. While many American writers "advertise" their conceptions yet fail to give them substance in the course of the novel, La Farge is that rare, wonderful writer whose work gives concrete form to his ideas: Bargeton is a truly multicultural city whose literary forms record its diversity... READ MORE

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