Summerbook #1: The Chess Set in the Mirror

 The Chess Set in the Mirror, by Massimo Bontempelli

I've spent all week being sick and writing up the Germany trip, but now that I've got the posts written, they need photos. o.O  That will take a while.  So here's my first summer book!   I was so attracted by the title that I actually purchased the book, which was published in Italian in 1922.  It's a classic of Italian children's literature (or so they tell me), and Bontempelli himself was a prolific and famous Italian writer.  Apparently he also coined the term 'magical realism.'  Which this story isn't; it's just straight up fantasy.

Narrated in the first person, Bontempelli describes the time that he was ten years old and was locked in an empty room as a punishment.  He notices a chess set in front of a mirror, but he can't see himself reflected, and as he bobs around trying to get high enough to see himself, the reflected chess set seems to come alive.  He is invited into the mirror, and discovers another world -- the strange, blank world of the mirror, where the people who have been reflected in the glass live.  Everyone in this mirror-world is infected with a sense of his own importance; the chess kings know that they, and the chess games they play, are the only real and important things, while a dressmaker's dummy insists that he is the pattern by which all people measure themselves.  

It's a very strange world and quite unlike anything else I've read about in children's literature; surreal and perhaps a bit menacing.  The illustrations add to this atmosphere.  I don't mean that it's a scary story, but it's certainly not sweet or charming.  Just a little bit unsettling, I'd call it.  Our young narrator is, as ten-year-old boys are often apt to be, impatient and angry that he doesn't understand this strange new dimension.

I enjoyed this quite a bit.  Worth seeking out if it sounds interesting to you.


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