Gentle and Fierce is a new book of illustrated memoir essays by Vanessa Berry. 

Compound Eye/Dum Bear


When my new book was coming closer to being finished, people started to ask me what it was about. It's a collection of essays, I would say - or sometimes I'd say a memoir, or a book of stories - about animals. What do you mean, they asked me, pets? No, not exactly, I said. It's about the presence of animals throughout my life, real and imagined animals and their likenesses.  

The idea for writing this book had slowly taken shape from a combination of a number of persistent observations. One was that, especially in urban environments, the tangible presences of real animals can be overwhelmed by the presences of artificial ones. In my house I was surrounded by animal objects and images, hearing news stories about damaged environments and threats to species, listening to the possums thumping over the roof. Was there a way to bring these things together? The cosy and the artificial, and the real and urgent? I wrote Gentle and Fierce as a way to try to do so.  

In the introductory essay, 'Compound Eye', I list some of the animals and animal figures that have shaped my life, and among them "the teddy bears that I believed might come to life when I wasn't looking". Foremost among them Dum Bear, the first toy I had that I also thought of as a companion.

Dum Bear has a stern expression and firm, jointed limbs, and used to, when I tipped him forwards, emit a mournful sound rather like the lowing of a sheep. It was a worried, uncertain sound, and I imaged Dum Bear to be an equivalently cautious character. He has been with me ever since, and even if his fur is a little sparse in patches now, and he no longer makes the sound when I tip him forward, I have the same feeling towards him as I've always had. Do I care for him or does he care for me? Still now, I'm not entirely sure.   

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