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Reviewed by:
  • Fiabe sgarrupate
  • Nadia Inserra (bio)
Fiabe sgarrupate. By Marcello D’Orta. Venezia: Marsilio, 2005. 186pp.

An Italian writer from the Naples area, Marcello D’Orta is well known in Italy, especially for his Io Speriamo che me la cavo (1991), a compilation of fifth-grade essays from one of the most degraded suburbs of Naples. This popular book, later turned into a movie by the Italian director Lina Wertmüller (1992), denounces the harsh living conditions of the student writers both through their stories and through the sarcastic comments of the editor.

By rewriting such classic fairy tales as “Cinderella” or “Red Riding Hood” in Fiabe sgarrupate, not only does D’Orta give them a humorous “Neapolitan” flavor, but he also locates them in his own specific sociopolitical and linguistic context (e.g., the poor, dialect-speaking suburbs of Naples) and carries on a dialogue with other fairy-tale translations and adaptations.

A conscious effort to adapt the classic fairy tales to a new context is evident in the way D’Orta’s text is structured: his fairy tales are grouped in different sections according to the source D’Orta borrows from (Charles Perrault, the Brothers [End Page 198] Grimm, Hans Christian Andersen, etc.). As for “Vardiello,” a story borrowed from Giambattista Basile’s Lo Cunto de li Cunti, D’Orta pays homage to the local storytelling tradition by “updating” both language and characters to fit them into a contemporary picture of Naples. His adaptations, however, involve various strategies: some tales contain more or less explicit references to current events and characters as well as to pop culture, whereas in others the author’s backstage remarks function as a way out of the story and into Italy’s current events or customs. In both cases, the stories showcase the author’s outlook on the southern Italian lifestyle. For example, on a cold New Year’s Eve in Denmark, the protagonist of “The Little Match Girl” finds herself thinking of Naples, where she has never been:

She knew about New Year’s Eve, when the whole city uses fireworks, and the hospital Cardarelli is filled with the injured and the deceased. She knew about the big family dinner and all the delicacies they would put on the table: spaghetti with mussels, . . . calamari, shrimps and especially the capitone! Ah, how she loved the capitone! . . . And then, soon after midnight, the inferno would start with all sorts of fireworks . . . Ah, in Naples they really sold matches on New Year’s Eve! But hers was only a daydream.

[Capitone is a large eel traditionally eaten in Naples on both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.]

Both the festivities and their painful consequences are presented ironically.

Also working to adapt the tales to contemporary and localized culture are the characters’ bold and to-the-point comments on the plot or other characters, usually made in some southern Italian dialect, which has the effect of transforming these fairy-tale heroes and heroines into local scugnizzi, or rogues. In “Cinderella” the prince turns out to be very practical when he decides to cover the stairs of his palace with pitch so that the girl’s shoe will be stuck in it; as he explains in the Neapolitan slang, “E no! mo’ nun me fàie cchiù fesso!” [“You’re not gonna treat me like a fool anymore!”].

Notwithstanding D’Orta’s intention to actively engage with the fairy-tale tradition, the book turns out to be a missed opportunity. As the author explains in the introduction, he has injected a “shot of cheerfulness” into the classic fairy tales, especially the often violent and macabre versions by Charles Perrault, so as to generate the reader’s laughter. For this reason, D’Orta’s versions don’t offer any explicit moral lesson; on the contrary, they are “fiabe sgarrupate”: “they do not intend to establish the principles of what is good and what is bad, they don’t indicate the right path, they don’t preach; they are just a joke; they sometimes end up turning the original upside down and questioning its truth-value.”

By reducing fairy tales to a joke, D’Orta ultimately reduces...


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pp. 198-200
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