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  • The Collected Sicilian Folk and Fairy Tales of Giuseppe Pitrè
  • Francisco Vaz da Silva (bio)
The Collected Sicilian Folk and Fairy Tales of Giuseppe Pitrè. Edited and translated by Jack Zipes and Joseph Russo. Illustrated by Carmelo Lettere. New York: Routledge, 2009. 2 volumes. xxviii + 1003 pp.

In this monumental two-volume set, running to more than one thousand pages, Jack Zipes and Joseph Russo present a long-due English translation of about four hundred orally collected Sicilian tales published by folklorist Giuseppe Pitrè in his Fiabe, novelle e raccconti popolari siciliani (1875). Pitrè's four-volume compilation is a crucial testimony to Sicilian lore (nicely complemented by Laura Gonzenbach's smaller Sizilianische Märchen [1870], also recently translated into English by Zipes), and it is among the most important nineteenth-century sources for the study of Mediterranean oral narrative traditions. It is actually part of a wider work, the Biblioteca delle tradizioni popolari siciliani, which Pitrè published in twenty-five volumes between 1871 and 1913. The magnitude and the scope of this library of Sicilian folklore alone would suffice to place Pitrè among the foremost nineteenth-century folklorists, but, alas, this treasure trove of Sicilian lore was published in obscure dialects and soon became enshrouded in oblivion. Zipes, in a vibrant introduction to Pitrè and his oeuvre, appropriately highlights both the importance of the Sicilian folklorist's contribution to the field and the fact that his works "are totally neglected in the English-speaking world" (1). The present translation partly redresses this neglect by restoring Pitrè's collection of Sicilian folktales (volumes 4 to 7 of the library) to its rightful place as one of the major European collections of orally collected tales.

It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of Zipes's and Russo's feat of carrying Pitrè's taxing Sicilian materials over into the modern lingua franca with aplomb. Although it is well nigh impossible to capture in translation the full flavor of these oral stories, the translators do manage to convey a sense of the linguistic richness and variety of the Sicilian tradition. As Russo explains in his introduction to the tales, the translators' professed goal has been "to respect the quality of the storytellers' language by reproducing it in English with nothing omitted and implicit meanings filled out to ensure they would not be overlooked" (31). Indeed, with verve and grace, they have now brought Pitrè's harvest of Sicilian folktales into the fold of contemporary scholarship. [End Page 402]

But note that this English edition is more than a mere translation, for it changes Pitrè's original collection in important ways. On the one hand, the editors have firmly kept in place Pitrè's presentation of three hundred folktales in the main text, plus a set of extensive comparative notes containing the texts (or, sometimes, the outlines) of approximately one hundred variants. They have also kept Pitrè's division of the tales into five sections: (1) fairy tales, (2) tall tales and anecdotes, (3) legends, (4) proverbial tales, and (5) animal stories. On the other hand, the editors have omitted seven tales collected in the Albanian dialect, which Pitrè had appended to the collection as a separate section. They have also discarded Pitrè's original preface and two other substantial studies by the Sicilian folklorist—one on the importance of folktale research, and the other on the grammar and phonetics of the Sicilian dialect. Instead of the excluded texts, the reader will find a short preface by Zipes describing the inception of the translation project, plus two substantial studies by the editors—one, by Zipes, on Pitrè and his work; the other, by Russo, on the tales and the translators' aims and choices. Moreover, the editors have laudably updated the scholarship of the original Sicilian edition. Thus, they have expanded Pitrè's comparative remarks in light of recent research. They also corrected and updated the collection's set of bibliographical references, and they compiled an alphabetical list of the tales. Last but not least, the editors have classified Pitrè's tales according to the Aarne-Thompson-Uther index of tale types, which boosts the usefulness of this collection for contemporary...


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