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Reviewed by:
  • Making the Italians: Poetics and Politics of Italian Children's Fantasy by Lindsay Myers
  • Maria Truglio (bio)
Making the Italians: Poetics and Politics of Italian Children's Fantasy, by Lindsay Myers. Bern: Peter Lang, 2012.

The 2012 conference of the Children's Literature Association emphasized the value of studying children's books in languages other than English and from cultures outside the Anglophone tradition. Panel papers examined German, Bengali, Philippine, Chilean, and Chinese texts; several speakers cited Emer O'Sullivan's call for comparative work; and the president's address encouraged scholars to consider global perspectives. Lindsay Myers's book makes a rich and compelling contribution to this agenda. Tracing the development of Italian fantasy novels for children from 1860 (Italy's political unification) to 2010, she unearths both global and local influences, and charts how individual texts respond to national and international political and aesthetic currents. To quote O'Sullivan, Myers's study enables us to consider Italian [End Page 299] fantasy novels for children as "a key field of cultural production that formulates a culture's identity for the following generations" (190).

Scholarly appreciation of Italian children's literature has developed a great deal since the influential literary critic Benedetto Croce argued in 1904 that "la letteratura per bambini" was "intrinsically impossible" (120). However, even over a century later, within Italy and especially in English the critical field has not often ventured beyond studies of the fairy tale tradition, Collodi's Pinocchio, De Amicis's Heart, and the work of Gianni Rodari. In fact, Myers's contribution, to my knowledge, is the first book-length study in English since Louise Restiaux Hawkes's now quite dated 1933 survey. Drawing on and extending the foundational work of leading scholars Antonio Faeti and Pino Boero, Myers produces an insightful mapping of the fantasy genre over a century and a half. She charts its transformations through Italy's specific political concerns, economic fortunes, demographic shifts, educational reforms, and artistic movements. At the same time, Myers highlights the influence of international works such as those by Lewis Carroll, J. M. Barrie, Jules Verne, and Charles Perrault, with careful attention to the availability and circulation of the Italian translations of such texts.

Aptly calling her methodology "typological contextual," Myers combines close analysis of specific works in their contexts with an examination of shared generic structures. She thus seeks to combine what she considers the two dominant approaches to children's fantasy in the Anglophone critical tradition: the monographic and the typological. Drawing on the work of J. R. R. Tolkien, Maria Nikolajeva, and others, Myers sees modern fantasy as a narrative whose "most important characteristics are its two-world structure and its blend of the real and the unreal" (8). She then identifies nine subgenres of fantasy, each coming to prominence with changing historical circumstances: Memoir, 1870-96; Monello (Rascal), 1897-1908; Microcosmic, 1908-15; Quest, 1915-18; Surreal, 1919-29; Superhero, 1930-39; Community, 1945-50; Pinocchioesque, 1950-80; and Compensatory, 1980-2010.

Some subgenres maintained dominance very briefly; for example, the Quest Fantasy, which sought to validate Italy's belated intervention in the Great War through the representation of secondary worlds which were "allegories for neutral Italy" (107). Others remained current for several decades, such as the Pinocchioesque Fantasy, which responded to issues like suburban overcrowding and clientelism with postmodern reworkings of Collodi's novel. In each chapter, she identifies about a dozen examples of the postulated subgenre, then focuses on three or [End Page 300] four exemplary cases for close analysis. In most cases, the privileged texts represent particularly popular books of the period. Her study, then, offers compelling readings of works by such important children's authors as Luigi Bertelli ("Vamba"), Enrico Novelli ("Yambo"), Annie Vivanti, Ida Baccini, Giuseppe Fanciulli, and Gianni Rodari from both a generic and a historical standpoint. Her categorization is completely original and well substantiated.

In the course of her analysis, Myers introduces her readers to over two hundred Italian fantasy texts. Most enlightening, to my mind, are the connections she reveals between these children's books and specific contemporary artistic and political discourses. For example, in her chapter on the Superhero Fantasy...


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pp. 299-304
Launched on MUSE
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