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Making the Italians

Poetics and Politics of Italian Children’s Fantasy

Lindsay Myers

Italian children’s literature has a diverse and unusual tradition of fantasy. With the exception of Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, however, it has remained almost entirely unknown outside of Italy. Why is it that Italian children’s fantasy has remained such a well-kept secret? How ‘international’ is the term ‘fantasy’, and to what extent has its development been influenced by local as well as global factors? Cross-cultural and cross-linguistic research into this neglected area is essential if we are to enrich our understanding of this important literary genre.
This book charts the history and evolution of Italian children’s fantasy, from its first appearance in the 1870s to the present day. It traces the structural and thematic progression of the genre in Italy and situates this development against the changing backdrop of Italian culture, society and politics. The author argues that ever since the foundation of Italy as a nation-state the Italian people have been actively involved in an ongoing process of identity formation and that the development of children’s fantasy texts has been inextricably intertwined with sociopolitical and cultural imperatives.

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Introduction 1

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Introduction Since its first appearance in the mid-1800s the fantasy for children has been one of the most popular and well-loved genres in children’s litera- ture.1 A high proportion of children’s classics are fantasies, and many are as popular today as they were when they were first published. Recent years have witnessed a veritable explosion of fantasy novels onto the market, and best-sellers such as J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series (1997–2007), Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy (1995–9) and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline (2002) have found as enthusiastic an audience with adults as they have with children. Hollywood has developed a voracious appetite for children’s fan- tasy, and many of the most popular works have recently been transformed into high-grossing motion pictures.2 The huge boom that has taken place in the fantasy market over the last three decades has instigated a radical shift in critical perspective. Children’s fantasies, which were once viewed solely as escapist, childish and formulaic, are now being analysed from a variety of angles. Theoretical studies such as those by Maria Nikolajeva,3 Anne Swinfen and Farah Mendlesohn have demonstrated that children’s fantasies display great variation in form and 1 Marcus Crouch has observed that ‘it is a commonplace of all writing about children’s literature that nearly all the most lasting books are fantasies’. See Marcus Crouch, The Nesbit Tradition: The Children’s Novel 1945–70 (London: Benn, 1972), 120. 2 Since the beginning of the millennium several children’s fantasies have been made into successful movies. Examples include...

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