To the origins of fairy-tales

Wednesday Aug 07   02:00 PM to 02:30 PM (30 minutes)

Tolkien once defined his masterpiece The Lord of the Rings as a fairy-tale. In On Fairy-stories, Tolkien discusses and shows his point of view about fairy tales and gives a theoretical declaration of his poetry. This essay sets the British author as a member of a long fairy-tale writers’ tradition, from the Grimm brothers in Germany to Andrew Lang or George MacDonald in England. The rise of such a genre is one of the consequences of a spirit of national upheaval spreading in Europe in the nineteenth century and at the beginning of the twentieth: the Finnish Kalevala by Lonnrot is but an example Tolkien took his inspiration from.

However, the Grimm brothers were not the first who wrote fairy tales in Europe and their sources go back to Charles Perrault’s collections and to a Neapolitan writer who is now often forgotten within the literary canon.

Giambattista Basile (1566 – 1632), poet and courtier, composed and collected in his lifetime fifty fairy stories, which form Lo cunto de li cunti (The Tale of tales), known under the subtitle of the Pentamerone. This work was published posthumously between 1634 and 1636 and it is the very first collection where tales such as Cinderella, Rapunzel, Puss in Boots or Sleeping Beauty appear in a single work. All the tales are written in the Neapolitan language and were later adapted by Perrault or the Grimm brothers.

In his treatment of the fairy matter, Basile shows some of the elements Tolkien theorises in his aforementioned essay: the passage from a set reality to a fantastic secondary world, the variation in language and themes, as well as a spirit of evasion and fun.

If Basile is then the initiator of the fairy genre, Tolkien may certainly be one of his most successful inheritors: although there is no source of Tolkien’s knowledge about Basile and his work, this paper aims at comparing and contrasting the two authors along the tradition of fairy stories.

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