23 April 2010

Scarapola: Rags to Riches Tales

'Architect's Brother' photo series, by Robert and Shana Parkeharrison

The tales sleuth

It is only fitting that the tales themselves, as a concept, date back to once upon a time age. Or, as Armenian storytellers would open a telling:
There was a time and no time when fairy tales...
There is a persistent claim that fairy tales are 'pure lore', folk tales rather than literary (authored) tales. As such, they must be appropriated carefully in order to remain 'uncontaminated', a 'genuine' and 'pure' soul of a nation.
Indeed, the Grimms laboured with their collection for 'German national unity'. They were after the truly German folk tales. Ironically, they for the most part collected tales that originated elsewhere. The Jew in the Brambles, and a few other anti-Semitic tales in the Grimms' collection, may be the few tales originating from Germany.
France is also not that distant land, hidden behind the thrice nine mountains, from which the archetypical European fairy tales originated.
Instead, the European fairy tale as a genre seem to have originated from medieval Italy of the 16th century. It all began with one Zoan Francesco Scarapola, who collected seventy-three tales in 'Le Piacevoli Notti' ('Peaceful Nights', often translated as 'Facetious Nights'). This collection of two volumes was published in 1551 and 1553 and with it Scarapola introduced his fairy tales through a Boccaccian frame story. Narratives were written as storytellings taking place during an intellectual thirteen days long party. Many of Scarapola's plots came from earlier Italian collections, but some stories were invented by Scarapola (among them, arguably, 'Constantino Fortunato' - the first 'Puss in Boots').
Fairy tales as a genre are not to be confused with 'folk tales'. Folk tales are indeed as old as language. They don’t involve magic: instead they indulge in humour and wit. Rather than focusing on the joys of getting married, they crudely expose the reality of being married. Folk tales also don’t often let their heroes get off with a happy end.
The mysterious and intriguing 'Little Red Riding Hood' – a primal folk tale – must be as old as our imagination, and finding its origin seems senseless.
Fairy tales – a rather small group within the tales of magic – are much younger. Each is someone's literary masterpiece.
In medieval Europe, before Scarapola's time, this was the tale of its day: a fallen nobleman regains his rightful position through magic. Scarapola invented a new formula with the 'tales of social rise' (in the words of Ruth B. Bottigheimer). From rags – to magic – to marriage – to riches. There are two general variations of this formula.
In the first variation, a poor male protagonist rescues a princess from danger (or undergoes dangerous tasks) in order to wed into the royal house.
In the second variation, a poor female protagonist is through magic able to marry the prince, while undergoing trials laid down before her by jealous mothers, stepmothers, sisters, stepsisters, mothers-in-law and (other) witches.
Scarapola's tales are far more magical than its imitations, and well worth your effort.

To end this at the ending... From the sky fell three apples. One to me, one to the author of the tale and one to the person who entertained you.

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