Fairy tales usually begin with a boy, or a young man, or a girl who experiences a series of adventures and then becomes a prince or a pincess, gets married, and then hosts a grand banquet. This fairy tale, on the other hand, begins with a ninety-four-year-old man who, after a number of adventures, becomes a thirteen year old boy. Is this an insult to the reader? No, because there’s a perfectly good explanation.
Baron Lamberto is wealthy and old. His butler, Anselmo, keeps track of his 24 ailments in a notebook, recording them in alphabetical order.
Strangely enough, the name of Baron Lamberto is repeated throughout the day over and over by six employees whose job it is to call it out, three times in a row, 24 hours a day. Without knowing why.
One day, Lamberto notices a hair growing out of the top of his bald pate. Then, he finds that he is moving without the use of his gold-pommeled canes. His retinas are clear and bright. Suddenly, in a myriad of other ways, he resembles a man approximately forty years of age.
The man whose name is spoken remains alive.
These words spoken by an old Egyptian fakir must be true, judging from the results of its cure. For when 24 bandits come to Lamberto’s house, as well as his nephew whose pockets are “money-starved”, a series of unfortunate events begin unlike anything Lemony Snicket can imagine.
The novel resembles something written by Lewis Carroll, or Roald Dahl, or the brothers Grimm, for all the unlikely, and often horrific, things that occur. (It was actually written during the time that the Red Brigades were terrorizing Italy.)
But, it is also hilarious. The irony is too delicious to miss, and I ended up being utterly charmed by Gianni Rodari’s scornful wit. It is, as he himself claims at the end, “a fairy tale that obeys its own rules.” And, at the end if we don’t like it, he invites us to change it to suit ourselves by adding a chapter or two to his book. For one should:
Never allow yourself to be frightened by the words: The End.
I read this book particularly for Stu’s Italian Literature Month this March, and I am so glad that I did.