Giacomo Zanolin

(…) A first interesting element concerns the introduction into children’s novels of themes derived from scientific reflections on the current transformations of the mountains and therefore on the meaning of country life in the high lands of the present day. In many of the novels, there is a special focus on the relationship between tradition and innovation in the Alpine region. It is easy to understand how far these works detach themselves from the traditional stereotype, finally proposing a realistic mountain in its human and natural dimensions , without taking anything from the story, the imagination or even the enchantment that are essential to engaging children’ s attention and emotional involvement (Campagnaro, 2014). From this point of view, the work of Morandini (2018) is particularly interesting. In the first pages of the novel, a crucial passage symbolises a turning point in the portrayal of the mountain in children’s literature. The author’s evident willingness to free him-self of the burden of previous literary works is summarised in a few pages, with skilful sarcasm, from the critical point of view of the young leading character of the novel. He narrates the book’s main theme, namely the description of the physical and psychological degradation which characterises the way of life and relationships of many inhabitants of the Alps, and results from the remoteness in which they live*. The novel’s realism allows the reader to immerse himself in the human dynamics of a mountain village, almost as if he were experiencing it directly. Yet the harshness of life and psychological and social degradation are not the only issues it contains. In fact, the mountain is not described as a hostile world and the young hero does not disavow it. On the contrary, al though he feels that he is different from the others, he remains a mountain dweller with no intention of refraining from being one. Through this expedient the author rejects a further stereo-type: confronting the reader with the complexity of Alpine anthropology and encouraging him to go beyond appearances (the masks, not by accident). In fact, the author captures the multiple articulations of a culture with a long history behind it, that continues its transformation, interacting with the verticality of the slopes and with the influences that come from the valleys. The young protagonist wants to find a way to be accepted by the community, so he undertakes a path of rediscovery of the ancestral values that the local community has lost and of which he becomes the unwitting bearer. Ultimately, he is the source of a renewal based on the rediscovery of a system of values and rooted in a profound knowledge of nature and its respect, that is derived from centuries-old practices of peaceful and productive interaction, but is also reworked and reintroduced into the present-day. The novel is not about the Alpine idyll, but the territorial competence of the mountain inhabitant, who is part of the landscape to the point of being able to disappear from the view of those who a re foreign to his world. Under the guidance of old Bonifacio, the young protagonist learns what it meant to be a mountain dweller of the past, before modernisation climbed the mountain and inexorably changed its culture, society and history. What is in fact regarded as the tradition of the local carnival, around which the whole novel revolves, is actually a recent invention, with little in common with the current manifestation, although described and praised by scholars from the city a s if it were the last sign of an archaic society on the verge of extinction. Morandini’s mountain is therefore a place where normal human relations occur. Society and territories evolve and habits, customs and traditions change over time; only the external and urban gaze tends to describe it as fixed in time and based on archetypal values. At the end of the book the reader emerges from a sort of journey in a parallel reality, but at the same time he has the feeling that this world is not so distant: the mountain becomes a possible other place, not a distant reality and relegated to a world of its own and separate from their own daily experience. Even the appeal for the need to recover nature-related skills is not presented in a bygone or backward-looking way. On the contrary, the author emphasises its importance and points out that in the mountains, above all, it is still possible to discover new ways of relating to nature, not in order to return to the past, but to progress towards a future in which to build a new awareness of the part that humans play in natural forces. (…)

* This is a theme that is also key in other novels by Claudio Morandini and characterises his literary work. For example, his treatment of this theme is par-ticularly effective in the book “Gli oscillanti”, published by Bompiani (2019)

(Giacomo Zanolin, “Telling a mountain story. Ideas for an anthology of children’s mountain novels”, J – Reading, Journal of research and Didactics in Geography, december 2019)

  • Share on Tumblr