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History of a workshop for digital fairy tales

History of a Workshop for Digital Fairy Tales

First Episode 

Once upon a time, there were the storytellers, and we could think that the fairy tales were born thanks to their voice, a lot of time before someone wrote tales in a manuscript. Then we find the books. The first published book including some modern fairy tales is a Venetian book of the 16° century; the first fairy tales collection came to a printed life in Naples, 17° century.

So the printed fairy tales born in Italy, where also the oral tradition has an unequalled variety and abundance, documented by the collection of folklorists who listened and recorded many tales, sometimes taking them down in shorthand, from the voice of popular storytellers, often illiterate. Folklorists worked in all Italian Regions between the end of the 19° century and the beginning of the 20° century; from their books Italo Calvino deduced his collection Fiabe italiane (1956), quoting his sources at the end of each tale. The Italian writer wished for a greater circulation of these beautiful collections.

In the Nineteenth century, the illustrations of fairy tales in children's books ceased to be an embellishment of the text, in order to become a true narration by images. We can deem masters like Walter Crane or Arthur Rackham as the authors of the books that they illustrated. In their masterworks, like Cinderella by Rackham or the relationship between text and image flipped: the text occupies a section of the image in full-page, and it works to make understandable the plot of the story told by the illustrations.

Then it came the cinema, which displayed a special bond with the tale from its early achievements: Cendrillon by Méliès (1899) is the first movie version of Cinderella and one of the first films. There is another primacy of Cinderella: Aschenputtel by Lotte Reiniger (1922) was one of the first animated movies; it inspired Walt Disney for his Cinderella (1950).
The animated movie, from Disney to the Japanese anime, leads to the highest primacy of images in the world of narratives, even higher than contemporary comics and graphic novels. Those who deal with fairy tales direct a specific interest in films that are contemporary fables and are beloved all over the world, among them we remember the saga of Star Wars (from 1977 until today and on), The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003), Avatar (2009), Snow White and the Huntsman (2012) and Captain Harlock (2013).

The books look like losing attractiveness and importance, and this decline appears irremediable due to progressive fast spread of tablets and smartphones, which enable a rich and extensive use of every kind of stories. Will the book lose its printed-paper charm, dismissed by tabtales and e-books? Are we moving towards a barbarization of the taste and the culture, as many experts and intellectuals claims?
Someone thinks that we are experiencing a chaotic, consumer circulation of uncontrolled products; this would entail a general barbarization, a lapse of the taste and the culture.
These lamentations and apocalyptic predictions could correspond to the lamentations of the scribes for the coming of printing: how could they think that the new books, replacing the manuscripts painted in miniature, with the gold and stained drop-cap, did not involve a loss? However, we know that the advent of printing has opened up the access to the culture for an unimaginable number of people, because to by an ancient codex one ought to spend a fortune.

When we founded Fairitaly ONLUS we remembered this, and we think that digital media might extend the usability of the culture in an even greater measure than the coming of printing. Sometimes we enjoy imaging Diderot and D'Alembert living nowadays: they would believe that time finally came to realize all over the world their Encyclopedie; let’s remember that this word is neologism formed by the Greek words èn-kyklos-paidèia, that is to say knowledge that circulates, unimpeded, circular education.

The scholars should dedicate themselves even more to the digital techniques and their potential for the dissemination of culture and beauty. These new media, for their potential democracy, subvert the hierarchical order of the knowledge holders. It could be a matter of power, of a loss of power by the masters of culture, academics, masters, essayists and teachers of every level. Those who do not recognize the potential of the digital media cannot see how they give any scholar or student, even strangers to cultural consolidated institutions, a free access to enormous virtual libraries that are already dwarfing the greatest libraries in the world.

We love fairy tales, and we devoted to them decades of study and research, and we see that the digital platforms (from PC to tablet, from smartphone to the various e-book readers) make accessible to every kid, regardless of age, beautiful fairy tales, the most famous as well as others lesser-known, equally fascinating and poignant. Our aim is to propose digital books that may contain animations, moving pictures, music, voice-overs, free or at lowest prices compared to the cost of a fine illustrated paper book.
I started working with Claudia Chellini and we went on together. We are still going on, although at this point moment the spread of the only tabtale we proposed on the App Store has a small size - about four hundred and twenty download in one year for our Cat Cinderella.
It is however a beautiful version, and at the Children's Book Fair in Bologna in 2013 it was applauded by the people that came to occupy all the chairs and thronged into the hall of Digital Café, while we talked and scrolled the images. We like to remember that we found compliments of Liam, one of the most important producers of apps in USA, who organized the Digital Café. Moreover, the fifty download of our Cat Cinderella, which in the first months was with fee, made us hopeful about a greater success. Then the sincere appreciation of children's literature specialists as Marco Dallari supported us, as well as the interest of journalists and experts. Though only a few hundred people downloaded our first app, we are pleased to know that someone downloaded it in Australia, China, and Japan and, in short, all over the world. We hope that they all enjoyed our Cat Cinderella.

We would tell that we started to work the app Cat Cinderella in January 2013, and we presented it in Bologna, already available on the AppStore, in March. We would then tell that we did not know anything about the platform– we bought one i-Pad because it was necessary to 'see' our work step by step. Before January 2013 we had never made an animation or a media object, nor we knew anything about advanced tools for image management, with understandable scandal of a graphic designer when we naïvely confessed that we made almost everything with rudimentary programs. At the Digital Café of the Children’s Fairy Book of Bologna, they asked us which informatics company we relayed on, and we smiled thinking that just a friend of ours made all the development work; he is a computer engineering student and member of Fairitaly ONLUS. Leaving to anyone to understand how much we worked, we have to say that it has always been a fascinating adventure.

We availed ourselves of an actress and a musician, who offered their expertise for a symbolic fee, thanks to the friendly atmosphere that surrounded our project, at the same time modest and ambitious. Everything worked well, and then Cat Cinderella is available; we would make a second lighter version, with fewer constraints, so that other children may enjoy it.

Thanks to the digital media, we could aim to high poignancy and beauty: we found online the images of one of the greatest artists of illustration, Arthur Rackham, who, having left this world over seventy years ago, allowed us to work without paying royalties that we could not sustain.

Regarding our new version of the tale, we inherited the legacy of the best storytellers, choosing what could more caress the soul of our audience, and sow seeds of meaning that could germinate when there will be need of flowers and fruits, who knows when... We are paraphrasing Bruno Bettelheim, who wrote about fairy tales after discovering that the children he cared for were listening to them with interest, but remained indifferent to any other kind of stories. We can stand out a fairy tale from another type of story if telling it looks like sowing seeds, as the German psychoanalyst, who lived and worked in the US after surviving a concentration camp, taught to us. We do not known how or when it will sprout, and the narrator will not be there to check the fruits of his telling passion. What may characterize a generative or fruitful process? We would say that who leads it may imagine some results but he does not claim to master them. This is the habit of the fairy-tale actants: they leave their country and walk on and on, towards an unknown place, supported just by their desire.

Adalinda Gasparini
Florence, March 2014