Rodari was born on October 23, 1920, in the town of Omegna on Lake d'Orta in northern Italy. His father, Guiseppe, was a baker, and his mother, Maddalena, who had worked in France at different jobs for some time, assisted him in the shop. Since both parents were consumed by the demanding chores of running a bakery, Rodari was brought up by a wet nurse in the nearby town of Pettenasco, as was his brother, Cesare, born a year later.
Later, when Rodari began school in Omegna, he tended to be shy and studious. He loved solitude, and by the time he was ten he began writing poetry. Though successful at school and happy at home, he was shaken by the death of his father in 1929.
That same year, the world depression erupted. Rodari's mother sold the bakery shop and moved to Gavirate, a town near Milan. She received a small pension, but it was barely enough to support the family. In the meantime, Rodari continued to do well at school and showed a great interest in music. From 1931 to 1934 he was sent to the seminary of San Pietro Martire di Seveso near Milan. In 1934 he transferred to the Istituto Magistrale Manzoni in Varese, and because of his good marks he received a scholarship. While there he took violin lessons and thought of becoming a professional musician. At this time, however, the depression was still in full force, and Rodari had to think of a more practical way to earn a living. Moreover, Italy was fully under the control of the fascists, and since he was opposed to fascism, it was difficult for him to find an adequate job.
In 1938 he managed to find a position tutoring the children of a German-Jewish refugee family for six months while learning German. Then, in 1939 he enrolled at the Catholic University of Milan, but after taking a few courses and passing examinations required for teachers, he abandoned his studies because the university was stifling his creativity. During the next two years he taught at schools in small cities of northern Italy. After the fall of the fascist government in July 1943, Rodari saw clearly that he had to take more of a political stand for his antifascist beliefs. So, soon after he began working in a hospital in Milan, he joined the Resistance until the end of World War II.
In 1945 he went to the city of Varese to start a journal called L'Ordine Nuovo, and it was there that he discovered his talent as a journalist, his career for life. By 1947 he was transferred to Milan to write for the communist newspaper L'Unita, and at one point he was asked to compose some poems and stories for children. That is, it was by chance, as Rodari always liked to put it, that he began a "second" career, as a writer for children. Eventually it would eclipse his journalism and enable him to express his social and political concerns in ways he had never imagined.
It was because of his children's stories and his background as a teacher that in 1950 Rodari went to Rome to coedit a weekly magazine for children called Il Pioniere. During the 1950s Rodari wrote hundreds of poems, stories, and songs for children that he published in different newspapers and magazines. His first two books, Il libro delle filastrocche (The Book of Rhymes, 1950) and Il treno delle filastrocche (The Train of Rhymes, 1952) were highly unusual anthologies of short poems that depicted the everyday life and experience of the average Italians and the working world for children, while pointing to the hypocrisy of Italian politics and politicians. Though the poems were similar to the limericks of Edward Lear and the nonsensical verse of Lewis Carroll, they depicted the problems facing the poor in postwar Italy: unemployment, corruption, and authoritarian bureaucracy that still bore the mark of fascism. In addition to this poetry, he published two longer narratives that had a minimal success at that time, Il romanzo di Cipollino (The Romance of Cipollino, 1951), a fantastic novel that ridiculed the tyrannical behavior of a prince named Limone, and Piccoli vagabondi (Small Vagabonds, 1952), a realistic novel about two impoverished brothers, eight and nine years old, who are forced to wander about Italy after World War II, seeking work and refuge.
Rodari himself became more settled in Rome in the early 1950s, and in 1952 he invited his mother to come live with him. The following year he married Maria Teresa Ferretti, whom he had first met in Modena in 1948, where she had been working as a secretary. In 1957 she gave birth to a daughter, Paola. It was in 1957 as well that Rodari was able to rent a larger apartment at the Villa Pamphili, which he inhabited until his death. During the 1950s Rodari worked for different magazines and newspapers. At the same time, he continued publishing highly unusual books for children such as La gondola fantasma (The Fantastic Gondola, 1955) and Gelsomino nel paese dei bugiardi (Jericho in the Land of Liars, 1958), which had a great deal of success.
Throughout the 1960s he worked with many progessive teachers in Movimento di cooperazione educativa, and his experience in schools undoubtedly enabled him to experiment with his unique creative methods for stimulating children's imaginations. As a result of the stimulus he received from the new exchange with children and educators, several of his most significant works appeared during the 1960s: Favole al telefono (Tales Told by Telephone, 1962); Il pianeta degli alberi di Natale (The Planet of Christmas Trees, 1962); Atalanta, una fanciulla nella Grecia degli eroi e degli dei (Atalanta, A Young Girl of Ancient Greece, 1963); Il libro degli errori (The Book of Errors, 1964); and La torta in cielo (The Cake in the Sky, 1966).
Strongly influenced by the avant-garde movements of the 1920s such as dadaism and futurism, Rodari was sort of a forerunner of magic realism. All of his stories in Favole al telefono and Il libro degli errori are grounded in some kind of real incident that is quickly turned into an absurd, if not nonsensical, situation. However, it is through the most imaginative turn of events possible, Rodari suggests, that children can learn the truth about reality. The framework for the stories in Favole al telefono, for instance, is indicative of his technique. A traveling salesman misses his children so much that he calls them each night to tell them a story. The stories must be short; otherwise, his telephone bills would be exorbitant. Thus, each tale is about two pages in length and concerns imaginary characters whom the father supposedly encounters during his trips. So unusual are the stories that the telephone operators and others (thanks to a vast party line) begin listening in on the tales, which often deal with the strange customs and events in other lands. The effect is to encourage children to reflect upon their own customs.
From 1966 to 1969 Rodari was active in the reform movement in schools and gave numerous talks. He was particularly disturbed by the massive changes that were occurring in Italy. This was the period of great political unrest and modernization, and Rodari, who always paid close attention to the protests and the needs of the young, sought to record the pulse of his times, both in his fiction and in his pedagogical work. Once again, Rodari, still writing for various newspapers, entered a highly productive phase. After the publication of three collections of remarkable tales, Venti storie piu una (Twenty Stories Plus One, 1969), Tante storie per giocare (Many Stories with Many Endings, 1971), and Novelle fatte a macchina (Stories Written at the Typewriter), Rodari brought out his significant study, Grammatica della fantasia (The Grammar of Fantasy), in 1973. Not only did the ideas and methods in this book bear the fruit of approximately fifteen years of writing for children and working in schools, but they also emanated from stimulating exchanges he had with teachers during a series of meetings held in the city of Reggio Emilia in March 1972. Little did he know then that this small book would have an enormous impact on future generations of teachers and would serve, along with his fiction, as the basis for numerous projects in schools throughout Italy.
After the publication of Grammatica della fantasia, Rodari continued publishing such important works as Marionette in liberta (Marionettes in Liberty, 1974), C'era due volte il barone Lamberto (Twice Upon a Time There Was Baron Lamberto, 1978), La Gondola fantasma (The Fantastic Gondola, 1978), and Il gioco dei quattro cantoni (The Game of Four Corners, 1980). At the same time, he wrote for newspapers, made trips throughout Europe, and worked in schools.
By 1977 Rodari had become nervous and exhausted. He was no longer interested in writing for Paese sera or other newspapers. A physical checkup revealed that he had a blood clot in his leg that could prove fatal, and he took a leave from his newspaper. Unable to work, Rodari became depressed. Though he developed many projects and wrote about his visits and work with educators in the Soviet Union, he was not able to accomplish anything new. His health deteriorated, and eventually he was compelled to undergo an operation to improve his circulation. On April 11, 1980, he seemed to be recovering from an operation that had lasted seven hours due to complications. But three days later he suddenly died of a heart attack.
Rodari's unexpected death was a great shock to his friends and to the Italian public. Though he had been suffering a great deal and had become irritable, he was still conceiving plans for the future that he hoped would help to enlighten and entertain children at the same time. This hope was not eclipsed by his death, for hundreds if not thousands of writers and educators have continued his work in Italy, while Einaudi and Editori Riuniti, Rodari's two major publishers, have produced numerous important posthumous works and have made available all of his key works written between 1950 and 1980.
"The War of the Bells" ("La guerra delle campane") was included in Tales Told by Telephone and is typical of the many fairy tales Rodari wrote. His settings were generally modern, and the incidents of the tale were "timeless" and could take place anywhere in the world. Many of his tales are ironical and deal with the consequences of war. In contrast to the traditional fairy tale that often celebrated kings and generals, Rodari always exposed them as frauds. Nor did he believe in happy endings. His endings were always open-ended and were intended to provoke young readers to think how the future might be changed. He also wrote as though adults were looking over the shoulder of children or listening in, as he imagined in the frame of Tales Told by Telephone. Implicit in all of his tales ostensibly written for children is a confrontational message to adults that he stated in one of his poems.
if you are really grown,
open your eyes,
confront the lies,
don't give up hope,
hold out your hand,
embrace the world,
reach for the skies.
It's never impossible
to do the impossible.[GRAPHIC OMITTED]
Once upon a time there was a war, a great and terrible war that caused many soldiers on both sides to die. We defended our territory, while our enemy fought for their land. We fired on them day and night, and they fired back. But the war was so long that at a certain point we ran out of steel for the missiles and metal for the bayonets and other weapons.
Our commander, the four-star general "Bing-Bang" Bombardi, ordered all the church bells of the country to be taken down from the steeples and to be smelted so that he could build an enormous missile, just one, but large enough to win the war with one single blow.
In order to erect this missile we needed one hundred thousand cranes, and to transport it to the front lines we needed ninety-seven trains. General Bombardi rubbed his hands with glee and said, "When my missile is fired, our enemies will be blown to smithereens."
Finally the grand moment arrived. The missile was pointed at the enemy, and we filled our ears with cotton, because the thunderous roar might burst our eardrums.
General Bing-Bang Bombardi ordered, "Fire!"
A soldier pushed a button. And all at once, from one end of the front to the other, a gigantic chiming could be heard:
"Ding! Dong! Dell!"
We took the cotton out of our ears so that we could hear better.
"Ding! Dong! Dell!" the missile sounded. And a hundred thousand echoes could be heard repeatedly throughout the valleys and mountains.
"Ding! Dong! Dell!"
"Fire!" screamed the general a second time. "Fire, darn it!"
The soldier pushed the button another time, and again a joyful concert of bells spread from trench to trench. It seemed that all the bells of our country were chiming. General Bombardi began pulling his hair in rage and continued to pull his hair until there was only one left on his head.
Then there was a moment of silence. And soon, from the other side of the front, came a delightful deafening answer: "Ding! Dong! Dell!"
Why this noise? Well, I must tell you that the commander of the enemy forces, General Storm, had also come up with the idea of building an enormous missile with all the church bells of his country.
"Ding! Dong!" our missile chimed.
"Dell!" responded our enemy's missile. And the soldiers from the two armies leapt from the trenches, ran toward one another, danced, and cried out, "The bells, the bells! It's a holiday! Peace! Peace has finally come!"
General Bing-Bang Bombardi and General Storm each jumped into their cars and drove far away. They used up all their gas, but the chimes of the bells are still ringing in their ears even today.
Translated by Jack Zipes
Named Works: The War of the Bells (Short fiction) Criticism and interpretation
Source Citation:Rodari, Gianni. "The war of the bells.(TEXTS & TRANSLATIONS)(Critical essay)." Marvels & Tales 23.1 (April 2009): 91(7). Academic OneFile. Gale. BROWARD COUNTY LIBRARY. 24 July 2009
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