One of the New York Times’s Ten Best Books of the Year: These traditional stories of Italy, retold by a literary master, are “a treasure” (Los Angeles Times). Filled with kings and peasants, saints and ogres—as well as some quite extraordinary plants and animals—these two hundred tales bring to life Italy’s folklore, sometimes with earthy humor, sometimes with noble mystery, and sometimes with the playfulness of sheer nonsense. Selected and retold by one of the country’s greatest literary icons, “this collection stands with the finest folktale collections anywhere” (The New York Times Book Review). “For readers of any age . . . A masterwork.” —The Wall Street Journal “A magic book, and a classic to boot.” —Time
About the Author
ITALO CALVINO (1923–1985) attained worldwide renown as one of the twentieth century’s greatest storytellers. Born in Cuba, he was raised in San Remo, Italy, and later lived in Turin, Paris, Rome, and elsewhere. Among his many works are Invisible Cities, If on a winter's night a traveler, The Baron in the Trees, and other novels, as well as numerous collections of fiction, folktales, criticism, and essays. His works have been translated into dozens of languages.
Read an Excerpt
Dauntless Little John
There was once a lad whom everyone called Dauntless Little John, since he was afraid of nothing. Traveling about the world, he came to an inn, where he asked for lodgings. "We have no room here," said the innkeeper, "but if you're not afraid, I will direct you to a certain palace where you can stay."
"Why should I be afraid?"
"People shudder at the thought of that palace, since nobody who's gone in has come out alive. In the morning the friars go up with the bier for anyone brave enough to spend the night inside."
So what did Little John do but pick up a lamp, a bottle, and a sausage, and march straight to the palace.
At midnight he was sitting at the table eating, when he heard a voice in the chimney. "Shall I throw it down?"
"Go ahead!" replied Little John.
Down the chimney into the fireplace fell a man's leg. Little John drank a glass of wine.
Then the voice spoke again. "Shall I throw it down?"
"Go ahead!" So another leg dropped into the fireplace. Little John bit into the sausage.
"Shall I throw it down?"
"Go ahead!" So down came an arm. Little John began whistling a tune.
"Shall I throw it down?"
"By all means!" And there was another arm.
"Shall I throw it down?"
Then came the trunk of a body, and the arms and legs stuck onto it, and there stood a man without a head.
"Shall I throw it down?"
"Throw it down!"
Down came the head and sprang into place atop the trunk. He was truly a giant, and Little John raised his glass and said, "To your health!"
The giant said, "Take the lamp and come with me."
Little John picked up the lamp, but didn't budge.
"You go first!" said the giant.
"No, after you," insisted Little John.
"After you!" thundered the giant.
"You lead the way!" yelled Little John.
So the giant went first, with Little John behind him lighting the way, and they went through room after room until they had walked the whole length of the palace. Beneath one of the staircases was a small door.
"Open it!" ordered the giant.
"You open it!" replied Little John.
So the giant shoved it open with his shoulder. There was a spiral staircase.
"Go on down," directed the giant.
"After you," answered Little John.
They went down the steps into a cellar, and the giant pointed to a stone slab on the ground. "Raise that!"
"You raise it!" replied Little John, and the giant lifted it as though it were a mere pebble.
Beneath the slab were three pots of gold. "Carry those upstairs!" ordered the giant.
"You carry them up!" answered Little John. And the giant carried them up one by one.
When they were back in the hall where the great fireplace was, the giant said, "Little John, the spell has been broken!" At that, one of his legs came off and kicked its way up the chimney. "One of these pots of gold is for you." An arm came loose and climbed up the chimney. "The second pot of gold is for the friars who come to carry away your body, believing you perished." The other arm came off and followed the first. "The third pot of gold is for the first poor man who comes by." Then the other leg dropped off, leaving the giant seated on the floor. "Keep the palace for yourself." The trunk separated from the head and vanished. "The owners of the palace and their children are now gone forever." At that, the head disappeared up the chimney.
As soon as it was light, a dirge arose: "Miserere met, miserere met." The friars had come with the bier to carry off Little John's body. But there he stood, at the window, smoking his pipe!
Dauntless Little John was a wealthy youth indeed with all those gold pieces, and he lived happily in his palace. Then one day what should he do but look behind him and see his shadow: he was so frightened he died.CHAPTER 2
The Man Wreathed in Seaweed
A king had his crier announce in the town squares that whoever found his missing daughter would be rewarded with a fortune. But the announcement brought no results, since no one had any idea of the girl's whereabouts. She had been kidnapped one night, and they had already looked the world over for her.
A sea captain suddenly had the thought that since she wasn't on land she might well be on the sea, so he got a ship ready to go out in search of her. But when the time came to sign up the crew, not one sailor stepped forward, since no one wanted to go on a dangerous expedition that would last no telling how long.
The captain waited on the pier, but fearful of being the first to embark, no one approached his ship. Also on the pier was Samphire Starboard, a reputed tramp and tippler, whom no ship captain was ever willing to sign on.
"Listen," said our captain, "how would you like to sail with me?"
"I'd like to very much."
"Come aboard, then."
So Samphire Starboard was the first to embark. After that, other sailors took heart and boarded the ship.
Once he was on the ship, Samphire Starboard did nothing but stand around all day long with his hands in his pockets and dream about the taverns he had left behind. The other sailors cursed him because there was no knowing when the voyage would end, provisions were scarce, and he did nothing to earn his keep. The captain decided to get rid of him. "See that little island?" he asked, pointing to an isolated reef in the middle of the sea. "Get into a rowboat and go explore it. We'll be cruising right around here."
Samphire Starboard stepped into the rowboat, and the ship sailed away at full speed, leaving him stranded in the middle of the sea. He approached the reef, spied a cave, and went in. Tied up inside was a very beautiful maiden, who was none other than the king's daughter.
"How did you manage to find me?" she asked.
"I was fishing for octopi," explained Samphire.
"I was kidnapped by a huge octopus, whose prisoner I now am," said the king's daughter. "Flee before it returns. But note that for three hours a day it changes into a red mullet and can be caught. But you have to kill the mullet at once, or it will change into a sea gull and fly away."
Samphire Starboard hid his boat and waited out of sight on the reef. From the sea emerged the octopus, which was so large that it could reach clear around the island with its tentacles. All its suckers shook, having smelled a man on the reef. But the hour arrived when it had to change into a fish, and suddenly it became a red mullet and disappeared into the sea. Samphire Starboard lowered fishing nets and pulled them back up full of gurnard, sturgeon, and dentex. The last haul produced the red mullet, shaking like a leaf. Samphire raised his oar to kill it, but instead of the red mullet he struck the sea gull flying out of the net and broke its wing. The gull then changed back into an octopus, whose wounded tentacles spurted dark red blood. Samphire was upon it instantly and beat it to death with the oar. The king's daughter gave him a diamond ring as a token of the gratitude she would always feel toward him.
"Come and I'll take you to your father," he said, showing her into his boat. But the boat was tiny and they were out in the middle of the sea. After rowing and rowing they spied a ship in the distance. Samphire signaled to it with an oar draped with the king's daughter's gown. The ship spotted them and took them aboard. It was the same ship that had earlier discharged and abandoned Samphire. Seeing him back with the king's daughter, the captain said, "Poor Samphire Starboard! Here we thought you were lost and now, after looking all over for you, we see you return with the king's daughter! That calls for a real celebration!" To Samphire Starboard, who'd not touched a drop of wine for months on end, that seemed too good to be true.
They were almost in sight of their home port when the captain led Samphire to a table and placed several bottles of wine before him. Samphire drank and drank until he fell unconscious to the floor. Then the captain said to the king's daughter, "Don't dare tell your father that drunkard freed you. Tell him I freed you myself, since I'm the captain of the ship and ordered him to rescue you."
The king's daughter neither agreed nor disagreed. "I know what I'll tell him," she answered.
To be on the safe side, the captain decided to do away with Samphire Starboard once and for all. That night, they picked him up, still as drunk as could be, and threw him into the sea. At dawn the ship was in sight of port. With flags they signaled they were bringing home the king's daughter safe and sound. A band played on the pier, where the king waited with the entire court.
A date was chosen for the king's daughter to wed the captain. On the day of the wedding, the mariners in port saw a man emerge from the water. He was covered from head to foot with seaweed, and out of his pockets and the holes in his clothes swam fish and shrimps. It was none other than Samphire Starboard. He climbed out of the water and went ambling through the city streets, with seaweed draping his head and body and dragging along behind him. At that very moment the wedding procession was moving through the street and came face to face with the man wreathed in seaweed. Everyone stopped. "Who is this?" asked the king. "Seize him!" The guards came up, but Samphire Starboard raised a hand and the diamond on his finger sparkled in the sunlight.
"My daughter's ring!" exclaimed the king.
"Yes," said the daughter, "this man was my rescuer and will be my bridegroom."
Samphire Starboard told his story, and the captain was imprisoned. Green though he was with seaweed, Samphire took his place beside the bride clad in white and was joined to her in matrimony.
(Riviera ligure di ponente)CHAPTER 3
The Ship with Three Decks
Once there was a poor couple who lived way out in the country. A baby boy was born to them, but there was no one anywhere around to be his godfather. They went into town, but they didn't know a soul there and couldn't have the child baptized without a godfather. They saw a man wrapped in a black cloak on the church doorstep and asked, "Kind sir, would you please be this boy's godfather?" The man agreed, and the child was baptized.
When they came out of the church, the stranger said, "I now must give my godson his present. Take this purse, which is to be used to raise and educate him. And give him this letter when he has learned to read." The father and mother were thunderstruck, but before they could find words of thanks and ask the man his name, he had disappeared.
The purse was full of gold crowns, which paid for the boy's education. Once he could read, his parents gave him the letter, which said:
I am going back to repossess my throne after a long exile, and I need an heir. As soon as you read this letter, set out on a journey to your dear godfather, the king of England.
P.S. Along the way, beware of a cross-eyed man, a cripple, and a mangy character.
The youth said, "Father, Mother, farewell. I must go to my godfather." After a few days of walking, he met a traveler who asked, "Where are you going, my lad?"
"So am I. We shall travel together."
The youth noticed the man's eyes: one of them looked east, and the other west, so the boy realized this was the cross-eyed man he must avoid. He found a pretext for stopping, then took another road.
He met another traveler sitting on a stone. "Are you going to England? We'll therefore travel together," said the stranger, who got up and limped along, leaning on a stick. He's the cripple, thought the youth, and changed roads again.
He met a third traveler, whose eyes, like his legs, bespoke perfect health. As for any scalp disease, this man had the thickest and cleanest head of black hair you ever saw. As the stranger was also on his way to England, they traveled together. They stopped for the night at an inn, where the youth, wary of his companion, handed over his purse and the letter for the king to the innkeeper for safekeeping. During the night while everybody was sleeping, the stranger rose and went to the innkeeper for purse, letter, and horse. In the morning the young man found himself alone, penniless, on foot, and with no letter for the king.
"Your servant came to me in the night," explained the innkeeper, "for all your belongings. Then he left...."
The youth set out on foot. At a bend in the road he spied his horse tethered to a tree in a field. He was about to untie it, when from behind the tree rushed last night's companion armed with a pistol. "If you don't want to die on the spot," he said, "you must become my servant and pretend I'm the king of England's godson." As he spoke, he removed his black wig, revealing a scalp completely covered with mange.
They set out, the mangy one on horseback, the youth on foot, and at last reached England. With open arms the king welcomed the mangy one, taking him for his godson, while the real godson was assigned to the stables as stable boy. But the mangy one couldn't wait to get rid of his companion, and the opportunity soon presented itself. The king one day said to the false godson, "If you could free my daughter from the spell that holds her prisoner on a certain island, I'd give her to you in marriage. The only difficulty is that nobody who has attempted to free her has ever come back alive." The mangy one lost no time in replying. "Try sending my servant, who is surely capable of setting her free."
The king summoned the youth at once and asked, "Can you set my daughter free?"
"Your daughter? Tell me where she is, Majesty!"
The king would only say, "I warn you that you'll lose your head if you come back to me without her."
The youth went to the pier and watched the ships sail away. He had no idea how to reach the princess's island. An old sailor with a beard down to his knees approached him and said, "Ask for a ship with three decks."
The youth went to the king and had a ship with three decks rigged. When it was in port and ready to weigh anchor, the old sailor reappeared. "Now have one deck loaded with cheese rinds, another with bread crumbs, and the third with stinking carrion."
The youth had the three decks loaded.
"Now," said the old man, "when the king says, 'Choose all the sailors you want,' you will reply, 'I need only one,' and select me." That he did, and the whole town turned out to watch the ship sail off with that strange cargo and a crew of one, who also happened to be on his last legs.
They sailed for three months straight, at the end of which time they spied a lighthouse in the night and entered a port. All they could make out on shore were low, low houses and stealthy movement. At last a voice asked, "What cargo do you carry?"
"Cheese rinds," replied the old sailor.
"Fine," they said on shore. "That's what we need."
It was the Island of Rats, where all the inhabitants were rats, who said, "We'll buy the entire cargo, but we have no money with which to pay you. But any time you need us, you have only to say, 'Rats, fine rats, help us!' and we'll be right there to help you."
The youth and the sailor dropped the gangplank, and the rats came aboard and unloaded the cheese rinds in a flash.
From there the men sailed to another island. It was also night and they could make out nothing at all in port. It was worse than the other place, with not a house or a tree anywhere in sight. "What cargo do you bring?" asked voices in the dark.
"Bread crumbs," replied the sailor.
"Fine! That's just what we need!"
It was the Island of Ants, where all the inhabitants were ants. Nor did they have any money either, but they said, "Whenever you need us, you have only to say, 'Ants, fine ants, help us!' and we'll be right there, no matter where you are."
The ants carried all the bread crumbs down the fore and aft moorings, and the ship cast off again.
It came to an island of rocky cliffs that dropped straight down to port. "What cargo do you bring?" cried voices from above.
"Excellent! That's just what we need," and huge shadows swooped down on the ship.
It was the Island of Vultures, inhabited entirely by those greedy birds. They flew off with every ounce of carrion, promising in return to help the men whenever they called, "Vultures, fine vultures, help us!"
After several more months of sailing, they landed on the island where the king of England's daughter was a prisoner. They disembarked, walked through a long cave, and emerged before a palace in a garden. A dwarf walked out to meet them. "Is the king of England's daughter here?" asked the youth.
"Come in and ask Fairy Sibiana," replied the dwarf, showing them into the palace, which had gold floors and crystal walls. Fairy Sibiana sat on a throne of crystal and gold.
"Kings and princes have brought entire armies to free the princess," said the fairy, "and every last one of them died."
"All I have are my will and my courage," said the youth.
"Well, then, you must undergo three trials. If you fail, you'll not get away from here alive. Do you see that mountain shutting out the sun from my view? You must level it by tomorrow morning. When I wake up I want the sunlight streaming into my room."
The dwarf came out with a pickax and led the youth to the foot of the mountain. The young man brought the pickax down once, and the blade snapped in two. "Now how am I going to dig?" he wondered, then remembered the rats on the other island. "Rats, fine rats, help me!"(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Italian Folktales"
Copyright © 1956 Giulio Einaudi editore, s.p.a., Torino.
Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Dauntless Little John,
The Man Wreathed in Seaweed,
The Ship with Three Decks,
The Man Who Came Out Only at Night,
Money Can Do Everything,
The Little Shepherd,
The Count's Beard,
The Little Girl Sold with the Pears,
The Three Castles,
The Prince Who Married a Frog,
The Twelve Oxen,
Crack and Crook,
The Canary Prince,
Those Stubborn Souls, the Biellese,
The Pot of Marjoram,
The Billiards Player,
The Three Cottages,
The Peasant Astrologer,
The Wolf and the Three Girls,
The Land Where One Never Dies,
The Devotee of St. Joseph,
The Three Crones,
The Crab Prince,
Silent for Seven Years,
The Dead Man's Palace,
Pome and Peel,
The Cloven Youth,
The King of Denmark's Son,
Petie Pete versus Witch Bea-Witch,
Quack, Quack! Stick to My Back!,
The Happy Man's Shirt,
One Night in Paradise,
Jesus and St. Peter in Friuli,
The Magic Ring,
The Dead Man's Arm,
The Science of Laziness,
The Stolen Crown,
The King's Daughter Who Could Never Get Enough Figs,
The Three Dogs,
Tabagnino the Hunchback,
The King of the Animals,
The Devil's Breeches,
Dear as Salt,
The Queen of the Three Mountains of Gold,
Lose Your Temper, and You Lose Your Bet,
The Feathered Ogre,
The Dragon with Seven Heads,
Bellinda and the Monster,
The Shepherd at Court,
The Sleeping Queen,
The Son of the Merchant from Milan,
Rosina in the Oven,
The Salamanna Grapes,
The Enchanted Palace,
The King of Portugal's Son,
Fanta-Ghirò the Beautiful,
The Old Woman's Hide,
Catherine, Sly Country Lass,
The Traveler from Turin,
The Daughter of the Sun,
The Dragon and the Enchanted Filly,
The Golden Ball,
Fioravante and Beautiful Isolina,
The Milkmaid Queen,
The Story of Campriano,
The North Wind's Gift,
The Sorceress's Head,
The Fine Greenbird,
The King in the Basket,
The One-Handed Murderer,
The Two Hunchbacks,
Pete and the Ox,
The King of the Peacocks,
The Palace of the Doomed Queen,
The Little Geese,
Water in the Basket,
Jack Strong, Slayer of Five Hundred,
A Boat for Land and Water,
The Neapolitan Soldier,
Belmiele and Belsole,
The Haughty Prince,
Nero and Bertha,
The Love of the Three Pomegranates,
Joseph Ciufolo, Tiller-Flutist,
The Mangy One,
The Wildwood King,
The Three Blind Queens,
Hunchback Wryneck Hobbler,
The False Grandmother,
Miss North Wind and Mr. Zephyr,
The Palace Mouse and the Garden Mouse,
The Moor's Bones,
The Chicken Laundress,
Crack, Crook, and Hook,
First Sword and Last Broom,
Mrs. Fox and Mr. Wolf,
The Five Scapegraces,
Ari-Ari, Donkey, Donkey, Money, Money!,
The School of Salamanca,
The Tale of the Cats,
The Slave Mother,
The Siren Wife,
The Princesses Wed to the First Passers-By,
Filo d'Oro and Filomena,
The Thirteen Bandits,
The Three Orphans,
Sleeping Beauty and Her Children,
The Handmade King,
The Turkey Hen,
The Three Chicory Gatherers,
The Widow and the Brigand,
The Crab with the Golden Eggs,
Pippina the Serpent,
Catherine the Wise,
The Ismailian Merchant,
The Thieving Dove,
Dealer in Peas and Beans,
The Sultan with the Itch,
The Wife Who Lived on Wind,
The King of Spain and the English Milord,
The Bejeweled Boot,
The Left-Hand Squire,
Three Tales by Three Sons of Three Merchants,
The Dove Girl,
Jesus and St. Peter in Sicily,
The Barber's Timepiece,
The Count's Sister,
Master Francesco Sit-Down-and-Eat,
The Marriage of a Queen and a Bandit,
The Seven Lamb Heads,
The Two Sea Merchants,
Out in the World,
A Boat Loaded with ...,
The King's Son in the Henhouse,
The Mincing Princess,
The Great Narbone,
Animal Talk and the Nosy Wife,
The Calf with the Golden Horns,
The Captain and the General,
The Peacock Feather,
The Garden Witch,
The Mouse with the Long Tail,
The Two Cousins,
The Two Muleteers,
Giovannuzza the Fox,
The Child that Fed the Crucifix,
The Foppish King,
The Princess with the Horns,
The Man Who Robbed the Robbers,
The Lions' Grass,
The Convent of Nuns and the Monastery of Monks,
The Male Fern,
St. Anthony's Gift,
March and the Shepherd,
Jump into My Sack,
About the Author,
Connect with HMH,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is one of the most astounding collections of folk tales ever, better, I would say, than the brothers Grimms'. The flavor of raw, hard peasant life comes through on every page, and very little imagination is needed to transport you back to 17th century taverns where story-tellers spellbound their listeners with these even more ancient stories of ogres, bandits, princes, witches, priests, kings and thieves. Some are ghost stories, meant to curdle the blood, while others are cheery tales of youngest daughters outwitting the bandits and marrying the prince that would charm any child. Some are witty, knowing tales of corrupt priests, or bandits competing with each other for title of best thief. They are all deeply moral, if sometimes heavy on the retribution and revenge. These are earthy, funny, tragic, witty tales which, best of all in my estimation, have not been "tidied up", censored for sex or violence, or otherwise bowdlerized. Whether for reading to children or out of academic anthropological interest, these cannot be beat.
Wow!! It's a must have if you like folktales even in the least. It's the perfect book. Read a story every night, read one story over and over again, leave it on your table to pick up whenever you feel like a fresh story, it doesn't matter. Its wonderful whatever you do with it.
I love this book. So does my beloved firstborn. As such, I no longer have custody of the book. It moved to Berkeley with my beloved firstborn, John-Paul, his girlfriend, Blair, John-Paul's best friend, Kenny, the only cat I ever loved, Mr. Bigglesworth, and Mr. Bigglesworth's sidekick, Rick James.So, the book has a life of its own.I think, however, that the borrowing of my copy of the book, helps to demonstrate the book's intrinsic value and worthiness.
This collection of Italian folktales, collected and rewritten by Italo Calvino, is a cornucopia of tiny tales. The 200 stories (twice the number in that other great collection of Italian tales - the Decameron) of this 700 page book sparkle with wit and provide insight into the minds of the poorer classes of medieval and premodern society.The tales are, according to the introduction, from previous collections made by folklorists, mostly during the 19th century, when people still made a hobby out of collecting such things. The stories come from all around Italy and each has, at its conclusion, the name of the region from which it was drawn. I am under the impression that Italo Calvino rewrote them from their original dialects into standardized Italian. He also added his own special touch, distilling, trimming and rewriting them as only a master could. The English translation by George Martin is taut and clean and makes the read all the more enjoyable.The book includes an introduction by the author, somewhat scholarly in nature. It also has a note for each story discussing technical issues and origins. It could be used as a scholarly reference for folklore studies but it is a delight to read just for pure pleasure. If you are looking for a book of fairytales for your children this collection is probably on par with the Grimm Brothers or the Red Fairy Tale Book. It was written, however, considerably later, in 1956. The book shares with these collections (their unexpurgated versions at least) a certain earthiness, an occasional tendency towards brutality and a distinct lack of political correctness. If you are offended by golden donkey dung, witches defenestrated, tarred and burned at the stake, or princesses killed by their husbands later resurrected and remarried to their repentant murderers, you might want to avoid this book. At the very least you might want to pick and choose which tales you read to your children. Not that the tales dwell on these things in detail but you will encounter them. You will also encounter the three little pigs (as geese), little Red Riding Hood as herself, a Snow White who falls in with thieves, a Sleeping Beauty awakened not by a prince but by her newborn child, and Aladdin, Ali Baba and Ulysses dressed up as merchants, peasants and monks. One can also hear vague echoes of celtic mythology, prehistoric magical rites and even a plot I find reminiscent of Gogol.Two hundred stories is quite a few and while there are occasional variations on a theme, on the whole they remain remarkably fresh. Just when you think you've seen everything, a new plot twist comes along to enchant and amuse.
Came to the house quickly in great condition. Interesting read!
My daughter's favorite book - she read it so many times it fell apart! I am getting a hardback copy replacment now!