Summary: Italo Calvino brings together 200 magical folktales from several regions of Italy in this collection. A seemingly endless variety of stories invite you to explore distant and sometimes non-existent lands where you never know what will come next. A story often begins when poverty or some other adverse circumstance causes the hero or heroine to be thrust into the world to “seek their fortune.” Down the road, they might encounter hairy ogresses, dazzlingly beautiful princesses, or trickster fairies. The twists and turns of their fate lead them through much despair, which is heartbreaking for the characters but entertaining for the reader! Reading through these beautiful stories both introduce you to the world of Italian folklore and remind you of stories you already know.
Recommendation: As he explains in the book’s introduction, Calvino modified each tale just a little bit by smoothing over rough edges and filling in missing pieces while leaving intact the essence of the folktales. As he tweaks each story, Calvino does not merely retell it, but he also leaves his poetic and personal mark. Like any region’s folktales, there are a lot of recurring themes. Of course, repetition is to be expected because as stories are retold and passed down, they are slightly changed and then classified as separate. I still felt a little let down when I read several tales that were almost identical except for a couple of details. Some of the stories in Calvino’s collection have ties to well-known classics – for example, there is one called “The False Grandmother” that is almost identical to Little Red Riding Hood. And then “Wooden Maria” follows the same theme as the Trojan Horse myth, in which people hide inside a massive wooden statue that is presented as a gift. Speaking of the Trojan Horse, the folktales often reminded me of Greek mythology (of which I’ve read more than what’s good for me :-)). Both focus on magic, heroes, and the consequences of one’s actions. However, Calvino’s Italian Folktales end happily 99% of the time whereas Greek myths almost always end in tragedy. Whether you’re in search of a love story, a comedy, or even a little gore, Calvino’s Italian Folktales will leave you quite satisfied – almost as satisfied as an ogre making a snack out of the baker’s daughter.
Favorite Passage: “One day he took her quite by surprise and kissed her. At that, the milkmaid aimed her embroidery needle at his chest, thrust it into his heart, and killed him.”