TITLE: Pentamerone / Tale of Tales / Tale of Tales, or Entertainment for the Youngsters
AUTHOR: Giambattista Basile (Count of Torone)
How to get it in Spain:
PUBLISHING COMPANY: Siruela (title: Pentamerón. El cuento de los cuentos)
PRICE: 25 €
We're talking about gentleman courtier Giambattista Basile's Pentamerone (also called the Tale of Tales), a collection of fairytales or magic tales that has given much food for thought. Even though the author (Giambattista Basile, Count of Torone, but the stories were first published in 1634 by his sister, three years after he had died of the flu!) had called them "Entertainment for the Youngsters," there are those that aren't recommended unless for older (into teenage) or "bad" children (who delight in toilet humour, black humour, and even blue humour!). I have decided thus to colour-code the tales depending on their level of offensive content... Green contains as much as a slight tinge of violence or toilet humour, yellow implies only a few offensive incidents, orange means far more questionable content, and red... you get the picture.
The most renowned stories, anyway. To begin with, here are the summaries thereof. Some of them are gory, erotic, and/or scatological in spite of starring royalty and heavily featuring magical beings (also, oodles of orcs and identity thieves), hence the colour code:
- THE TALE OF THE ORC (LO CUNTO DELL'ORCO): A Table-Be-Set story with an unusually kind-hearted, misunderstood orc in the role of the donor. And one boy, an outnumbered sibling, instead of three brothers. Still there are Thénardier-esque innkeepers taking advantage of the lad's weak head for strong drink and replacing the golden donkey (of the Tywin Lannister persuasion) and the table-be-set with powerless ersatzes (as in most other versions). However, the third time, the orc has given the stripling a large wooden wand... (Tremble, innkeepers!)
- THE MYRTLE (LA MORTELLA): "Rosemary" or the plant bride. A barren peasant woman births a rosemary or myrtle sprig that she raises into a potted bush containing a lovely (and stark naked) fairy girl. The crown prince buys the flower pot that contains her, having intercourse with the maiden during the night ("he wrapped herself around her like an octopus, and, all night long, they played come-into-my-castle"), but, in his absence, the handmaids at court lynch her in a jealous rage; it's revealed in extremis that she can only be healed if the myrtle/rosemary is watered in fox blood. The talking fox said so himself, and the attempt succeeds.
- VARDIELLO: An Epaminondas- like story of a foolish boy who breaks his mother's patience time after time, then finally hits the jackpot thanks to a chance coincidence. I mean... "Sell this cloth to the buyer who speaks the least..." and there's an utterly silent statue in the derelict estate gardens... and the allegedly haunted, empty estate is full of hidden treasure, including the statue's pedestal... Apparently, who has good luck doesn't need a bright mind.
- THE FLEA (LA PULCE): "El cuero de piojo y el aro de hinojo:" the princess has to marry the orc because he happened to guess right during her engagement challenge (that the tambourine is made from a fleaskin and a fennel frame). In the original tale, she's a damsel in distress who needs a whole all-male slew of Argonauts/bogatyrs/knights of the Round Table/the early modern counterpart of the Ocean's trilogy to save her... while in the film, she takes these matters into her own hands! Definitely, I prefer the latter version.
- GOATFACE (LA FACCIA DI CAPRA): Marienkind/The Godmother/The Six Wild Swans: a vow of silence caused by her disobedience to her fairy godmother spells trouble for a princess bride when her in-laws slander her... (Right when the vow of silence expires, she is brought to the stake; the truth comes to light)
- CATCINDERELLA (GATTA CENERENTOLA): A far more macabre Cinderella, something in between Perrault's and Wu Ye Shen. This one has two stepmothers and contrives to kill the first one in cold blood, only to have her lord father remarry a far worse villainess --the chaperone who prompted Catcinderella to kill her first stepmother-- and then die himself... Still, the orphan servant, the royal ball, the gowns (brought by a pigeon fairy godmother), the shoe, the trying on the shoe of all maidens who were invited to the ball... it's all like in the rest of most versions.
- THE MERCHANT (IL MERCANTE): Menaechmi. Young bourgeois on a business trip arrives at a royal palace in mourning and saves Crown Princess from dragon (that regenerates like Hydra of Lerna using healing flower), cutting off the tongue of the reptilian beast as proof; when cowardly knight knocks him out and presents the dragon's severed head as "proof" at court, merchant appears in the throne room in extremis with the tongue and is awarded the hand of princess by right... then he is subsequently misled into the woods by femme fatale in deer form, ensnared in her hair; his twin arrives in the realm and is mistaken for the Crown Prince -- puts a sword in between himself and his bride in bed to defend their honour. Still... how will his brother react when he's freed? (He beheads the Crown Prince, then resurrects him with aforementioned healing flower upon learning of the truth)
- THE ENCHANTED DOE (LA CERVA FATATA): Menaechmi. Married royal twin is misled into the woods (during a freak winter storm in mid-July!) by femme fatale in deer form, locked up in her dungeon; his bachelor servant "twin"/lookalike childhood friend arrives in the realm (led by a clouded empathy fountain) and is mistaken for the Crown Prince -- puts a sword in between himself and his bride in bed to defend their honour. Still... how will his brother react when he's freed? (He doesn't, unlike what happens in the previous story, kill his twin in a jealous rage, but spares his life) The same story, only that the brothers are no longer bound by blood, but by childhood friendship, and without the initial damsel-and-dragon incident. Oh, in this story there is a dragon... the one whose heart the queen eats and the female cook has prepared and tasted to conceive both heroes. Maybe it was the same dragon as in the last story?
- THE FLAYED OLD CRONE (LA VECCHIA SCORTICATA): The Flayed Old Crone/The Two Old Crones of Penyeta Roja. A story that also exists here in the Region of Valencia. A wicked old lady tries to matchmake between a royal suitor and her equally senior younger sister. She does so by hiding said sister away in the pantry, so the only things revealed about her "light-shy orphan granddaughter" are her pinky fingers through the keyhole and her voice. Of course it all had to come to light sooner or later, and a scandal ensues when the "maiden" is revealed to be a crone whom the royal suitor beds and subsequently throws away, retching in disgust. The discarded old lady is miraculously rejuvenated by magical beings and her jealous older sister, getting the picture, asking the local smith to fill her with air in order to smoothen her wrinkles... (in the Castellón version) or even the local tanner to flay her (in this Pentamerone version: you were warned in the title!!): the ending is not for the faint-hearted!
- PARSLEYNELLA (PETROSINELLA/PREZZEMOLINA): Blond Maiden in a Tower, guarded by a sorcerous crone, frequented by a gallant prince or lordling who inspires in her the desire to explore the outside world... But this Rapunzel takes more agency, breaking free from her tower and throwing at Gothel seeds from which a spotted big cat (an onza; whether you take it as a cheetah or whatever), a lion, and a wolf (not as much Pokéballs as a Dante reference, to the Inferno!) grow instantly and maul the witch to death.
- GLENGREEN (VERDEPRATO): Wounded Lover Healed. The prince/love interest, the titular character, visits the heroine Nella every night through a crystal glass passage, summoned by floo powder (what else is magical powder thrown into flames as a mean of transportation?), which her jealous stepsisters shatter, leaving Glengreen seriously injured, both physically and mentally. He is conveyed back home to his canopy bed in a state between life and death. The royal physicians are despairing, and a great price will be awarded to whoever will heal His Highness from all those stab wounds. During her journey to court, Nella hides from a married couple of orcs in a treetop and decides to eavesdrop on them. Mr. Orc tells Mrs. Orc that only their fat mixed with their blood, applied as an ointment, will heal Prince Glengreen, and Nella seizes the chance, killing both orcs at one fell swoop with all the sang-froid she can muster, extracting the fat from their bellies and draining them of blood, and applying the ointment on her lover right as his life is hanging from a thin thread. When he comes to and thinks she betrayed him, she explains that she had no cause to hurt him and who really caused his injuries. The stepsisters who started it all are obviously executed right before the royal wedding.
- VIOLET (VIOLA): "Your Lordship, so mighty and high... how many stars are there in the night sky?/The Girl Watering her Plants" Three sisters named after flowers (Zinnia, Rose, and Violet), who take turns to water their little garden, are trolled one by one by the local lordling. However, Violet, the youngest, proves a match for his rapier wit. Banter ensues, not unlike in Much Ado About Nothing or a Rumiko Takahashi series, but also with an "arms race" aspect to it in which both young people seek to outdo one another. During the arms race, after the star-counting challenge she has made, Violet's sisters take her to their maiden aunt to learn needlework. At auntie's, the lordling challenges her to steal auntie's darning thread, set square, and scissors when she has to run those three errands, and Violet does so, even chopping her aunt's ears off with the scissors. Later on she winds up among orcs at night, and a male orc who was relieving himself in the garden near her thinks he has birthed her through his... you get the picture... But the crowner is definitely the climax. In their marital bed, Violet hides in the wardrobe and places a life-size sugarpaste replicate of herself, filled with liquor, in her stead. When the lordling notices at twilight, in bed, that "Violet" is not even breathing and "her" heart is still, he stabs her in the side then cries, upon tasting the liquor, of how much he loved Violet, even though her death was so sweet... Cue the real Violet popping out of the wardrobe: SURPRISE!!
- CAGLIUSO (CONSTANTINO): the young master of Puss in Boots. Or rather Pussy in Boots, as this sapient cat happens to be female. The king on his throne is given gifts of fish which Pussy has caught with net or line, as if she were a human fisher. When the royals go out on a tour of the provinces, Pussy hides Constantino's clothes among the reeds as he is having a swim and meows: "THIEVES!!" Of course the lad is soon dressed in silk and brocade. But clothes do not make the nobleman, so the cat dashes ahead of the royal coach-and-six... No confrontation with a shapeshifter here. How does Pussy in Boots get all the lands and the estate then? By simply meowing: "THIEVES!!" left and right to the reapers, to the fruit pickers, to the local lord of the estate. They all should be more terrified of a cat speaking human than at the possibility of thieves breaking in, but the most likely scenario is that they are frightened by both events. Then all the cat has to do is return to the carriage and show the royals and their peasant guest "the fields of Lord Constantino, the orchards of Lord Constantino, the estate of Lord Constantino..." and soon he's married to his princess bride, while the cat claims her own freedom and leaves the court to help another disowned stripling in distress...
- THE FEMALE BEAR (L'ORSA): Catskin/Alleleirauh, a version in which she escapes her unnatural stepfather dressed in a bearskin (she had him butcher and skin their pet beast to obtain the pelt). And she is consequently mistaken for a bear during most of her self-imposed exile. Which leads us to ask if she (like most Allerleirauhs) is a furry, and if the prince/love interest du jour (who fell ill with a fever and tachycardia, as is the norm in Allerleirauh tales, after the "bear" was caged, and whose state of health worsened even more when she was prepared for a bear-baiting that, fortunately, never happened!) has some kind of zoophilia. Who is the greater beast: the "bear," her stepfather (who wanted to marry and bed her), or her fiancé?
- THE WHITE DOVE (LA PALOMBA): The Forgotten Bride. Prince gets amnesia after his mother kisses him; it's up to his fairy fiancée to make him remember their romance by getting hired as a kitchen maid at court and baking a white dove in a pie for the betrothal feast (sounds like Margaery Tyrell's pie, right?). The cooing and affection of the dove, contrasted with the detachment of his intended fiancée in the marriage of state, jogs his memories indeed. The intended bride, a Flemish princess, is sent back to her land but still rewarded.
- THE LITTLE SLAVE (LA SCHIAVOTELLA): Snow White if she were awakened by her uncle, who thankfully is a good man, but sadly is too busy as a military officer. And with her evil aunt in the role of the Wicked Queen, showing her true colours while her husband is off to war in making the maiden an indentured servant, if not an outright slave (hence the title). Also, when her uncle returns, this "Snow White" threatens to stab herself as she whets a little knife and tells her ragdolls of all that she's been through... that's enough for the uncle to divorce his wicked wife and assume the little no-longer-a-slave's custody.
- THE PADLOCK (LO CATENACCIO): Beauty and the Beast... with a few differences. Belle's living parent is her mother in this version. There's no rose; rather, Belle meets the Beast when going to the spring for water and is perfectly fine with being led by a monster into a cave that leads to a baroque underworld/magical land full of entertainments (it's just like following the black beast instead of the white rabbit!). The Beast is also a were-beast, turning human at night and sharing the bed with our heroine, whom he has previously drugged... Right when Belle comes back to visit mum, the latter is concerned about her daughter (for a good reason; it all sounds like a sex offender's tricks!) and warns her to dispose of the drinks at supper. So does Belle, of course worried herself that the Beast may be a sex offender, disposes of the drinks, opens a padlocked door that the Beast has forbidden her, turns on the light, and sees him transform into this dashing young man sleeping in bed... and off he goes because she has seen him transform. So Belle goes off in search of her beau, getting adopted by a court lady (her real mum has disowned her because the girl is expecting!). So Belle chants verses to a young man who shows up at the palace but only at night, disappearing as soon as he hears a rooster crow. When the Queen is made aware of this, she has all the roosters in the whole realm killed and recognises and literally embraces her only son in the young man, who now cannot flee from the light... yes, it was the Crown Prince all along!! Also, Belle obviously reconciles with her own mum.
- CANNETELLA: The Robber Bridegroom/Mr. Fox/Bluebeard. Princess afraid of commitment (the titular character) will only marry a man with all the teeth of solid gold (the rainbow-keeper god Heimdall is most famous for this trait). Sooner or later, a suitor with complete 24K dentures shows up in the throne room and she has to fulfil her promise, even though the gold-toothed man is an evil sorcerer, who keeps her in the stable with his horses, ties her to a stake on all fours, and feeds her on raw oats. Just as if she were a pony. Cannetella, however, breaks out of of the stable and eats fruit in the orchard in her husband's absence, and, when the sorcerer returns, she has to confess what she did. After a few years living like a horse, Cannetella looks far less like a princess and far more like a streetrat, if not an outright zombie, what with all the ribs and the see-through skin... She makes it back to the royal court in an empty barrel, being only recognised by the servant who carried the barrel, and then by her friends and family at court, thanks to a birthmark on her right arm. The sorcerer, finding his wife nowhere in the stables, follows the tracks of the barrel servant. When he breaks into the royal castle, the princess intrenches herself in a fortified tower. But Mr. Goldteeth won't give up, making friends with some royal servants and slipping in a charm into the tower, a spell handwritten on paper that will make everyone but his runaway wife fall asleep. Right as he packs her in his arms, having broken into the tower that night, he doesn't realise that she's thrown the charm out the window, waking up the guards, who seize the gold-toothed villain and hack him into mincemeat.
- PENTA THE HANDLESS (LA PENTA MANOMOZZA): A strange hybrid between Constance/The Maiden Without Hands and Crescentia/Zumurrud. In the end, having wound up among a community of healers and learned their remedies, she heals her unnatural stepbrother (whose advances she resisted by having her right hand severed) and her deceived husband (who, while off at the war front, was tricked by his former fiancée, thanks to letters forged while the messenger was knocked out, into thinking Penta had birthed a wolf pup, her left hand being cut off as proof), both of them having fallen physically and mentally ill due to the law of karma, yet both men do not recognise her as their healer, until she finally makes herself known. Redemption ensues. Also, her hands grow back miraculously thanks to her healing powers!
- OH WHITE FACE (OH BIANCO VISO): A Rapunzel/Forgotten Bride mashup with a tragic ending. Renza, the maiden in a tower estranged from her love interest (who is constrained to accept a marriage of state), crossdresses as a castrated young singing priest to enter her former fiancé's court. The prince is unwilling to marry the bride chosen for him and draws incredibly close to the "priest" instead --there is the implication that he's gay--. Renza en travesti sings the titular song, which pleases His Royal Highness quite much. Thus, her prince wants the "castrato" to share his bedchamber and sing his favourite song "Oh Bianco Viso" by his bedside over and over again. Until the princess bride, quite annoyed by always hearing the same old song ad nauseam while just standing there like a wallflower, steps into the room and steals a long French kiss from her fiancé, which causes Renza's heart to break. "Please, sing 'Oh Bianco Viso' for us," he asks after the kiss... No reply. The priest's hands are cold, "his" eyes are glossy... no breathing or heartbeat at all... Shock ensues. Even more shock when he undresses the form and sees that the dead "castrato" has got a bosom, and furthermore... a birthmark in between those tits just like Renza!! Stabbing himself in the left side with a parrying dagger, he ensures that they will be together in death.
- THE COCKROACH, THE RAT, AND THE CRICKET: The Cockroach, the Rat, and the Cricket. I redirect you to MISS DERMARK'S DIRTIEST STORIES to read a more detailed summary. Not for the faint-hearted.
- THE IGNORANT (L'IGNORANTE): The Fool of the World and his Companions. A version of the Six Servants cycle (to which many quest stories, from the Argonauts to the Ocean's trilogy, belong) quite close to the Slavic versions. A steampunk version thereof can also be found as THE FLYING SHIP on this very blog.
- THE GARLIC WOODS (LA FORESTA D'AGLI): The Twelve Huntsmen/Vasilisa Vasilievna. Maiden --bifauxnen-- crossdresses to stay close to her betrothed fiancé by becoming part of his personal guard; he puts her to several tests of femininity (choosing jewels or weapons, riding wild horses, shooting a gun on horseback, walking on dried peas) that her tomboyish nature always bests with flying colours. However, when it comes to bathing in a lake... she must excuse herself with the premise of going back home to visit ailing relatives... While at her parents' home, she changes clothes to a feminine ensemble, except for the earrings and a significant ring on her left ring finger, and, when she returns to her suitor's side... (cue the surprise!)
- ROSELLA: Another Forgotten Bride story --only that here the fiancée, Rosella, gets a job as a sexy barmaid not far from the palace and attracts several suitors, whom she enchants into doing tasks against their will with her magical powers. Of course this attracts the prince's attention... (and of course he remembers and marries Rosella!)
- THE THREE ANIMAL KINGS (I TRE RE ANIMALI): N Brides for N Brothers. Count and countess betroth their three daughters to stag, eagle, and lake monster respectively in order to appease the beasts. All three animals are enchanted royals, and brothers to boot. Then countess has a fourth child, a boy, who in his youth goes forth on a quest to seek his sisters and in-laws. As the quest unfurls, he learns that the three animal kings have a younger sister, a captive damsel... (Fourfold wedding guaranteed after the damsel rescue!)
- THE THREE CROWNS (LE TRE CORONE): The Queen in Love with the Cross-Dresser. Cross-dressing bifauxnen princess, on the run from an arranged marriage, attracts the attention of her foreign liege lord's sister, who slanders her... will our shero's friendship with orcs whom she came across during her travels save her from the execution stand? (It does, revealing that "he" is actually a she, and furthermore the king she serves is her arranged fiancé! The wicked Queen is marooned...)
- THE SEVEN BITS OF RIND (LE SETTE COTENUZZE): Rumpelstiltskin/The Three Spinners. A chance royal... well, grand-bourgeois visit forces the heroine's grandmother, who was chiding her for eating all the pork rind in the soup (hence the title), to lie and say she's an excellent spinner instead. The problem? She is lousy at needlework to say the least. He puts her to the test: when he returns from that business trip, he wants to see all that flax stacked up in sacks neatly spun into thread, or else... (This story ends with a twist that makes it quite different from the Grimm versions more known throughout Europe!)
- THE TWO LITTLE PIZZAS (LE DUE PIZZETTE): Diamonds and Toads... with PIZZAS! Nuff said. Marziella and her shrewish cousin are sent out each with a hand-sized pizza for waybread to fetch water in the stream. Both meet the local fairy and the good girl gets rewarded by having gems drop off her hair instead of dandruff, while the brat gets an incurable case of head lice. As Marziella's reputation spreads and a royal wedding draws near to a prince from across the sea, the brat --who is escorting her as a bridesmaid or maid of honour-- throws her overboard one night and steals her identity. Luckily, a mermaid saves Marziella from drowning, but she chains the maiden when she lets her pet human show up on land... while the impostor's case of lice instead of precious stones is revealed, will Marziella break free from the mermaid? (Basically, the typical Diamonds and Toads scenario turns into the Fair Bride and the Dark Bride tale)
- THE RAVEN BRIDE (LO CORVO): Faithful Johannes. The prince sees a raven he's shot down lying on the snow and decides to seek a bride as white as snow, with a blood red tinge, and raven-haired. Too bad the princess who matches the colour scheme happens to be cursed. In spite of his right-hand man's warnings, he sails across to her realm and woos her. On their way home, the good chancellor, who can speak bird, overhears seagulls discussing the curse/prophecy, but that if someone told it out loud, they would be turned to stone. The horse that would throw the royal bride and groom off as soon as they landed? The advisor shoots it dead. The fact that she would collapse on the dance floor unless kissed by a man who is not her husband, and that there's a venomous snake in the marital bed? Uh-oh! After the ensuing scandals, he confesses about the curses on the execution stand and is turned to stone. Shortly thereafter, the young couple are King and Queen, and she is expecting twins! However, the chancellor's statue reveals that he can only turn human again if smeared with the queen's blood... (SPOILER: Right as he's going to behead his pregnant wife with his own blade, he hears someone call "STOP!!" It's the already revived good advisor: it all was a Sacrifice-of-Isaac style test of character!)
- THE TAMING OF THE PROUD (LA SUPERBIA CASTICATA): The Taming of the Shrew/King Thrushbeard... a more ominous version. Haughty princess spurns all her suitors, whereupon one of them, a foreign prince disguised as a gardener, gains her attention with jewelled accessories and subsequently entrance to her bedchamber; then he forces her in bed (Odin and Gunnlaud, anyone?). When she realises that she is expecting, she decides to elope with the gardener to his own homeland, where she takes up a job as a scullery maid at court, never realising that the "gardener" is royalty all along. In his gardener guise, he forces her to steal from the palace kitchens to survive, then seizing her as His Royal Highness... taking the test of character to even further lengths (she doesn't know they're one and the same person!). Only when she has to confront her prospective in-laws about the thefts does the Crown Prince drop the whole gardener charade and they marry. Not as much the Taming as the Breaking of the Shrew, right?
- THE DUCK (LA PAPERA): The Biting Doll... the Biting Duck, in this case. This quacker may as well have been named Tywin, for he does not produce normal duck poo -- rather 24K gold. But only in the hands of a kind-hearted owner. What happens when the heir to the throne decides to satisfy his needs in a duck pond right above this web-footed charm? I redirect you to MISS DERMARK'S DIRTIEST STORIES to read a more detailed summary. Not for the faint-hearted.
- SPLENDID DAZZLE (PINTO SMALTO): Sale of Bed/The Three Bridal Nights. Weary of her many incompetent suitors, Betta makes herself her own idea of Mr. Right by hand: a life-sized comely stripling of marzipan, with literal hair of gold, ruby lips, pearly whites, and emerald eyes. Overnight, just like Pinocchio and Frankenstein will in further centuries, Dazzle comes to life, greeting Betta with quite the positive surprise in the morn. A foreign queen, however, falls for Dazzle at first sight during the betrothal feast... and spirits him away. And thus begins the earliest recorded three nights tale, with Betta wearing out pair after pair of shoes and getting fairy gifts before she arrives at the royal palace as a peddler in rags, yet carrying precious gifts. Still, the Queen of Roundhill won't give up that easily, lacing Dazzle's cups of liquor to keep him in a trance, unable to recognise his rightful bride... (until he finally realises what has been going on from the cupbearer... happy ending guaranteed)
- THE GOLDEN BUSH (LO TURZO D'ORO): Cupid and Psyche, or The Mother-in-Law's Tasks. Three gardener sisters keep each one a pet pig. The youngest girl finds in the woods a bush of solid gold, tries to uproot it for transplantation in the estate gardens... et voilà! The bush turns out to be the knob of a trapdoor to a magnificent underworld, where a Moorish-looking monster waits upon her hand and foot; nothing like the comely stripling who shares her bed at night in a sumptuous bedchamber in the same underworld... in the dark and not allowing any light into the room. After a while with her sisters, who warn her that it may be a trap, she has a look at her dashing sleeping lover by candlelight and drops some wax on his shoulder. After which he disappears and she sets forth in pursuit of her lover, wearing out pair by pair of iron shoes. Her steps lead her into orc country, where she discovers that her beau is Thunderbolt, the crown prince of the orcs --only that he and his sisters are so good-looking, while their mum the Queen is as hideous as you might expect an orc to be... and not happy at all with her boy marrying a peasant muggle. A whole slew of Herculean tasks are set for our heroine, but ants help her sort the grain, Thunderbolt helps her fill mattresses... long story short, her kindness is rewarded. The last errand, however, proves the most daunting one: she must visit Thunderbolt's single aunt in another castle and fetch a little musical box. Easy pie? Not at all consideing the journey and the orc-aunt's disposition... (and the fact that the musical box is full of tiny pixie musicians and she cannot resist to open it even if the pixies scatter... but she still manages to make it through)
- THALIA: Sleeping Beauty. Only that it's either orgasm or childbirth, instead of true love's kiss, that wakes her up. Oh, and she has a rival in the wife of her awakener... going right for the jugular by commanding the royal chef to serve Thalia's twin babies as roasted piglets (Titus Andronicus/The Juniper/Tereus/Tantalus). Only that no cannibalism ensues here: the chef spares the infants and replaces them with real piglets... and the rival is burned at the stake intended for our heroine, her widower remarrying Thalia.
- SOPHIE: The Fair Lieutenant... The Taming of the Shrew, gender-flipped... All's Well that Ends Well... The most clever maiden in the realm, a really learned and witty bluestocking, tutors (along with the younger royal children) the crown prince, who is reluctant to learn and a Draco-Malfoy-level brat. Sexual tension ensues. She even slaps him in the face during the lessons (Joffrey-slapping, anyone?). At their wedding, Sophie disappears as if into thin air and is presumed dead. Then war breaks out and, on the frontline, a rather feminine stripling of a lieutenant catches the eye of His Royal Highness, becoming the crown prince's aide-de-camp and getting even a ring on his left ring finger, for "If you were a maiden, I would marry you." When peace returns and they part ways, the soon-to-be king to claim his late father's crown, he's in for a great surprise awaiting him at court! (SPOILER ALERT: He sees Sophie wearing a bridal gown with a lieutenant's coat on top, her hair bobbed, and she shows him the ring...)
- NINO AND NINA (NINNILLO E NENNELLA): The Babes in the Woods/Hansel and Gretel: orphan siblings (fraternal twins) set out into the dark woods by their stepmother. There's no candy house in this forest... but a deer-hunting royal who takes Nino up as his squire, and a coastline where pirates whisk Nina away. Yes, this is The Babes in the Woods/Hansel and Gretel... with PIRATES!! The ship wrecks and everyone from the captain to the cat and the rats drowns... except Nina, who is swallowed by a magical whale and kept alive in its gut --not unlike Jonah or Pinocchio and Geppetto--. The whale brings her back to land, she reunites with her brother, and the royal family smites the wicked stepmother by letting her choose her own death sentence!
- THE THREE LEMONS (LE TRE CETRE/I TRE CEDRI): Or The Three Oranges, here in the Valencia Region. A melancholy crown prince mourning the loss of a dear parent (Hamlet echoes, anyone?) is cursed by a lawful neutral fairy to marry a maiden as white as cream and as red as blood (a nosebleed in a cream dessert made him realise how attractive the colour scheme was), hidden inside a citrus fruit that grows in a faraway magical orchard guarded by a fearsome dragon (the Orchard of the Hesperides and the dragon Ladon, as anyone may recognise). He makes it through, slays the dragon, and picks three lemons (oranges, in this land). On the return, three times he opens one of these fruits to quench his thirst and out pops a red-headed maiden. Third time's the charm, as usual. But, the maiden being as naked as Eve and the prince leaving her out in the countryside to return alone to the palace and fetch a gown her size, in steps a jealous gipsy girl, who turns the maiden into a white butterfly by nailing a hatpin into her head, then steals her identity, claiming when her fiancé returns that the sun has darkened her features. However, when a three-antennaed white butterfly is seen in the royal gardens and especially around His Highness, the impostor wants that bug to be catched, suffocated, and given to her as an ornament; while the prince has just noticed the affection of the butterfly for him, as well as that third feeler between the eyes, and decides to pull it out... (turning the butterfly human again -- the gipsy impostor is punished)
Basically, some of these stories are easy to tell to children, while others are definitely NOT. I have warned you...The writing style is delightful when it comes to using metaphors for both mundane events and taboo acts --whether it involves toilet or blue humour, gore, intoxication...--. Sometimes it gets a wee bit baroque, Eye-of-Argon style (for instance, many metaphors are used for the dawn, such as "as soon as the Sun opened his light bank to pay out their deposit of light to the creditors of the day"), but that's because these stories, like Shakespeare's works, were written in the baroque era. In spite of the purple prose, the stories are rather short and often interspersed with verses and lyrics, as well as featuring delightful, vivid metaphors and explorations of lifelike human nature.
Italo Calvino calls Basile a Mediterranean Shakespeare for a good reason. The Count has a delightfully vivid, delightfully human style of telling popular fairytales. For starters, he's a Lemony narrator (who may have picked up this narrating style from Cervantes), making quirky asides here and there and commenting his own views of the subject.
Italo Calvino calls Basile a Mediterranean Shakespeare for a good reason. The Count has a delightfully vivid, delightfully human style of telling popular fairytales. For starters, he's a Lemony narrator (who may have picked up this narrating style from Cervantes), making quirky asides here and there and commenting his own views of the subject.
The leading characters of these fairytales are young and good-looking people (in the rare case of a tale starring seniors, they are rejuvenated by magic, as in "The Flayed Old Crone"), most often only children, or orphans, or both. These leading characters can as well be royalty as villagers, or even wealthy townsfolk (grands-bourgeois), which gives a clue about the rise of the bourgeoisie in that culture and era. Most of the tales have a happy ending (though there are exceptions, such as the tragic together-in-death ending of "Oh Bianco Viso"), often after the leading characters have walked through fire and ice, which makes these endings even more satisfactory. Sometimes the punishments inflicted on the villains are brutal and leave the ending neither bereft of gore nor of poetic justice (again, "The Flayed Old Crone").
The striplings in lead roles are usually naïve, yet brave and trustworthy lads (Antonio in the "Tale of the Orc," the Ignorant, the vermin tamer, Vardiello, Splendid Dazzle, most princes in this collection), while the maidens who star in other stories are not all of them passive damsels.
Though there is a fair share of damsels in distress that require the aid of their spear counterparts, many of the heroines in this collection are rather sheroes: cross-dressing bifauxnen, monster-slayers, witty tricksters, indefatigable walkers who wear and tear through pairs and pairs of shoes... aggressive and dynamic maidens but still selfless and with a soft spot in their hearts.
There are also, as you might have read here, prefigurations of floo powder, Pokéballs, Joffrey-slapping, and other devices which we thought were made up at the closure of last century.
Many of these stories are the earliest, 30YW-era versions recorded across the Mediterranean South or even across the whole of Europe --suggesting the theory that they spread as campfire yarns during wartime evenings. Officers, non-coms, and rankers alike, not to mention camp followers, of various nations and creeds, heard these stories and passed them on across cultures. Maybe blue-blooded officers telling more idealised star-crossed love stories alternated by the fireside with far more realistic non-coms or camp followers and their salacious yarns, frequently involving, if not excretory, black and blue humour (and surely the "this-happened-to-a-friend-of-a-friend-of-mine" opening line so familiar in today's suburban legends originated in the latter yarns, or fabliaux), not unlike what happened centuries earlier with the motley crew of pilgrims and their Canterbury Tales.