Friday, February 25, 2011


Italian Folk Tales.

This is a masterful collection of Italian Folktales, where the reader is lured into a world of flux, of metamorphoses, where kings and peasants, tricksters and saints, and a whole zoology* of extraordinary animals, plants and fish wend their way through the landscape and history of the Italian nation.italian folk tales I.T.

Italian Folktales (Fiabe Italiane) is a collection of 200 folktales, collated from various regions around Italy, and from the works of a whole army of collectors, folklorists, ethnologists etc., making use of an extensive collection of work compiled over the centuries. Italo Calvino started this undertaking in 1954 (published 1956), with the intention of emulating The Brothers Grimm, and producing a collection of tales that would be popular amongst the general reading public. Within these pages we follow a nations collective psyche, yield to the joyous imagination and complexity of the human experience.

In his introduction, Italo Calvino, one of his nations most celebrated writers, describes how he himself became bewitched & bedazzled by his encounter with his nations vast library of folklore. He goes on to say how he reached the two main objectives – The presentation of every type of folktale, and to represent all of the regions of Italy.

“These folk stories are the catalogue of the potential destinies of the men and women,especially for that stage in life when destiny is formed, i,e, youth, beginning with birth, which itself often foreshadows the future, then the departure from home, and finally through the trials of growing up, the attainment of maturity and proof of one’s humanity. This sketch although summary, encompasses everything: the arbitrary divisions of humans, albeit in essence equal, into Kings and poor people, the persecution of the innocent and their subsequent vindication, which are the terms inherent in every life, love unrecognised when first encountered and then no sooner experienced than lost; the common fate of subjection to spells, or having one’s existence predetermined by complex and unknown forces. This complexity pervades one’s entire existence and forces one to struggle to free oneself, to determine one’s own fate; at the same time we can liberate ourselves only if we liberate other people, for this is a sine qua non* of one’s own liberation. There must be fidelity to a goal and purity of heart, values fundamental to salvation and triumph. There must also be beauty, a sign of grace that can be masked by the humble, ugly guise of a frog; and above all, there must present the infinite possibilities of mutation, the unifying element in everything: Men, Beasts, Plants, Things”.   

                                                                                                         ( From the introduction)

L'Amour et Psyche by François-Édouard Picot, 1819

L ’Amour et Psyche by François-Edouard picot

whether it’s Dauntless Little John, who being afraid of nothing conquered a giant, through to The Peasant Astrologer – a tale of cunning - , and on to The parrot – who saves a girl’s honour with his storytelling, this compendium of Italian Folktales, can match even the most well known tales from other nations. These tales are the recordings of a nations very essence, told by it’s people, more often than not it’s women & they are told with a grace, a humour, a style, and above all an abiding love of the art of storytelling and a “instinctive skillfulness, that shies away from the constraint of popular tradition, from the unwritten law that common people are capable only of repeating trite themes without actually “creating”; perhaps the narrator thinks that he is producing only variations on a theme, whereas actually he ends up telling us what is in his heart,”.

“Tuscan proverb dear to Nerucci - “The tale is not beautiful if nothing is added to it”- in other words, its value consists in what is woven and rewoven into it” I.C.

Italo Calvino(wikipedia)

Italian Folktales(wikipedia)

  Gherardo Nerucci (wikipedia)

* A book or scholarly work on animals.

*Latin for "without which, not;" hence, an alternative way of expressing the presence of a necessary condition.

An essential or indispensable element or condition; a test used to establish causation in fact


Bellezza said...

Being of Italian descent, and hearing such good things about this collection, I really ought to buy it for my own. I bought Calvino's Cosmicomics, though, and I don't really like it. Perhaps I need the right time for it, but I couldn't get past the first few pages last summer.

Novroz said...

Great review Parish. I haven't read any folk tales in such along time. Would love to read one again

@parridhlantern said...

@Bellezza: This I get the impression was a labour of love, you do have Calvino's erudition, but he (with minor changes in some cases) allows the tales & the tellers their own voice. Their is a good introduction by him stating his reasoning for compiling this collection & as someone of Italian origin this will make you proud & do justice to your ancestors tales, in the fact that they can easily stand tall against other nations Folktales.

@parridhlantern said...

@Novroz: This is a great book for dipping into, if you fancy a Folktales fix, it's a large book & not one for ploughing through (as I found out) but if you have it in your library, you can just open it up anywhere for a quick tale.

Patrick (at The Literate Man) said...

I will admit that I am a sucker for folk tales for the very reason that Calvino apparently wanted to put the collection together--they tell so very much about the culture form which they're drawn. Now, which scotch do you recommend for folk tales or does Calvino call for a nice chianti?

@parridhlantern said...

@Patrick (at The Literate Man): A nice Chianti, or a Valpolicello classico (superiore) or possibly a Reiciotte amerone, but it seems Italians are also partial to a drop of malt, altho they prefer the lighter speysides so maybe a glenfiddich or go for a triple distilled lowlander like the Auchentoshan.

gina said...

Oh, this is interesting! I've not heard of Italian folktales. I do like the idea of creating something similar (in breadth at least) to the Grimms fairytales.

@parridhlantern said...

@gina: Hi Gina, in breadth & depth, this is a big book, well researched, with a wonderful introduction by Calvino full of warmth & erudition, easily on par with other books from the European tradition of Folkstories .

Em said...

I want it! It sounds good!

Tom C said...

Gosh, that's another I really should know about but don't. I would really like to know about that book without having to actually read it - a condition I suffer from with many authors, time being so short. I've downloaded Grimm's Tales to my Kindle and am dipping in to them from time to tim

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Em, If it's a must, Amazon have it for under £3 +pp used, or Bookdepository for around £12.

This is like Italo's answer to Grimms dominance in the folktales world, & as such can be dipped in likewise. I wouldn't worry about not knowing about, I stumbled upon it by accident whilst checking out his better known works.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful collection, sounds like a great way to discover Italian culture :)

Col (Col Reads) said...

Great review! Wow, it looks like I may be adding to my list for Read A Myth again!

@parridhlantern said...

Hi Bina, it's an interesting way to discover an aspect of the culture.

Hello Connolly-Ahern,thanks & glad you enjoyed it, your Readamyth TBR must be massive.