Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino

  But this time too the hare slipped away and came back into the bag. The three days and three nights were up, so the young man returned to the king, who said, “One last test before you marry my daughter. You are to fill up this bag with the truth.”

  The neighbor was still on his doorstep, and told the boy, “You are well aware of all you did in the woods. Tell that, and the bag will fill up.”

  The youth went back to the king. The king held the bag open while the young man spoke. “The aunt came and bought a hare for one hundred crowns, but it got away from her and came back into the bag. Your daughter came and bought a hare for three hundred crowns, but it got away from her and came back into the bag. Finally you came, Majesty, and bought a hare for three thousand crowns, but it got away from you and came back into the bag.”

  All that was the truth, and the bag was now bulging.

  The king realized at last that he had no choice but to give the young man his daughter.



  The Three Dogs

  There was once an old farmer who had a son and a daughter. When time came for him to die, he called them to his bedside and said, “My children, I am about to die, and I have nothing to leave you except three little ewes in the barn. Try to live together in harmony and you’ll never go hungry.”

  After his death, brother and sister continued to live together. The boy tended the flock and the girl stayed at home spinning and cooking. One day while the boy was out in the woods with the sheep, he met a little man with three dogs.

  “Good day to you, my boy.”

  “Good day to you.”

  “What fine sheep you have there!”

  “Those are also three fine dogs you have.”

  “Want to buy one?”

  “For how much?”

  “Give me one of the little sheep, and I’ll give you one of my dogs.”

  “And what will my sister say?”

  “What should she say? You really need a dog to guard the sheep!”

  The boy let himself be talked into it: he gave the man a sheep, and received a dog. He asked what the dog’s name was, and the little man said, “Crushiron.”

  When it was time to go home, he was very uneasy, knowing his sister would scold him. Indeed, when the girl went to the barn to milk the ewes and found only two sheep and a dog, she bawled him out and beat him.

  “Will you please tell me what use we have of a dog? If you don’t bring back all three ewes tomorrow, you’ll be sorry!”

  But he still felt he needed a dog to guard the sheep.

  The next morning the boy returned to the same spot and again met the little man with two dogs and the ewe.

  “Good day to you, my boy.”

  “Good day to you.”

  “My ewe is very lonesome,” said the man.

  “So is my dog,” answered the boy.

  “In that case, give me another ewe, and I’ll give you another dog.”

  “Oh, my goodness! My sister was ready to kill me for parting with one sheep! Just imagine what she’d do if I traded another one!”

  “Look, one dog by himself is no good. What would you do if two wolves turned up?”

  So the boy agreed to a second exchange.

  “What’s this one’s name?”


  When he returned in the evening with one sheep and two dogs, his sister asked, “Did you bring all three ewes back?” But he had no idea what to tell her.

  He said, “Yes, but there’s no need for you to come to the barn. I’ll milk them myself.”

  But the girl insisted on seeing for herself, and the brother consequently landed in bed without any supper. “I’ll kill you,” she told him, “if all three sheep are not back here by tomorrow night.”

  He was tending the animals in the woods the next day, when here came the little man with the two ewes and the last dog.

  “Good day to you, my boy.”

  “Good day to you.”

  “Now this dog is dying of loneliness.”

  “So is my last sheep.”

  “Give me the sheep and take the dog.”

  “No, indeed. Don’t even suggest such a thing.”

  “You have two dogs now. Why don’t you want the third one? That way you would own three of the finest dogs on earth.”

  “What’s his name?”


  “Crushiron, Chewchains, Crashwall, come along with me.”

  When night fell, the boy didn’t have the nerve to go home to his sister. “I’d better strike out on my own,” he decided.

  He had gone some distance, with the dogs right behind him, when it started to pour down rain. Night had fallen, and he had no idea where to go. Deep in the woods he spied a beautiful palace all lit up and surrounded by a high wall. He knocked, but no one opened. He called, but no one answered. Then he said, “Crashwall, help me!”

  The words were not out of his mouth before Crashwall had torn a hole in the wall with his strong paws.

  The boy and the dogs stepped through, but found themselves up against a thick iron gate. “Crushiron, it’s your turn now!” said the boy, and in two bites Crushiron shattered the gate.

  The palace door was held fast by a heavy chain. “Chewchains!” called the boy, and with one bite the dog had the chains off and the door open.

  The dogs slipped in and up the steps, with the boy on their heels. Not a living soul was anywhere in sight. A fire burned brightly in the fireplace, and nearby stood a table laden with all kinds of delicious food. He sat down to eat and, under the table, discovered three bowls of soup for the dogs. When he had finished eating he entered another room and saw a bed turned down for the night, with three dog beds alongside it for his dogs. In the morning when he got up, there was a gun and horse all ready for him to take out hunting. He went hunting, and by the time he came home, the table had been set for lunch, the bed made, and whole house cleaned and put in order. That went on for days, and he never saw a soul, although his every wish was immediately satisfied. In sum, he lived like a gentleman of leisure. Then he got to thinking about his sister; there was no telling what a hard time she might be having, and he said, “I’ll bring her here to live with me. Now that I’m so well off, she’d never dream of scolding me for failing to bring the sheep home.”

  The next morning he called the dogs, got on his horse and, dressed like a nobleman, rode to his sister’s house. Seeing him from a distance, his sister, who sat on the doorstep spinning, wondered, “Who could that handsome nobleman be, riding toward my house?” But when she recognized her brother, still with those dogs instead of the sheep, she made one of her usual scenes.

  “Wait a minute!” said her brother. “Why do you scream at me now that I am a gentleman of leisure and have come to take you to live with me? What use could we possibly have of the ewes now?”

  He took her onto his horse and back to the palace, where she became a lady of leisure. Her least whim was always instantly satisfied. She continued to loathe the dogs, however, and every time her brother came home, she would resume her grumbling.

  One day when her brother had gone hunting with the three dogs, she strolled into the garden and saw a beautiful orange on a tree at the end of the garden. She went to pick it, but as she pulled it from the branch, out rushed a dragon all set to devour her. She burst into tears, arguing that her brother, not she, was the real trespasser and that he should be eaten if the dragon had to devour somebody. The dragon claimed he couldn’t eat her brother, who was always with those three dogs. The girl then said that to save her own life she would arrange for him to eat her brother, if he would tell her what to do. The dragon instructed her to chain up the dogs outside the garden wall. She promised to do so, and the dragon let her go free.

  When the boy came home, his sister began complaining again about the dogs, saying she refused to have the mongrels around her any longer at mealtime, because they stank. So her brother, who had always obeyed her wi
thout protest, led them out and tied them up the way she said. Then she told him to go and pick that orange at the end of the garden, and he went. He was plucking the orange, when out rushed the dragon. Realizing he had been betrayed by his sister, he called, “Crushiron! Chewchains! Crashwall!” And Chewchains broke the chains, Crushirons shattered the bars of the gate, Crashwall burst through the wall with his paws. They charged the dragon and tore him to bits.

  The youth returned to his sister and said, “Is that all you think of me? You meant for the dragon to devour me! I don’t want to be with you another minute.”

  He got on his horse and rode away, followed by the three dogs. He came to the realm of a king who had an only daughter, who was shortly to be eaten by a dragon. He went to the king, asking for the girl’s hand in marriage. “I can’t give you my daughter,” replied the king, “since she is to be devoured by a terrible beast. But if you set her free, she will be yours without fail!”

  “Very well, Majesty, leave everything to me.” He sought out the dragon, and the dogs tore him to bits. When he returned victorious, the king betrothed his daughter to him.

  The wedding day arrived and the bridegroom, forgetting her past behavior, sent for his sister. Her grudge against him was as strong as ever, and she announced after the wedding, “Tonight I shall prepare my brother’s bed.” Taking that for a mark of sisterly devotion, everyone readily agreed she should make the bed. What did she do then but conceal under the sheets on the bridegroom’s side of the bed a sharp saw. That night the brother lay down and was sliced in two. He was carried off to church amid great weeping, with the three dogs following the coffin. Then they locked the door, leaving the three dogs inside to guard the corpse, one on the right, one on the left, and one at the head.

  When the dogs were sure everybody had gone, one of them spoke. “I’ll go get it now.”

  “And I’ll carry it,” said another.

  “And I’ll do the anointing,” said the third.

  So two of the dogs went off and came back with a jar of ointment, and the one that had stayed behind to keep watch, greased the wound with the ointment, thus bringing the youth back to life as sound as ever.

  The king ordered his men to find whoever had concealed that saw in the bed. When it was learned the sister had committed the crime, she was condemned to death.

  The young people were now happily married, all the more so because the old king, grown weary, abdicated in favor of his son-in-law. But one thing marred the young man’s happiness: the three dogs had disappeared without leaving a trace anywhere in the kingdom. He shed many a tear but, in the end, had to resign himself to the loss.

  One morning an ambassador brought him tidings of three ships anchored at sea with three dignitaries aboard who wished to renew old ties of friendship with him. The young king smiled, because he had always been a simple country boy who had never known anyone important. He nevertheless followed the ambassador to those who claimed to be his friends. He found two kings and one emperor who made a big to-do over him, saying, “Don’t you recognize us?”

  “You must be mistaken,” he replied.

  “We never would have thought you’d forget your ever faithful dogs!”

  “What!” he exclaimed. “Crushiron, Chewchains, and Crashwall? Transformed in this manner?”

  “We were changed into dogs by a sorcerer and couldn’t regain our true state until a country boy ascended the throne. Just as we helped you, so did you help us. From now on we’ll be fast friends. No matter what happens, remember you can always count on two kings and an emperor to help you.”

  They stayed in the city for a few days amid grand celebrations. When time came to leave, they separated, wishing one another every blessing, and so they lived happily ever after.



  Uncle Wolf

  There was once a greedy little girl. One day during carnival time, the schoolmistress said to the children, “If you are good and finish your knitting, I will give you pancakes.”

  But the little girl didn’t know how to knit and asked for permission to go to the privy. There she sat down and fell asleep. When she came back into school, the other children had eaten all the pancakes. She went home crying and told her mother what had happened.

  “Be a good little girl, my poor dear,” said her mother. “I’ll make pancakes for you.” But her mother was so poor she didn’t even have a skillet. “Go to Uncle Wolf and ask him if he’ll lend us his skillet.”

  The little girl went to Uncle Wolf’s house and knocked. Knock,knock.

  “Who is it?”

  “It’s me!”

  “For years and months, no one has knocked at this door! What do you want?”

  “Mamma sent me to ask if you’ll lend us your skillet to make pancakes.”

  “Just a minute, let me put my shirt on.”

  Knock, knock.

  “Just a minute, let me put on my drawers.”

  Knock, knock.

  “Just a minute, let me put on my pants.”

  Knock, knock.

  “Just a minute, let me put on my overcoat.”

  Finally Uncle Wolf opened the door and gave her the skillet. “I’ll lend it to you, but tell Mamma to return it full of pancakes, together with a round loaf of bread and a bottle of wine.”

  “Yes, yes, I’ll bring you everything.”

  When she got home, her mother made her a whole stack of pancakes, and also a stack for Uncle Wolf. Before nightfall she said to the child, “Take the pancakes to Uncle Wolf together with this loaf of bread and bottle of wine.”

  Along the way the child, glutton that she was, began sniffing the pancakes. “Oh, what a wonderful smell! I think I’ll try just one.” But then she had to eat another and another and another, and soon the pancakes were all gone and followed by the bread, down to the last crumb, and the wine, down to the last drop.

  Now to fill up the skillet she raked up some donkey manure from off the road. She refilled the bottle with dirty water. To replace the bread, she made a round loaf out of the lime she got from a stonemason working along the way. When she reached Uncle Wolf’s, she gave him this ugly mess.

  Uncle Wolf bit into a pancake. “Uck! This is donkey dung!” He uncorked the wine at once to wash the bad taste out of his mouth. “Uck! This is dirty water!” He bit off a piece of bread. “Uck! This is lime!” He glared at the child and said, “Tonight I’m coming to eat you!”

  The child ran home to her mother. “Tonight Uncle Wolf is coming to eat me!”

  Her mother went around closing doors and windows and stopping up all the holes in the house, so Uncle Wolf couldn’t get in; but she forgot to stop up the chimney.

  When it was night and the child was already in bed, Uncle Wolf’s voice was heard outside the house. “I’m going to eat you now. I’m right outside!” Then a footstep was heard on the roof. “I’m going to eat you now! I’m on the roof!”

  Then a clatter was heard in the chimney. “I’m going to eat you now. I’m in the chimney!”

  “Mamma, Mamma! The wolf is here!”

  “Hide under the covers!”

  “I’m going to eat you now. I’m on the hearth!”

  Shaking like a leaf, the child curled up as small as possible in a corner of the bed.

  “I’m going to eat you now! I’m in the room!”

  The little girl held her breath.

  “I’m going to eat you now! I’m at the foot of the bed! Ahem, here I go!” And he gobbled her up.

  So Uncle Wolf always eats greedy little girls.




  A merchant who had three daughters was due to leave town on business. “Before going,” he said to his daughters, “I shall give you a present, as I wish to leave you happy. Tell me what you want.”

  The girls thought it over and said they wanted gold, silver, and silk for spinning. Their father bought gold, silver, and silk, then departed, advising them to beha
ve during his absence.

  The youngest of the three sisters, whose name was Giricoccola, was the most beautiful, and her sisters always envied her. When their father had gone, the oldest girl took the gold to be spun, the second girl took the silver, thus leaving the silk for Giricoccola. After dinner they all three sat down by the window to spin. People passing by and glancing at the girls always stared at the youngest. That night the moon rose and looked in the window, saying:

  “Lovely is the one with gold,

  Lovelier still is the one with silver,

  But the one with silk surpasses them both.

  Good night, lovely girls and ugly girls alike.”

  Hearing that, the sisters were consumed with rage and decided to exchange threads. The next day they gave Giricoccola the silver and, after dinner, sat down by the window to spin. When the moon rose that night, she said:

  “Lovely is the one with gold,

  Lovelier still is the one with silk,

  But the one with silver surpasses them both,

  Good night, lovely girls and ugly girls alike.”

  Infuriated, the sisters taunted Giricoccola so much that only someone with that poor girl’s patience could have stood it. The next afternoon when they went to the window to spin, they gave her the gold to see what the moon would say. But the minute the moon rose she said:

  “Lovely is the one with silver,

  Lovelier still is the one with silk,

  But the one with gold surpasses them both.

  Good night, lovely girls and ugly girls alike.”

  By now the sisters couldn’t stand the sight of Giricoccola, so they locked her in the hayloft. The poor girl was there weeping, when the moon opened the little window with a moonbeam and said, “Come with me.” She took her by the hand and carried her home with her.

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