Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino

  “Fair enough! I’ll give you ten minutes.”

  Jack struck out and ran until he met a shepherd with his sheep. “Will you sell me one?” he asked. He bought it, pulled out his knife, slit the sheep open and flung its intestines, liver, and innards into the road. “If a giant asks about me,” he said to the shepherd, “tell him that, to run faster, I ripped out my intestines and then ran like the wind; and show him the intestines here on the ground.”

  Ten minutes later, here came the giant at top speed. “Did you see a man running this way?” he asked the shepherd.

  The shepherd told him about the intestines and pointed to them. The giant said, “Give me a knife so I can do the same thing,” and he ripped open his belly from top to bottom, fell to the ground, and gave up the ghost. Jack who had climbed a tree, jumped down, borrowed two buffalo, and dragged the giant into the city, where the governor had him burned in the middle of the square. And Jack was rewarded with food for the rest of his life.



  Crystal Rooster

  There was once a rooster that went strutting about the world. He found a letter lying in the road, picked it up with his beak, and read:

  Crystal Rooster, Crystal Hen, Countess Goose, Abbess Duck, Goldfinch Birdie: Let’s be off to Tom Thumb’s wedding.

  The rooster set out in that direction, and shortly met the hen.

  “Where are you going, brother rooster?”

  “I’m going to Tom Thumb’s wedding.”

  “May I come, too?”

  “If you’re mentioned in the letter.”

  He unfolded the letter again and read: Crystal Rooster, Crystal Hen . . . “Here you are, here you are, so let’s be on our way.”

  They continued onward together. Before long they met the goose.

  “Oh, sister hen and brother rooster! Where are you going?”

  “We are going to Tom Thumb’s wedding.”

  “May I come, too?”

  “If you’re mentioned in the letter.”

  The rooster unfolded the letter again and read: Crystal Rooster, Crystal Hen, Countess Goose . . . “Here you are, so let’s be on our way!”

  The three of them walked and walked and soon met the duck.

  “Where are you going, sister goose, sister hen, and brother rooster?”

  “We are going to Tom Thumb’s wedding.”

  “May I come, too?”

  “Yes, indeed, if you are mentioned here.” He read: Crystal Rooster, Crystal Hen, Countess Duck, Abbess Duck . . . “You’re here all right, so join us!”

  Before long they met the goldfinch birdie.

  “Where are you going, sister duck, sister goose, sister hen, and brother rooster?”

  “We are going to Tom Thumb’s wedding.”

  “May I come, too?”

  “Yes, indeed, if you’re mentioned here!”

  He unfolded the letter again: Crystal Rooster, Crystal Hen, Countess Goose, Abbess Duck, Goldfinch Birdie . . . “You are here too.”

  So all five of them walked on together.

  Lo and behold, they met the wolf, who also asked where they were going.

  “We are going to Tom Thumb’s wedding,” replied the rooster.

  “May I come, too?”

  “Yes, if you’re mentioned here!”

  The rooster reread the letter, but it made no mention of the wolf.

  “But I want to come!” said the wolf.

  Out of fear they all replied, “All right, let’s all go.”

  They’d not gone far when the wolf suddenly said, “I’m hungry.”

  The rooster replied, “I’ve nothing to offer you . . . ”

  “I’ll just eat you, then!” He opened his mouth wide and swallowed the rooster whole.

  Further on he again said, “I’m hungry.”

  The hen gave him the same answer as the rooster had, and the wolf gobbled her up too. And the goose and the duck went the same way.

  Now there was just the wolf and the birdie. The wolf said, “Birdie, I’m hungry!”

  “And what do you expect me to give you?”

  “I’ll just eat you, then!”

  He opened his mouth wide . . . and the bird perched on his head. The wolf tried his best to catch him, but the bird flitted all around, hopped from branch to branch, then back to the wolf’s head and on to his tail, driving him to distraction. When the wolf was completely exhausted, he spied a woman coming down the road with the reapers’ lunch in a basket on her head. The bird called to the wolf, “If you spare my life, I’ll see that you get a hearty meal of noodles and meat which that woman is bringing the reapers. As soon as she sees me, she’ll want to catch me. I’ll fly off and hop from branch to branch. She’ll put her basket down and come after me. Then you can go and eat everything up.”

  That’s just what happened. The woman came up, spied the beautiful little bird, and immediately reached-out to catch him. He then flew off a little way, and she put down her basket and ran after him. So the wolf approached the basket and started eating.

  “Help! Help!” screamed the woman. The reapers came running with scythes and sticks, pounced upon the wolf, and killed him. Out of his belly, safe and sound, hopped crystal rooster, crystal hen, countess goose, abbess duck, and together with goldfinch birdie they all went to Tom Thumb’s wedding.



  A Boat for Land and Water

  Once a king issued this decree:

  The man who builds a boat

  That glides o’er land and water

  Will surely wed my daughter.

  Now in that country was a father with three sons, and all he had to his name were a horse, a donkey, and a piglet. When the oldest son heard the decree, he said to his father, “Papa, sell the horse and with the proceeds buy me tools for building boats, and I’ll build a boat that glides over land and water and wed the king’s daughter.”

  He kept after his father, who finally gave in for the sake of a little peace and sold the horse and bought the tools. The son rose bright and early and went off to the woods with the tools to cut the timber for the boat.

  He was already halfway through building the boat, when a little old man came walking by. “What are you working on there, my lad?”

  “Just what I please.”

  “And what pleases you, may I ask?”

  “Barrel staves,” replied the boy.

  “You shall find barrel staves all cut out for you,” said the old man and left him.

  The next morning upon returning to the woods where he had left the boat half built, together with the timber and tools, the young man found only a pile of barrel staves. He went home crying as though his heart would break and told his father what had happened. You can just imag ine the bad mood that put the man in, who had sold his horse to humor the boy whose neck he now could have wrung!

  Less than a month later the middle son was itching to try his luck building such a boat. He went to work on his father and kept begging and pleading until the man finally had to sell his donkey and buy him the proper tools. The lad took them to the woods right away and cut his timber. He had the boat half finished, when the old man showed up asking, “What are you making, my lad?”

  “I’m making what I please.”

  “And what pleases you, may I ask?”

  “Broom handles!”

  “You shall find broom handles all cut out for you!” said the old man and turned away.

  The boy went home that night, dined, slept, and at dawn returned to the woods. His experience was exactly like his brother’s: there lay only a pile of broom handles.

  When he too came home heartbroken, his father shouted; “It serves you right! It serves you both right for having such foolish ideas! And it serves me right, too, for ever listening to you!”

  At that point, the youngest son, who had been listening, spoke up; “We’ve gone this far, so we might as well go the rest of the way. Papa, I want to try too. Let’s sell the pigl
et, replace the tools, and who knows but what I might succeed where they failed.”

  In short, the piglet was sold and the youngest son went off to the woods with the tools. He was already halfway through building the boat, when the same old man showed up. “My lad, what are you doing?”

  “I’m building a boat to glide over land and water.”

  “You shall find a boat all built and ready to glide over land and water,” said the old man and left him.

  That night the boy went home, dined, slept, and at dawn returned to the woods. There stood the boat finished down to the smallest detail, with the sails unfurled. He went aboard and commanded, “Boat, glide over land,” and the boat moved through the woods as smoothly as if it had been on water and came out before his house; his father and brothers were too amazed for words.

  Then the boy repeated his command, “Boat, glide over land,” and headed for the king’s palace, skimming over mountains, plains and, naturally, any rivers that had to be crossed along the way.

  He now had the boat but no crew. He came to a river fed by a creek, but water from the creek was not reaching the river, since just above the mouth of the river a huge man was kneeling on the bank drinking the creek dry.

  “Good heavens, what a gullet!” exclaimed the boy. “How about coming along to the king’s palace with me?”

  The huge man took one more gulp, gurgled, and said, “Gladly, now that my thirst is somewhat quenched.” Then he came aboard.

  The boat sped over water and over land and came to where a huge man was turning a hefty buffalo on a spit.

  “Hello!” called the boy from the boat. “Would you like to come to the king’s palace with me?”

  “Gladly,” he answered. “Just give me time to eat this morsel here.”

  “By all means.”

  At that, the man popped the buffalo off the spit and into his mouth as if it were a roasted thrush. Then he came aboard and they moved onward.

  The boat skimmed lakes and fields and came to another huge man leaning against a mountain.

  “Hello!” called the captain of the boat. “Would you like to come along to the king’s palace with me?”

  “I can’t move.”

  “Why can’t you?”

  “Because if I don’t lean against the mountain, it will fall down.”

  “Let it fall.”

  The man moved away, holding the mountain up with one hand, and jumped into the boat. The boat had no sooner sailed off than a boom and a rumble were heard, and the mountain came crashing down.

  Gliding over roads and hills, the boat finally drew up before the king’s palace. The boy disembarked and said, “Sacred Crown, with my own two hands I built this boat to go over land and water. Please keep your promise now and give me your daughter in marriage.”

  The king, who wasn’t expecting this, was dismayed and regretted his decree. Now he would have to give his daughter to some pauper he’d never laid eyes on.

  “I’ll give you my daughter,” replied the king, “on condition you and your crew eat every mouthful of the banquet I shall offer you, without leaving so much as one chicken wing or raisin on your plates.”

  “Very well. When is this banquet to take place?”

  “Tomorrow.” And he ordered a banquet of one thousand dishes, thinking, This ragamuffin certainly won’t have a crew capable of putting away a spread like that.

  The captain of the boat showed up with only one member of the crew, the man who ate buffaloes like roast birds. He ate and ate, chewing ten dishes one after the other, then swallowing a hundred whole, and on and on until he’d polished off one thousand. The king, who looked on speech less, snapped out of his amazement to ask the servants, “Is there anything left in the kitchen?”

  “There’re still a few leftovers.”

  The leftovers were brought in, and the man ate everything down to the last crumb.

  “Of course you’ll marry my daughter, but first I want to offer your crew all the wine in my cellar, which you must drink to the last drop.”

  The drinker of rivers came in and drained a cask, then a barrel, then a demijohn. He even got his hands on the two flasks of malmsey the king had set aside for himself and emptied those with all the rest.

  “Understand,” said the king, “I’m not in the least opposed to giving you my daughter. But there’s the matter of the dowry that comes with her: dresser, cupboards, bed, washstand, linen, treasure chests, and everything else in the house. You must take it all away in one trip, immediately, with my daughter seated on top of the load.”

  “Do you feel like a little work?” said the boy to the man who held up mountains.

  “Do I!” he replied. “That’s my weakness!”

  They went up to the palace, and the boy said to the movers, “Are you ready? You can begin loading things onto his back.”

  They brought out wardrobes, tables, and trunks of jewels and piled them on the big man’s back all the way up to the roof. To get on top of the pile, the king’s daughter had to climb to the tower of the palace and step off from there. Once she was on, the huge man called out, “Hold on tight, princess.” He ran all the way to the boat with everything and jumped aboard.

  “Now fly, my boat,” commanded the boy, and the boat sped through the streets and town squares out across the fields.

  Looking from his balcony, the king shouted, “After them! Seize them and bring them back in chains!”

  The army charged after them, but was checked by the cloud of dust the boat stirred up.

  The boy’s father was overjoyed to see his youngest son return with a whole boatload of treasure and the king’s daughter in a wedding dress. The boy had the most beautiful palace in the world built, gave one floor of it to his father and brothers, one to each of his companions, and kept all the rest for himself and his bride, the king’s daughter.



  The Neapolitan Soldier

  Three soldiers had deserted their regiment and taken to the open road. One was a Roman, one a Florentine, while the smallest was a Neapolitan. After traveling far and wide, they were overtaken by darkness in a forest. The Roman, who was the oldest of the three, said, “Boys, this is no time for us all three to go to sleep. We must take turns keeping watch an hour at a time.”

  He volunteered for the first watch, and the other two threw down their knapsacks, unrolled their blankets, and went fast asleep. The watch was almost up, when out of the forest rushed a giant.

  “What are you doing here?” he asked the soldier.

  “None of your business,” replied the soldier, without even bothering to turn around.

  The giant lunged at him, but the soldier proved the swifter of the two by drawing his sword and cutting off the giant’s head. Then he picked up the head with one hand and the body with the other and threw them into a nearby well. He carefully cleaned his sword, resheathed it, and called his companion who was supposed to keep the next watch. Before awakening him, though, he thought, I’d better say nothing about the giant, or this Florendne will take fright and flee. So when the Florentine was awake and asking, “Did you see anything?” the Roman replied, “Nothing at all, everything was as calm as could be.” Then he went to sleep.

  The Florentine began his watch, and when it was just about up, here came another giant exactly like the first, who asked, “What are you doing here?”

  “That’s no business of yours or anybody else’s,” answered the Florentine.

  The giant sprang at him, but in a flash the soldier drew his sword and lopped off his head, which he picked up along with the body and threw into the well. His watch was up, and he thought, I’d better say nothing of this to the lily-livered Neapolitan. If he knew that things like this went on around here, he’d take to his heels and we’d never see him again.

  So, when the Neapolitan asked, “Did you see any action?” the Florentine replied, “None at all, you’ve nothing to worry about.” Then he went to sleep.

Neapolitan watched for almost an hour, and the forest was perfectly still. Suddenly the leaves rustled and out ran a giant. “What are you doing here?”

  “What business is it of yours?” replied the Neapolitan.

  The giant held up a hand that would have squashed the Neapolitan flatter than a pancake, had he not dodged it, brandished his sword, and swept off the giant’s head, after which he threw the remains into the well.

  It was the Roman’s turn once more to keep watch, but the Neapolitan thought, I first want to see where the giant came from. He therefore plunged into the forest, spied a light, hastened toward it, and came to a cottage. Peeping through the keyhole, he saw three old women in conversation before the fireplace.

  “It’s already past midnight, and our husbands are not yet back,” said one.

  “Do you suppose something has happened to them?” asked another.

  “It might not be a bad idea,” said the third, “to go after them. What do you say?”

  “Let’s go right now,” said the first. “I’ll carry the lantern that enables you to see a hundred miles ahead.”

  “And I’ll bring the sword,” said the second, “which in every sweep wipes out an army.”

  “And I’ll bring the shotgun that can kill the she-wolf at the king’s palace,” said the third.

  “Let’s be on our way.” At that, they threw open the door.

  Hiding behind the doorpost with sword in hand, the Neapolitan was all ready for them. Out came the first woman holding the lantern, and swish! her head flew off before she could say a single “Amen.” Out came the second, and swish! her soul sped to kingdom come. Out came the third and went the way of her sisters.

  The soldier now had the witches’ lantern, sword, and shotgun and decided to try them out immediately. “We’ll just see if those three dotards were telling the truth.” He raised the lantern and saw an army a hundred miles away besieging a castle, and chained on the balcony was a she-wolf with flaming eyes. “Let’s just see how the sword works.” He picked it up and swung it around, then raised the lantern once more and peered into space: every last warrior lay lifeless on the ground beside his splintered lance and dead horse. Then the Neapolitan picked up the gun and shot the she-wolf.

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