Review of Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino:
Overview (written by yours truly this time): This is a wonderful book full of folktales from Italy of course, though many were found in other parts of the world as well, as Mr. Calvino reported. All the stories differ and have their own “plots” so there was not one plot that I could report here in this section. Therefore, I decided to skip the usual Barnes and Noble summary as I didn’t think it would add anything to the reader’s understanding of what the book is about.
I don’t recall having ever read this type of book before. I think I did skim through a copy of this at the library once (where I also got this copy that I finished reading last week) and decided that it was too long for me to tackle. Then as I read further into it, I remembered something else about it- something that I didn’t like. As far as I can tell, it has no folktales from the region of Umbria. This surprised me since the back cover clearly states that Mr. Calvino compiled these stories from every region in Italy. Yet based on his notes in the back of the book, I can find no evidence that he took any from Umbria. Indeed there is only one mention of Umbria in the book. It merely states that whatever story he had printed here, (I don’t remember which story he was referring to exactly) it was similar to a story that they have in Umbria. This was a major disappointment for me since my ancestors immigrated to this country from that very region and I had hoped to find one of the stories that they might have heard growing up there.
I did still love the book. Why? Because the stories in it were so rich and much more interesting than I had imagined. I remember on my first trip to Italy being amazed at how many of the stories that I recognized growing up here in the USA were available as children’s’ books in Italy as well. I don’t know what I was expecting but it wasn’t “Biancaneve,” or Snow White, but there she was. I bought a copy of it and a few other children’s stories while I was there.
The folktales in here are not exactly the same as the brothers Grimm variety of tales that we have here, however. Here we find versions of Jack and the Bean Stalk and Little Red Riding Hood that have their own character and, I think, are more interesting than the traditional versions that we know.
Also, there are stories that I have never heard before. The fairy tale world is a place where giants, talking animals, faeries, and magic spells are routine. Many of them espouse the theme of not judging things by their appearances, which I love. I think it is sad that we have lost the magic of these stories to some extent, for when we lost them, we also lost many of the morals they taught us.
It was hard to think about which of these stories were my favorites but I forced myself to do so, though it almost feels like treason against my heritage (even if none of the stories were Umbrian). I liked the first one, “Dauntless Little John,” a lot. It was short and to the point but still I found myself invested in the main character. Other favorites include: “The Magic Ring,” “The Devil’s Breeches,” “Fanta-Ghiro’ the Beautiful,” “The Mouse with the Long Tail,” as well as the various versions of Jesus and Saint Peter travelling around the various parts of Italy (even though some of them weren’t Biblical accurate in my opinion- I still appreciated the lessons that they taught).
If a person could stand to read even a few of these folktales and suspend their disbelief, he or she could learn something valuable and maybe even feel like a kid again. I highly recommend them, though, I don’t know how many people could actually read the book in its entirety since even I found it trying, though I am glad I did. I hope you will be too.
Also, as a side note, I would like to hear what some of your favorite folktales are as well. And if anyone knows more about this book, an Italian perhaps, and why it doesn’t seem to have any tales from Umbria, I’d be glad to hear from that person as well.
Contains: surprisingly, some violence and even a hint of sexuality in one tale, though for me the violence was a little more disturbing and surprising. Maybe not all folktales are for children.