1. Fairy Map of Succession
When the mirror told her that Snow-White was
more beautiful than her, the queen mother ...became pale with
envy, and from that hour on, she hated
Snow-White. She could then only think about killing her, about
getting back her supremacy, but in
the end she had to die, while dancing
at the wedding of Snow-White and her prince.
Between tragedy and everyday life, the fairy-tales offer a free area, where all can enter without any licence; be they scholars or illiterates, Eastern or Western people, citizens of the south and of the north of the world, children, grown-ups and old people. All of them have the same competence and the same right to listen to and tell a fairy-tale. Fairy-tales present an extreme risk: succumbing before growing up. But they also represent a chance to escape a mortal danger and reach a happy ending. This happy ending is not realistic, it is simply true. Let us think, for example, of the relief - at least of the spontaeous smile - that Snow-White gives us when she opens her eyes and sees - together with us - her enamoured prince and the happy seven dwarves. We can also imagine Cinderella finally dancing with her Prince Charming, while the stepsisters and all the guests move to the background to give them room in the palace.
If the shapes of the generational conflict
are countless, why does Fabulando give ten of
them? Our wish
is not to build up any kind of catalogue, or to fix a
new kind of classification. We only arranged ten moulds, to place the Sixty-seven
fairy tales of our collection. We are simply offering
The Fairy Map of Succession.
Let us now look
together at the Fairy Map of Succession.
In the lower
part, we see the sea that represents the maternal side,
because the south includes half of the fairy tales of
the map which feature an injunction coming from the
maternal actant. The north half of the map, with the
mountains that represent the side of the father,
includes fairy tales which start with a paternal
injunction. If the main actant is a female, the tales
are in the west side of the map, whilst the fairy tales
are in the east side if their main actant is a male. The
symbol of the female filial actant is the moon; that
of the filial male actant is the sun.
presents ten symbols of Parental
Injunctions, which may be only in one quadrant, in
two, in three, or in all quadrants. Under every symbol
of the injunctions, there is the title of a fairy tale
that is the head of the list for that injunction in that
quadrant. With a click or a touch on each symbol or
title, we open the Map of the fairy tale.
Let us now look
at a Map of the fairy tale. If for example, on
the Fairy Map of Succession, we choose with a
click or a touch in the southeast quadrant the Peak
of the Impossible Task - Frog,
Frog - we open the following Map of the
tale. At the center of this map there is an image
of the fairy tale.
By clicking or
touching this image, we get the e-book
of the tale.
section of the injunction, we see the Northeast
Quadrant, to which our fairy tale Frog, Frog belongs. By
clicking or touching this image, we get the Map of
the Quadrant. From this map we can get the maps
of all the fairy tales belonging to the northeast
The lower left
section leads to the Fabulando
Fairy Tours, which are itineraries we offer
to visit the fairy tales of Fabulando.
Every tale is told with an e-book, and some tales are told also through other digital media: e-kamishibai - a digital version of the Japanese paper theater or kamishibai - movie and history of the fairy tale.
The map of The Frog Prince, for example, includes all the kinds of storytelling included in Fabulando. We can get them clicking or touching the relevant captions. (AG & CC)
The fairy tale
always tells the story of a filial actant, because it
tells how it is possible to grow up. Growth is not
limited to childhood and adolescence, as it is always
possible; whenever we learn something we feel more
adult, regardless of our age. The
main actant is a young one, playing a filial role with
the old or young actants that he/she meets during
his/her journey. This is an experience of human growth.
The reader and the listener may be seven or seventy
years old, but they will regardless all identify with
We would now
like to point out the difference between fairy tales
with a female main actant and fairy tales with a male
main actant, examining two tales starting with the same
injunction, acted by the same parental actant, Sleeping Beauty in the
Wood and Pig King. These
tales begin with the injunction Sailing
Ship of the Black Curse, and the curse comes
from a female parental actant. The female main actant of
the first tale is the world-famous princess who falls
into a death-like sleep, the male main actant of the
second tale is a prince that is a pig from birth. The
events of these tales are quite different, as are the
paths of these main actants. The first difference lies
in the effect produced on the protagonists by the
injunction and parental actant, we now examine two fairy
tales belonging to The
Fortress of Solitude: Sweet Diamond Pie and The Raven. Betta,
female main actant of the first tale, and Milluccio,
male main actant of the second one, do not want to marry
anybody. Betta decides to make herself a man with sugar,
almonds and rosewater, while Milluccio falls in love
with an ideal woman that cannot be found. The beautiful
husband of Betta soon leaves her for a foreign queen,
and the tale tells of Betta's long journey to find him.
In the tale The Raven, the
younger brother of King Milluccio leaves to find his
brother's ideal bride, and finds her at the mid-point of
the tale. These two actants have to face many hard
trials to get their happy ending.
3. Parental Injunctions
An injunction is a final order, a hindrance that someone, who has the power to do it, imposes on another, who cannot escape. We defined “parental” the injunctions of the fairy tales given in Fabulando, to say that the parental actants impose them on the filial actants, as a task, an exile, or a sentence. The injunction begins the fairy tale and entails a reaction of the main actants, who have to move themselves. So, they begin their journey, which is often lengthy and sprinkled with mortal dangers, towards the happy ending.
When her step-mother orders beautiful Caterina (The Mammone Cat) to go and see the dangerous fairies and ask them a sieve, she imposes on her an Impossible Task, namely to survive the encounter with magic powerful figures. Then the girl must go, and facing the danger her own nature emerges. This gives her the chance to grow up.
When his father turns Nardiello out of the house (The Cockroach, the Mouse and the Cricket), he imposes on and exiles him. The main actant has to live a destitute life, far from family protection. Nonetheless, travelling alone with his little magic animals, he can meet the princess Milla, care her from melancholy and marry her.
The injunctions of Fabulando that distinguish fairy tales are ten, and they are represented by a symbol. They all find their own place in the Fairy Map of Succession. Four of them figure in all quadrants: the Forest of the Exile, the Marsh of the Dereliction, the Peak of the Impossible Task and the Labyrinth of the Impossible Commitment. One of them figure in three quadrants: the Fork of the Possible Task. Three injunctions are in two quadrants: the Fortress of Solitude, the Sailing Ship of the Black Curse, and the Gibbet of the Death Sentence. Two of them eventually figure only in one quadrant: the Tower of the Segregation and the Castle of the Forced Love.
Each injunction includes more fairy tales. To the north of the Fairy Map of Succession we positioned the injunctions imposed by the father figure, to the south those imposed by the mother figure. Below each symbol there are two captions, the first gives the name of the injunction, the second gives the title of the fairy tale that we chose to represent that injunction in that quadrant.
By a click or a touch on the symbol, you open the map of that fairy tale, and then you can focus on that tale or go on exploring the fairy tales starting with that injunction, by a click or a touch on its own symbol, which is in the lower left of each Map of the Fairy Tale. The Maps of the Injunctions include in their turn the division in quadrants of their own fairy tales, so that you can see at a glance the distribution of the fairy tales of the Gibbet of the Death Sentence, of the Forest of the Exile, of the Sailing Ship of the Black Curse, etc.
Crossing injunctions and quadrants you get a tool to travel in Fabulando without getting lost: everywhere you can know where you are according to the main map, the Fairy Map of Succession. Moreover, you always get clear symbols recalling the meanings of the path you are following. If you choose the path of a single injunction, you can explore its feminine and masculine articulation; if you try the area of a quadrant, walking through its different injunctions, you can see how many questions come from a female or male main actant, facing a male or female parental actant.
As well as everyday life, fairy-tale world gives countless ties and connections, and the risk to get lost in stories is very high, leading to the painful feeling of going around without any sense. Facing the injunction of our Impossible Commitment to give life to Fabulando, we tried to enable you to walk along fairy tale’s sensible paths getting your position wherever you find yourself, just following your love for fairy tales. We welcome you, be your level of knowledge of this subject high or low.
If then you happen to get lost, there is no harm: wherever you are, look at the icon of the Fairy Map of Succession, click or touch it to get back the starting point and try a new way. (CC)
|Peak of the Impossible Task
The fairy tale Mammone Cat tells of a stepmother who sends the beautiful Caterina to the fairies hoping that they will make her ugly. Caterina, weeping, sets out alone, and along the way she meets an old ragamuffin. She tells him her story and listens to him, who teaches her how to behave with the fairies. These are not the kind of instructions given by the parental actant in the tales of the Fork of the Possible Task. They make possible a kind of initiation, leaving Caterina free to act on them.
In Solver of Riddles, Solve this Riddle, a marquis promises to grant freedom to a prisoner if someone will ask him a riddle that he cannot solve. The main female actant wins the test and her father is pardoned. The enigma concerns the ambiguity of language, its polysemy. This marquis, like Turandot, understands that there are riddles that he cannot solve, while he had previously been sure of being able to master them without any limit.
Three princes are tasked by their father king with finding the water that can cure his blindness (The Marmotta Queen). In another fairy tale a king gives his three princes the task of finding a wife by rolling three golden balls (Frog, Frog). In the first tale, the elder brothers interrupt their journey without finding the magic water for their father, while Andreino, the youngest prince, fulfills his task. The slander of his envious brothers endangers his life, but they cannot overcome him in the end. In Frog, Frog, the elder brothers get two beautiful girls, but Nicolino, the youngest one, finds only a frog in the ditch where his golden ball fell. Without doubting his task, he is sad but ready to marry a frog, when the animal turns herself into a princess. The youngest brother fulfils his impossible task and finally ascends to the throne together with his beautiful wife.
The Dying Fairy's Will gives us the chance to see that two fairy tales beginning with different injunctions can have the same plot. In this tale, starting with the Peak of the Impossible Task, a son promises his dying fairy mother to give his three sisters in marriage to the first three passers-by. He grudgingly executes her will, then an old hag bewitches him, so that he must find Bella Margarita. In the tale Three Animal Kings, beginning with the injunction of the Labyrint of the Impossible Commitment, the prince chooses to leave to find his sister, who had been abducted by three animal kings, while his parents try to hold him back. Well, his journey is nearly the same as that of the main actant of the other tale, and leads all the young actants to the same happy ending. The three bewitched husbands of the main actant’s sisters turn back into handsome kings and the main male actant overcomes the ogre who had imprisoned Bella Margarita and marries her. Four young couples come back to their four kingdoms, where their parents were mourning the loss of their heirs, so that the young princes and princesses ascend to their respective thrones and live happily ever after. (AG)
|Labyrinth of the Impossible
In the fairy
tale The Seven
Little Pigeons, there is the same
separation between male and female descendants, but here
it is a daughter who sets off to look for her seven lost
brothers, and goes on a wonderful but hard journey.
After many vicissitudes, the sister comes back home
together with her brothers, and they bring home riches
just as like Hänsel e
The main actants of Violet and The Golden Eagle do not follow any injunction but their desire, and they act with the determination of any actant who chooses an impossible commitment. Violet fills the gap between herself and the king’s son, who had tried to capture her. Arrighetto, main actant of The Golden Eagle, son of the emperor of the Magna (Germany), falls in love with the daughter of his father' main enemy, the King of Raona (Aragon). After a realistic European war between the two enemies and all their allies, peace finally comes, and the kings bless the union of their male and female descendants.
The folktale Smithy Menico
begins with the impossible wish par excellence, which
a poor but cunning smith can express and fulfil thanks
to three magic gifts. The donor here is Jesus, with
St. Peter as his assistant, who grants Smithy Menico
three wishes. The main actant does not ask
for wealth or other goods, but for something
that will give him the power to cheat Death and the
the Possible Task
This injunction include three fairy tales of our collection, Dauntless Little John, Thus Ended the Idiot and Red Riding Hood. The third tale is better known in a version that ends happily, while ours, by Perrault, is the first version ever published, which ends with the wolf successfully devouring the main actant and her granny.
The task of Little John looks easy, because the main actant is dauntless and looks able to overcome every hurdle; his life looks easy because nobody engages him with a task. Red Riding Hood and the Idiot have an ordinary simple task to complete; the girl has to visit her grandmother and bring her something to eat, the poor Idiot has to go to the miller with some wheat and come back with the flour. These are possible task, if we liken it to other fairy tale's tasks; let us remember, for example, Snow White, who has to survive to her killer mother. We could think also of the main actant in the tale The Seven Little Pigeons, who has to reach the House of Time, becouse only Time knows the secret to turn back her seven pigeon brothers into human beings.
It is a paradox that the possible tasks drive the main actants to death, while the impossible tasks drive them to the happy ending. Looking at this injunction, we think of a parent's current bent. Parents and teachers often try to hide away death, pain and serious illness, as if they could protect children from the hard reality. They do not protect children, but their own narcissism, which refuses this tragic experience. Children know very soon the existence of death, illness and pain, if they cannot speak about it with their parents, they are going to think that their knowledge is illicit, as if they were heretics in their church-family. Children can othewise think that their parents are so afraid that it is better not to speak with them about these tragic issues. Children will however be lonely in their experience of the tragic side of life, while it is necessary to understand it and know its risks. An elaboration is needed, and it is possible only if these issues take place in the field of education, by a speech or a fairy tale that can tie them with others issues.
A fork represents the injunction of the Possible Task, because the main actants here think to have an easy and right way to complete their task as if they should not think by themselves. They never complete the task, because the only way to try a free path is missing the task assigned by their parents. If the parents think to be able to protect their children forever, they give them only the chance to break their law or to miss their task. When children grow up, they need to understand their own desire; if they have no desire but their parent's one, they cannot choose their own path. Moreover, they do not know the risk and they do not learn how to deal with it. In these fairy tales, this set drives to an unhappy ending.
In the popular version of Red Riding Hood, she and her grandmother live again thanks to the hunter, a paternal actant who has a knife and a gun, able to get food from the wood. This later happy end means the restoration of the initial situation, a kind of second birth realised by the hunter father. (AG)
of the Exile
The other three fairy tales beginning with this injunction have male main actants and a happy ending, as well as Flower and Flowerstem. The maternal actant exiles the female main actant because of her beauty, as well as maternal actants sentence Snow White to death and segregate Cinderella. Parental actants force the male main actants of our three tales of the Forest of the Exile because of their ineptitude. His father chases away and delegitimizes little John because he is looking for fear and the goose bump instead of learning a trade (Little John and the Shudder). The Cockroach, the Mouse and the Cricket tells how the father of Nardiello tries to teach him to become a merchant, but Nardiello wastes huge amounts of money so that he has finally to run away to escape his father beating him to death. The mother and the sisters of Dumbtony, in The Tale of the Ogre, are very poor, while he is a stupid layabout; when his exasperated mother beats him to death, he runs away. Dumbtony does not understand ambiguity in language, as well as the main character in Così finì il Tonto, nevertheless he may get chance to learn from his experience.
Looking at these three fairy tales of the Forest of the Exile, we can state a kind of rule, each time parents throw out their son, this youth can find his way to grow up and get a happy ending. Another kind of rule says that if the main male actant in a fairy tale is unable to provide for himself and damages his family, he must move away from his origin to grow up and survive, and even get a happy ending. The ineptitude of the main male actant means a failure of his education, however the tale does not tell anything about this failure's reasons. It only tells that the parents acknowledge it and stop looking for a remedy, allowing their son to leave or forcing him to go through the world, so that he may learn from his experience what he could not learn from them. The bond between parents and sons - or daughters - is so strong that without continuance solutions they become so hardly attached to each other that they risk to falling into a tragic area. The death of the main actants in the fairy tales beginning with the injunction Fork of the Possible Task represents this tragic area.
Anothe kind of tale, the Parable of the Prodigal Son, tells of the youngest son who had claimed his share to leave his father's house (Luca, 15, 11-32). His father divided his property between his children and let him go, without both asking him for any explanation and giving him any advice. The minor son squandered his riches and became a servant who suffered even hunger. Then he decided to go back to his father to ask him to welcome him as one of his servants, but his father, as soon as he saw him, took him into his arms and had a celebration for him. Even on this occasion, the father did not ask him or tell any explanation.
one of the three task that Freud defined impossible;
nevertheless, it is impossible to stop doing it. The
father of the parable, even quite different from the
parents of the three male actants of the Forest of
the Exile, behaves as a parent who knows that
becoming adult entails a tremendous freedom that no
educator can master. If parents take too much care of
their ideal image, their narcissism prevents them from
accepting their own limits. If they can bear the
narcissistic wound that every son or daughter can
inflict on their parents, they get the chance to grow
together with their descendents. Thinking again of the
parable we quoted, if the father is God, it tells that
not even the Creator can save a man against his will. To
try to do better than Father God is a dangerous madness,
often masqued by unlimited love, both by believers and
As soon as the dereliction is told, these stories tell that into this stage there is however something that looks unuseful, like a cat, a doll or a speaking fish. But it can help the derelict actants to leave their mash and find a way to become even a king or a queen. The perception of our dereliction is common, but the way that these actants choose to follow their wish for a doll, or to listen to a cat or a fish, is not easy. To get their beloved doll, the main female actants of The Lost Doll and Pooavola Doll give up everything, and faithfully following their desire, they make possible their story and their happy ending. Madmatt and the future Marquis de Carabas (Puss in Boots and Master Cat or Puss in Boots) are hungry, and they would fill them up with their inherited cat or the fish they finally caught. Nevertheless, they listen to them, even if it looks impossible that those animals could change their fate. Hope and desire go together, as well as despair and lack of desire; and these stories tell how the first pair can work. Nevertheless, it is almost impossible to give up the satisfaction of an urgent need of ours, which commands us by the tyranny of our symptoms, because following our desire means being ready to risk everything. The feeling of our terrible dereliction can stop our desire even from whispering something, because the dereliction is quite certain, while desire is lacking of any guarantee.
Let us now
remember that fairy tales do not tell that following our
desire we leave the mash and become queens and kings;
they just tell that following it, listening to the faint
voice that invites us to do it, is the only way to make
it possible. The border between a childish certainty and
a grown-up uncertainty presents itself every day, but we
seldom acknowledge it. (AG)
introduced a tower (of the Segregation) into
his version of Cinderella
(US 1950), to increase the isolation of its beloved main
female actant and the oppressiveness of her stepmother.
Another tower, with just a little window, has
characterized the tale of Parsley
since its first version (Basile,
Each injunction we chose to order our fairy tales in the Fairy Map of Succession, may be thought of as a constraint (French: contraint). Fabulando follows a model for growing up that would be impossible without a constraint. The constraint of metrics and a fixed rhyme scheme is the narrow way through which poetry and poems come, as well as the tower's only little window is the passage for Parsley to set off and for her prince to come in. In the last wonderful version of Cinderella directed by Kennet Branagh (US 2015) the song of the prisoner comes out from the highest little window of the tower, and her king does not need to find her any more. (AG)
Ship of the Black Curse
In the east and west sea of the Map of Succession, the Sailing Ship of the Black Curse sails, missing from the paternal north quadrants of the map, as well as the Gibbet of the Death Sentence. The maternal quadrants is the sole agent for the most cruel injunctions, as if the mothers would be more dangerous than fathers for their growing children. It seems that fairy tales confirm the millennial tradition that looks at the woman as diaboli janua (devil’s door) and legis prima desertrix (law’s first deserter), from Eve with the snake. The women’s inferiority would depend on their being deriving from the man, while the man derived from God. Nevertheless, it is told that God created the world by his word, but He took something from Mother Earth to create Adam.
This male priority entailed the generative power, because up to the 18th century scientist told that the homuncula lived in the sperm, whose name is in fact semen, while the woman had to nourish and grow the new creature (see also: Storytelling and Science). Nevertheless, the woman can become a superior creature if she lives just for her husband and children; like the Madonna, who has no stain of sin and has never leaded a man into temptation. There are more churches dedicated to the Madonna than to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Let us give a look to the Paleolithic Venus figurines, the first representations of human beings. Their bodies’ parts linked with sex and procreation are emphasized and realistic – breast, womb, buttocks and thighs –, while their face has no features and their forearms are missing, as well as and the lower part of their legs. From these feminine bodies the Paleolithic sculptors removed facial expression - therefore the speech -, feet - the autonomous movement - hands - the independent ability to relate. The woman should then stop and receive, like earth from the sewer. Che la piasa, che la tasa e che la staga in casa (Be she pleasant, be she silent, and stay she at home) still says a saying from the Veneto.
The Sailing Ship of the Black Curse and the Gibbet of the Death Sentence are only on the south quadrants of the map because they concern the feminine as earth. Males can penetrate it and reap its fruits, without knowing its mysterious deepness. The mythic image of women since the Old Stone Age veils and unveils the unknown, and it's right and duty of men to stop and to fear this odd mystery. Therefore, women hold the threatening unknown, darkness and death. So the menstrual blood can be a taboo, and many women are still veiled and segregated.
If women hold the extreme evil, they could consequently act it with dreadful effects. This mythic truth is still told by some ecology movements; Mother Earth will sentence humankind to death, because men outraged and poisoned her with their overbearing civilization. If this story were one of our fairy tales, we would place it in the southeast quadrant, and it should belongs to the injunction of the Sailing Ship of the Black Curse o to the Gibbet of the Death Sentence, together with the story of Avatar (James Cameron, US 2009). Let us now mention something about the ending of this film that has told its story all over the world. Jake Sully, the male main actant, saves himself turning into a Na’vi, a thin blue creature that might be more fine and good than the guilty man. The Earth, which is our only realm, is dying, and on Pandora just two male human beings survive. The chain of human generations stops forever in this almost unhappy dystopian ending.
feminine of the vindictive Mother Earth is still in
force, but it does not belong to the female actants more
than to the male ones. In fact, the fairy-tale curse and
the warrant coming from the parental female actant hit
both sons and daughters. The actants undergo these
injunctions to free themselves from the power of this
archaic mother and reach the field of speech. This
difficult movement is a precondition to grow up. We then
think of the Sailing Ship of the Black Curse and
the Gibbet of the Death Sentence,
as to paradoxical expressions, telling by hints
something whose features are inexpressible. It has no
words or expressions, like the Paleolithic Venus
figurines, and the stories telling the drama of a
subject who is imprisoned in this field are easily
misunderstood. We should remember that they stage by
words something escaping from the speech, like a
psychosomatic illness. Many years after her delivery, it
happensa that a mother has not have completely delivered
her child, as if she would still keep parts of her
children’s body - and mind. These female and male young
actants - these sons and daughters - cannot really grow,
since a part of them is still in her dumb womb.The
stories beginning with the Sailing Ship of
the Black Curse tell something about this
The queen of Pig King becomes pregnant thanks to three fairies, which make her beautiful and inviolable, but they decide that this perfect queen will give birth to a pig baby. Life can flow even through her magic pregnancy and her acceptance of her animal baby. The Pig King turns into a handsome human youth thank to a wife who tenderly loves him as a pig too. Nevertheless, he forbids her to tell his parents that he is a man by night. His metamorphosis becomes irreversible after the birth of a human baby, when finally his royal parents learn of the human nature of their son. So, life flows again in the realm, now free from the strictness of the ideal.
In Sleeping Beauty in the Wood, the curse comes from an old fairy, who takes her revenge because the father king had forgot her. She has the same power of Athropos, the Greek Moira who cut the thread of the human life; nevertheless in the fairy tale it is always possible to mitigate such a sentence. The newborn princess will not die, but sleep for a century, together with all the dwellers of the castle. In the Greek mythology a human being betraying an oath was condemned to death. And if a god or a goddess did the same, they had to spend a long time sleeping like Beauty in the wood. Zeus appointed for Styx, goddess of the underground freezing river, the great oath of the gods. We remember this ancient myth because it brings us back to our fairy tales, since Styx means shudder, the unheimliche feeling that Dauntless Little John ignored, while another Little John missed and looked for it (Little John and the Shudder).
tale in this section is a gorgeous Sicilian story, Misfortune. The curse of
the female main actant depends on the nature of her
Fate, a popular sister of the mythic Moirai or Norns,
Latin Parcae. Her mother queen asks her daughter
Misfortune to set off, in order to take her curse away
from their house. European fairy tales have many
precedents in the ancient literature, and they probably
have had a long oral transmission, but their certain
birth occurred in the 16th century, when Giovan
Francesco Straparola published some fairy
tales among the novellas of his collection, The
Facetious Nights. The modernity of fairy tales
entails actants that represent modern subjects,
individually acting, able to become free from parental
authorities, to face their injunctions and follow the
law of their
desire to get their own aims. This Sicilian fairy
tale gives us one of the best images of this chance,
when Sfurtuna meets Gna Francisca
(gna means signora, madam), who is the
washerwoman of the king. Since when she had left her
house, Sfurtuna was followed and damaged by her Fate,
which leaves her now in peace, to wash, dry, mend, iron
and starch the king’s clothes together with Gnà
Francisca. The king is very pleased and gives more money
to his washerwoman,
who buys garments and rouges for Sfurtuna and her
Fate, and ingredients to prepare some cakes. Then she
sends Fortuna to offer these cakes to her Fate, who
first refuses them, being an unpleasant ugly
ragamuffin. Sfurtuna gives her some cakes and as soon as
she can approach her, then grabs her, washes, combs her
and dresses her with new clothes. Then Sfortuna’s bad
Fate turns into a good Fate, and finally the main actant
becomes a queen.
suffering from anorexic and/or bulimic diseases find
significative and fruitful some motifs belonging to the
fairy tales that begin with the injunction of the Sailing Ship of the Black Curse
and the Gibbet of the Death
Sentence. If we had no word or story to tie
something imprisoned in a no-name place, we could
never hope to take care of this kind of diseases. We
have nothing but words, stories, and the
psychoanalytic theories - Wittgenstein defined
psychoanalysis a powerful mythology.
Nevertheless, something favourable happens, if we
remember that our instruments, words and stories, are
false or fabulous hooks and baits, by which we can fish
some true fish (I paraphrase here Freud
[Constructions in Analysis SE 23, p. 262] who
quoted Shakespeare: Your bait of falsehood takes
this carp of truth - Hamlet, Act II Scene I, v.
61]). Neither a submarine nor a Delian diver could see
the carps and the aquatic monsters in their
element; moreover, we can only hypothesize the existence
of this inaccessible reality, the unconscious, being
unable to demonstrate it. Then it has not a stuff more
real than dreams and stories, where fairies and fates
organize a journey to go there, but we can imagine that
journey, and in our mind we can, so to say, nourish,
clean and dress again our fate. This would not be a real
journey, but there is no movement without hope, and the
thought and emotions move themselves by fantasy and
imagination. This movement can move a new desire an open
a walled up door, and the invisible journey has visible
|Gibbet of the Death Sentence
To be born, to live, to die: three immortal sisters managed the thread of human life in ancient Greek mythology; the first drew the thread of life, the second spun it, and the third cut it. Their Greek name is Moirai, Latins called them Parcae. Not even Zeus could change the destiny spun and cut by Fates, and from the Latin word fatum, plural fata, comes the Italian fata, French fée, English fairy (from Old French faerie). Our fate is not in the hands of Zeus or in the hands of our parents. While we are running away, we can meet a helper fairy, or an old woman, or a house with seven little beds. Beyond the family world, that is the matrix of our life, there is a world where we enter taking a risk, to find a shelter, to receive a magic hazelnut. Life is greater than the laces that tie and imprison us to our story; the knots may be untied, even if they are tight and tangled. If Snow White made it, we too can hope to overcome our hindrances. (AG)
In the injunction Castle of the Forced Love the bond between father and daughter is so strong that there is a threatening or disgusting husband. In the tales of the Fortress of Solitude the parental actants may be lacking, not even mentioned – The Raven and The White Ricotta –, there is just a paternal actant who fruitlessly proposes to get married to his only daughter – Sweet Diamond Pie -, or his only son. So begins also the fairy tale The Three Citrons, written by Basile in 1734-36, who became a comedy by Carlo Gozzi in 1761, an opera by Sergej Prokofiev in 1919.
The most famous tale beginning with this injunction is Turandot, written in Paris in 1710 by Pétis de La Croix, an orientalist scholar. He knew from Persian Literature the story of the beautiful princess who cuts off the head of her suitors who try her test and fail. Turandot is the last work of Giacomo Puccini, who died in 1924 before completing his Turandot, and the opera's first performance was held in 1926. Like in the fairy tale of Pétis de La Croix, Puccini's Turandot is set in an fabulous China, and in 1998 they staged this opera in the Forbidden City of Peking, as if the frosty princess had finally came back home. Fairy tales give birth to other fairy tales, nourishing imagination and dreams.
In the tale of Sweet Diamond Pie, the daughter of a merchant decides to make a husband to her taste and asks her father to bring her half a hundredweight of Palermo sugar, four or six bottles of scented water, spices and gems. She makes her creature, loves her ideal man and asks gods to give him life, remembering what happened to the Greek sculptor Pygmalion with his statue of Galatea. With the approval of her astonished father, she marries her Sweet Diamond Pie, but a queen steals him and she has to set off to find him again. Her journey to get back her lost beloved has its prototype in the pilgrimage of Psyche abandoned by Amor in the tale of Apuleius, and recurs in the popular versions of Pig King (see also: Il Re Porco e Amore e Psiche, website Adalinda Gasparini, Psicoanalisi e favole).
The Raven, like The White Ricotta
that is one of its popular versions, is a cruel and
bloody fascinating fairy tale. The main male actant is a
king that reigns without any limit to his passion for
haunting, so that he neglects his affairs of state.
Refusing to marry, he stops the alternation of
generations, but then he falls in love with an ideal
wife, imagined by him when he sees three colours
togethre: the red blood of a dead raven, the black of
its feathers and the white of a marble stone. There is a
odd reference to death in the white marble, as well as
in the red and black of the raven. The younger brother
of the king sets off to find this ideal bride, but this
search causes his own death.
The Grimm Brothers knew well The Tale of Tales by Basile, and the colours of the female main actant of this tale could have given them the colours of Snow White, who has to lie as a dead. Among the most famous fairy-tales female characters, she is the only princess characterized by black hair, and her colours come from her mother’s wish. The queen would a baby as white as snow, as black as the black ebony wood of her window and as red as her blood, which fell into the snow when she pricked her finger with a needle. As well as the main actants of The Raven, the mother queen of Snow White gives life to her daughter and then she tries to kill her.
interesting differences between The
Raven and The White Ricotta,
when the king knows that his younger brother has
sacrificed his life to make him happy. In The Raven the
king loves the statue of his brother more than his
babies, and kills them causing a fatal pain to his wife.
Her necromancer father then comes like a deus ex
machina to turn that tragic conclusion into a
happy ending. In the popular Calabrian tale the king
hears her wife’s dragon parents - who now turned into
two pigeons - talking of the mean to give back life to
his brother, giving his babies just a temporary death.
This cruel fairy tale presents a king who stopping the flow of generations in the fortress of his solitude, staring at an ideal image, which is then linked to death, while his younger brother lives only to satisfy him. The desire of a new life raids this ideal’s mirror, the same fatal mirror of water that caught Narcissus. The story tells that a very long journey, an abnegation that sacrifices all one’s goods, even life, can cure the main male actant of his attraction for a dead and alive object, like a statue, a fancy or a mirror.
of the Forced Love
With the same injunction starts the type Donkey Skin, whose most famous version was written by Perrault. This story tells of a widower king who promised his dying wife not to marry any woman but beautiful like her. The king sees that his daughter is the only woman right for him, and wants to marry her. But the princess runs away covered with an animal skin, which like a second skin hides her beauty. At the end, she will happily marry a foreign prince. In Fabulando there is also The She-Bear by Basile, which is the first version of this fairy tale, and a folk version, The Tacconelle of Woody Maria. (For the type Donkey Skin, see also two Italian dialectal versions, O dente d'oo, from Liguria, and Maria Intaulata, from Sardinia, website Adalinda Gasparini, Psicoanalisi e favole).
To this injunction belong popular tales of the type Cordelia, which tell of a king who, like Shakespeare’s King Lear, asks his three daughters to say how much they love him. This type is represented in Fabulando by Rot-Eyes. The actant of this tale is banished by her father because he does not accepts her answer, like King Lear. Cordelia said that she loved her father Lear, but she knew that she will love also the man who will marry her, while her elder sisters had declared a total love for their father. It is interesting to understand how the tragedy and the fairy tale, having the same beginning, have so different endings. (About these tales, see: Marian Roalf Emily Cox, Three Hundred and Forty-five Versions of Cinderella, Catskin and Cap O' Rushes, London 1893; see also Adalinda Gasparini, La Luna nella cenere. Analisi del sogno di Cenerentola, Pelle d’Asino, Cordelia, 1999)
In the type of Beauty and the Beast, which is the most popular tale of its type, the main female actant is ready to give her life to save her father. Beauty's father picked a rose for her in the garden of the Beast, who can spare his life just if one of his daughters will come and take her father’s place. The filial actant is ready to die for the parental actant, inverting the natural flow of life. Then the main female actant stops her life, and the tale goes on with the meeting with the monster. The Beast replaces her idealized father and treats Beauty like a queen, melancholically accepting that she cannot love and marry him. An impossible relation between beauty and ugliness follows the ideal relation between father and daughter. Beauty saves her bond with her father accepting to be the prisoner of a repulsive being, while the Beast tries to win Beauty’s love to get free from the curse that made of him a monstrous being. The main actant of this fairy tale is Beauty, since her father acts the injunction, while the Beast lives alone in his castle because of a duress that had happened before the beginning of the tale. When turnsthe Beast finally into a beautiful prince, he reveals that he refused to marry a powerful woman, that is to say a maternal actant, who cursed him; just a girl ready to marry him in spite of his animal shape can save him.
In the fairy tale Frog, Frog we see a beautiful princess who finally reveals to the incredulous prince Nicolino that she was just the frog that he thought to marry,
Yes, here I am, you have to know that I was under a spell, and I ought to be a frog as long as I could find a boy who would marry me without knowing my beauty.
collection there is a fourth type, an animal - here a
frog - helps the main female actant and asks her to eat
from her little plate and sleep on her pillow: The Frog Prince.
Here the king father orders his daughter to keep her
promise, when the princess does not open the door to the
poor little animal. About this princess we only know
that she loves to play with her golden ball, and that
she will not having a frog near her. Her father king
then forces her to fulfil her promise, leaving the frog
coming on her pillow. Just when she kisses the slimy
frog, in spite of his animal shape, she breaks the spell
that condemned him to that animal shape. The prince
finally tells that his curse came from a female
character, then we note that he had to live into water,
which traditionally is, together with earth, a female
To idealize the loved one might look as a form of great love and devotion, which however implies the incestuous bond with the parent loved and mythicized in childhood. Only the gradual acceptance of the troubling extraneousness of the other, unravels the injunction of the Castle of the Forced Love. It makes no difference if the story tells of a father who requires to marry his daughter (type Donkey Skin) or of a daughter who would die to save her father’s life. Children do not choose parents, it is a kind of forced love that is necessary to grow up; girls and boys normally love and idealize them in childhood, while maturity requires that children work the loss of this ideal. To become adult means to give up the ideal parents, together with the daughter’s and the son’s image of perfect creatures, being the ideal partners of that ideal lover.
incest taboo marks a boundary between parents and
descendants, so that we can understand that time flows
irreversibly, to make possible the separation between
generations and their alternation, with the fertility
that renews life. The female and male filial actants
need to gain experience of their mutual desire,
risking loosing each other. The Beast is afraid that
Beauty will not come back to him, but he lets her go,
while Beauty is afraid that the Beast died for her
fault, and to save him accepts to marry him in spite
of his ugliness.
To navigate Fairy-tale Land you need clear devices, so as to follow your path without getting lost. This fascinating land is made up of numberless stories and characters connecting to each other in conventional or strange ways, giving rise to fairy tales you already know, to other tales you never heard of, and to other ones telling of a character or a motif you already heard of, whose developments might nevertheless surprise you.
We thought of a first, simple, clear and well-known device to help you to find your position. We could not find anything better than the cardinal points, which always show the way for travellers by land and by sea. North, south, east, and west: you can identify them by looking at the position of the sun related to the horizon.
Nevertheless, in Fabulando there are other references. The perspective of a fairy tale coincides with the perspective of its main character, its main actant (let us think, for example, of Snow White, of Cinderella, of the youth who is going to become the Marquis of Carabas with his helper Pussy Cat). The tale tells the story of its main actant and his/her journey to achieve adult autonomy. At the story’s beginning, each main actant faces a parental actant and his/her injunction, which is his/her main reference. The matter changes if the parental actant is a female or male character, because facing a mother rather than a father figure entails different commitments and leads to different paths. Moreover, there is a crucial difference if the main actant is a girl or a boy: in the fairy tale genders are well defined, and the path of a girl never coincides with a boy’s one. The generative meeting entails here these opposite polarities.
The watershed in our Fairy Map of Succession is the gender of the main and parental actants: female/male defines the polarity of the young actants, motherly/fatherly defines the polarity of the parental actants. We then have four poles, corresponding to the cardinal points. Polarity is our fundamental key, echoing the sun/moon opposition, allegory of the male/female couple; in many languages the word sun is masculine while moon is feminine, the opposite applies in other languages; what we always find is their opposition.
We placed the paternal injunctions north just as we chose the mountains to represent the father figure. The maternal injunctions found their place in the south, and the sea is a universal symbol of the mother. We put westward the fairy tales whose main actant is a female. We can start from the stories of the feminine, the most numerous among fairy tales. The tales whose main actant is a male one went east, where the sun, masculine in Italian, rises.
We thus got four quadrants in which to organize our fairy tales. Nonetheless, some of them would not find an easy fit, e.g. Hänsel and Gretel and the versions of The Green Beaubird, because their injunction comes from both parents and there are female and male actants. Therefore, we had to design for them the impossible South-north-east-west Quadrant.
These five quadrants, together with our ten injunctions, are the devices you can use to find your bearings within Fabulando and its Fairy Map of Succession. Every fairy tale has its own map, with its quadrant in the upper left, and with a click or touch, you can open the map of that quadrant with all its fairy tales, linked in turn to their own maps. But can you see other possible paths? We made up Fabulando to invite you to go on scouting and meeting new characters and stories. (CC)
In this quadrant we see fairy tales with a main female actant who sets off down her path and begins her tale responding to a necessity, an order, a constraint, or a death sentence enacted by a maternal figure.
In this quadrant, there is just one fairy tale in which the maternal figure does not impose anything on her daughter, and it is the tale of The Seven Little Pigeons. In this tale, the main actant leaves of her own free will, to find a remedy for the lack of the maternal figure that consists of her mother and of her mother's absent-minded midwife.
In every other tale of this quadrant, the main actant undergoes an oppression of different degrees. They start with the segregated Cinderella and Parsley, oppressed by a stepmother or by an ogress, and they end with the curse and death sentence that condemn Sleeping Beauty and Snow White to a comatose sleep. Between these degrees we find the possible and dangerous task imposed by her mother on Red Riding Hood, the exile imposed on Flower and Flowerstem by their stepmother, the impossible task imposed on the main actant by the mother in the tale The Mammone Cat, the dereliction of Pooavola Doll, imposed on her daughters by their poor mother, who upon dying leaves them only a small box filled with tow. We want to observe that we find the Tower of the Segregation only in this quadrant, while the Sailing Ship of the Black Curse and the Gibbet of the Death Sentence are found only in the southern part of the map. We see then that only a female main actant may undergo a segregation imposed only by a maternal figure, and we see that a female or male main actant may undergo a black curse or a death sentence only coming from a maternal figure. The worst persecution, which can imprison or kill the descendant, belongs to this quadrant or to the southeast quadrant, and this means that the worst threat comes from the maternal figure. If we were now to deduce from all this that mothers are more dangerous than fathers, we would miss the meaning of fairy tales; we prefer to see that the relation with the mother is highly dangerous remembering that through this relation every human being obtains life and nourishment, the first food that is foundation and pattern for every future nourishment.
The female main actants in the southwest quadrant are beautiful, good and innocent, even if they kill their first stepmother, like the seventeenth-century Cat Cinderella. If it is told that the good mother died, we know that the daughter has lost her good donor mother. The perfect goodness is only on the side of the daughter, representing an ideal Ego, and to this perfect daughter corresponds an evil mother who can even kill her daughter and eat her heart. These fairy tales represent a psychological conflict, and our identification with the beautiful innocent main actant protects us from anxiety and allows our destructive unconscious drives to emerge. These themes concern any mother-daughter relation in everyday life.
Using the key of succession, we suggest that there is a common constant in this conflict, that may take numberless shapes in fairy tales. In common life it takes many shapes too, as many as there are mothers and daughters who live through it. These fairy tales tell of a mother who does not want to be overwhelmed by her daughter, a mother who does not want to grow old, to see her beauty fading, her power decreasing, and her death approaching. This mother tries to do something to stop time. On the opposite side, there is a daughter who tries to do something to speed up time, like the little girl who wants to take for herself her mother’s clothes, her jewels, her place near her father and her power to give life. These are immortal indomitable desires that do not need any permission to come into play. Nevertheless, it is through their opposition that life flows. The young actant wins because time works for her victory, not because she is better than her mother, even if it is important to believe this, so important that fairy tales always tell of a beautiful innocent daughter. We could not face life, so hard and full of risks, without a confidence in ourselves, thinking to be better than we really are.
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night,
Who have never been happy or good.
(W. H. Auden, September, 1, 1939)
The fairy tales of the southwest quadrant always tell that a time has to pass, a time without time, or an incredibly long time, maybe a century, so long is the expectance of Sleeping Beauty. Time always wins, and life flows scoffing at our human delusion to slow it down or speed it up. Beauty and innocence are made to blossom like flowers, following their season. Fairy tales pretend to mimic the rhythm of life. (AG)
incestuous fairy tale shows the character of the
northwest quadrant, a father who imposes himself on his
daughter, and a daughter who cannot do her life because
she is bound to her father. The first love of every girl
is her father, and if she does not stop keeping him as
her ideal lover, she will not be able to love a human
being, who can never correspond to an ideal image.
There are then
fairy tales characterized by a metaphorical incest, like
Rot-Eyes and Beauty and the Beast.
In this stories a father loves his daughter so much that
he risks his life to pick a rose for her; the daughter
loves him so much that she is ready to offer her life to
save her father. The love ideal is so strong that the
transformation and the happy ending come just after a
long closeness with the opposite of the ideal, the
Calabrian Provençal tale Solver
of Riddles, Solve this Riddle, the incest
concerns the nourishment that a daughter gives her
prisoner father. This incest gives the riddle par
excellence, and since the solver marquis is not able to
solve it, the main female actant gets freedom for her
In The Lost Doll the
main female actant is the beloved daughter of a king who
suddenly dies. She loses her father and the doll that
she always kept near herself, and her happy ending
cannot come if she does not find out her doll. This doll
means here the ideal image of the princess, a part of
her identity that she needs to grow up. A prince has
found the lost doll, and fell in love with this ideal
image; the princess find her lost doll with him, and
they get happily
In the tale of
Sweet Diamond Pie the main
female actant loves so much her ideal partner that she
does not leave her father's house. Then she gets from
her merchant father the ingredients to make a man of her
In the tale of Violet the main actant demands to be an ideal for her prince, and escaping all his attacks she arouses his desire. She leads a courteous cunning game that however would not be enough to get a happy ending. As well as in every fairy tale of this quadrant, the ideal needs to confront itself with its opposite, that here is an ogre. This clumsy ingenuous creature adopts the cunning beautiful Violet, and this combination of opposites is the ingredient that every fairy tale in this quadrant needs to reach an happy ending. (AG)
The sun of the main male actant floodlights the Paternal Mountains, and the parent injunctions drive to long journeys the protagonists in the fairy tales inscribed on this quadrant.
We could start with the two Little John, both lacking intention to learn a trade to live. Dauntless Little John has no parent: the injunction of his tale is the lack of paternal law. He lives here or there as if everything would be simple, without any desire, so that he can spend a whole night in a cursed castle, because nothing frightens him. But he then dies at the first sight of his own shadow, or of his own bottom. The other little John too is never afraid (Little John and the Shudder), but he misses fear, and he has a father who throws him out of the house, because little John does not learn anything. The feeling of a lack is necessary to learn from experience, and it leads the main actant to an ending quite different from Dauntless Little John.
In the ancient fairy tale The Raven and in The White Ricotta - which is one of its popular variants - the young king has no parent and his paternal injunction is implicit: he is opposed against the father who left him his throne, because he reigns without any interest to marry and leave his throne to an heir. Through a sudden image, this king falls in love with an ideal woman, who links life - red blood - and death - white marble. The tale disentangles step by step, risk after risk, this mixture of death and life that would block the alternation of generations. This tale is so harsh that it could be enough to teach how fairy tales are not at all reassuring stories for children.
Main male actants like Madmatt or the poor lad who owns just a cat (Master Cat or Puss in Boots), may find a male magic helper, who gives them what they are missing. Here we see a father who cannot issue his son with a concrete inheritance, but the main actant experiences a magic or supernatural helper who endows him with magic gifts; at the end, he marries a princess and becomes heir to the throne.
The father turns out of his house the main actant of the tale The Cockroach, the Mouse and the Cricket, as well as the father in the tale Little John and the Shudder. The main actant starts without any father's protection and this forces him to count just on his resources and on the helpers he may meet. On this way, these actants can grow up and get a happy ending through amazing and risky adventures. This is one of the best stories of the Tale of Tales by Basile, and it is hilarious.
The Golden Eagle is the most ancient tale of our collection, and it may be seen more as a chivalry tale than a fairy tale. The main actant, Arrighetto, heir to the German Empire,conquers Lena, or Elena, in spite of her father, the King of Aragon. He enters in her room hiding into a big golden eagle, as well as the Greeks entered in Troy hiding in the wooden horse. Then his paternal antagonist is the King of Aragon, and the rape of Lena causes a war that involves all the European peoples.
Jesus, the highest paternal authority, endows the faber of the Friulian tale Smithy Menico of the means to cheat Death and Devil. This male main actant might be a little fairy-tale brother of the mythic Prometheus, since his desire is not to save his soul, but to play tricks on supernatural beings.
We finally see in this quadrant two fairy tales with an explicit paternal injunction, The Marmotta Queen and Frog, Frog. In these tales, the king father imposes an impossible task on his sons, in order to choose his successor. The main male actant finally gets the throne because he tried this impossible task. In the first tale he finds the water to cure his king father of blindness, in the second one he has to find his wife in a ditch were only a frog lives.
In the fairy tales, the main actants having an impossible task or choosing an impossible commitment always get a happy ending. Just a superficial look fails to appreciate the realistic truth told by fairy tales: life is an impossible task that we cannot give up, unless we stop it together with ourselves. Life flows with us through the succession of the generations. (AG)
The sun of the main male actant here rises from the sea or goes down into the sea. The protagonist of the Umbrian tale Thus Ended the Idiot drowns into the Maternal Sea because he does not know the complexity of language and the responsibility of the subject using it. He cannot grow up because his mother, knowing his simple-mindedness, teaches him what to say, as if he would never run into unforeseen circumstances. This dumb actant repeats other's words and he cannot learn anything during his journey.
Little Chickpea tells of a woman, consumed with the lack of children, who gets so many children from her pot of chickpeas that she kills them. Just one of these very little sons survives, and he hides himself and comes out just when he gets from his mother the promise that she will not kill him. This fairy tale tells that the mother's desire is not enough to live. Little Chickpea becomes his father's assistant, he disappears into the belly of a cow and he comes out of it thanks to his father. Then he can live happily ever after with his parents.
A male main actant goes to look for his three sisters who disappeared in a far world, because they had to marry three animals (The Three Animal Kings) or three passers-by (The Dying Fairy's Will). In the first tale, the main actant chooses by himself to set off to remedy this lack of the female element, in the second tale an old woman by a spell forces him to start the same research. To recover the lost female side means repairing his mother's loss and this entails many vicissitudes that drive to a happy ending.
In The Enchanted Doe, the queen becomes pregnant thanks to a magic fish that is so powerful that even the queen's damsel becomes pregnant. Two boys are born like two peas in a pod, and they grow up loving each other more than two brothers. The queen hates the son of her damsel and she tries to kill him. Then this youth leaves and conquers a princess, but an ogre catches him. The prince then sets up and goes to free him. These two brothers get their happy ending helping each other to nullify the mother's deadly power.
In this quadrant, we find the first ancient version of Master Cat or Puss in Boots (Puss in Boots), where a dying mother leaves her younger child just a she-cat. The poor lad follows the advices of his animal helper and finally he surpasses his elder brothers, who got from the mother enough to make a normal living.
The injunction of the Sailing Ship of the Black Curse is only in the south quadrants of our map, like a mortgage that the main actants get from birth. It can come from their's mother or a curse, in any case coming from a maternal figure.
The main male actant in the fairy tale Pig King has an animal body, and he turns into a handsome prince just when his wife loves him enough to take care with tenderness of him when he is a dirty pig. In a 19th Florentine version the Pig's wife has to go and look for him so long to worn out seven pair of iron shoes and seven iron sticks, and to fill up seven flasks with her tears (Re porco, version collected by Vittorio Imbriani).
In this quadrant there is also the first story of Basile's collection, The Tale of the Ogre. Here the maternal injunction is explicit like the paternal one of the fairy tale The Cockroach, the Mouse and the Cricket. In the first story a father chases away a loafer idiot son, in the second a mother does the same, and these parents beat their sons so harshly that they run away not to die under their father or mother's blows. In The Tale of the Ogre, we find with the main actant an ugly ogre who is a good master, making the idiot boy able to give a rich dowry to his sisters and live happily and wealthy together with his mother. This tale is an ancient splendid version of the popular European fairy tales Table-Be-Set, Gold-Donkey, and Cudgel-out-of-the-Sack. The story tells how the actant can grow up starting from a very bad condition, if he sets off and has the time - and the chance - to learn from his experience.
The sun of the main male actants does not end in the Maternal Sea if they can separate from her; this comes true only when they meet a male helper, be he a brother (The Enchanted Doe), three brothers-in-law (The Three Animal Kings and The Dying Fairy's Will), or even a master ogre (The Tale of the Ogre). (AG)
Travelling through the boundless land of Fairy Tales, we decided to draw a map to enable you to travel using our map, choosing the most clear and less strict coordinates, symbols and signs we could draw. We then assigned our Sixty-seven fairy tales to the four quadrants of our map, so that you - choosing our map - can travel by it and visit these tales, enjoying their beauty, finding out their origin, catching sight of the countries, the writers and the illustrators who handed down them to us. We enjoy their inheritance, together with the wealth of the numberless storytellers, men and women that all over the world told these fairy tales and did not pass on their name.
Then, as soon as we thought to have ordered our collection with the Fairy Map of Succession, some other fairy tales came that we thought to be able to place in one of our quadrant, but they moved upwards and downwards, going eastwards and westwards.
To keep the coherence of our map we should have put these tales aside and forget them, since they do not stop in any quadrant. Nevertheless, we love too much this potent, soft and democratic storytelling genre to prefer our map to their inhexaustible polysemy. Then we added an impossible fifth quadrant, and once more we understood that the exception proves the rule and gives evidence to this genre's strength: no outline can include all fairy tales.
The fairy tale that made us draw the northsoutheastwestern quadrant is one of the most popular in the world, Hänsel e Gretel. Starting from its title, this fairy tale has two equally persecuted main actants, male and female, which are equally active to react against the danger, to be overwhelmed by hunger, that is at first is the hunger of their mother, then of their father, then of an old witch. Their witch lives in a house made of the cookies and the sweets that children gladly eat, but the witch nourishes them to eat them as soon as they become tasty. This fairy tale starts with the injunction of the Gibbet of the Death Sentence, coming from their mother who realizes it together with their father. They abandon their children in the forest, where the wild animals will devour them. Here we have a maternal and paternal death sentence, against their son and daughter. The children save themselves together, instead of dying together, and they defeat the witch, who is a supernatural devouring maternal figure. The parent's hunger and the famine in this story entail the elimination of the new generation, because the old generation chooses to stop time sacrificing the youngs.
Then, when we drew the impossible fifth quadrant, with its Maternal Sea and Paternal Mountains, with the sun and moon representing the male and female main actants, we were thinking also of one of our favourite fairy tales, that we had first excluded from our collection because we were not able to decide where to place it in our Fairy Map of Succession. It is The Green Beaubird - this is our translation of the Italian Augel Belverde -, a fairy tale spread all over Europe, whose first printed version was written by Giovan Francesco Straparola in 16th century. It has interesting analogies with the novella of Griselda by Giovanni Boccaccio, the hundredth ending tale of Decameron. Francesco Petrarca translated it in Latin (De insigni obedientia et fide uxoris), and Geoffrey Chaucer retold it in Canterbury Tales (The Clerk's tale). There is no magic in Boccaccio's novella, but the two main characters are so extreme in their way of acting that they might be someway enchanted.
In The Green Beaubird the persecutor is a maternal figure, the mother of the king who married the main female actant, convincing the king to punish his innocent wife. Moreover, the mother queen sentences to death the three beautiful magic children of the young queen. Nevertheless, the three twins survive, and grow up to go and look for their parents. They all have to face up to impossible tasks and they risk to die to get magical objects that belong to the alchemy tradition. The three twins have magical gifts, like golden hair and a star on their forehead.
The maternal black curses of the southern quadrants give the main actants an animal body or a death sleep. In The Green Beaubird there is a maternal gift, a blessing that protects the children, making them wonderful and rich, and this activates the envy of the mother queen, who cannot tolerate to be surpassed.
Like nearly every fairy tale, The Green Beaubird tells how the old generation tries to eliminate the new one, as if this could stop its decline. The magic beauty of the three children remembers the beauty of every child for its parents and grandparents, because on one side we would not like to die, on the other side we know that only the new generation can inherit and save our hope for a better future. Each fairy tale tells in a different way how succession may be a tragic game and how life tends to flow getting round obstacles or dissolving them into thin air. We could simply make friends with time, learning to await and to seize the moment to act. (AG)
Lake of Generation
In the Lake of Generation located in the centre of our map, the waters of four rivers mix together. These four rivers separate and join our map's four quadrants. Since the Paternal Mountains are in the north, the river that separates and joins northwest and northeast quadrants originates from the mountains and flows into the lake, of which it is a tributary. An outflowing river flows from the Lake into the Maternal Sea separating and joining the southwest and the southeast quadrants.
The two rivers that separate and join the south quadrants can be considered as flowing out of the Lake. In this case their meaning they express is that the new generation comes from the blend of the parental waters. However, they could be also considered to be tributaries of the Lake, representing female and male actants coming from different places and bringing their water to the Lake of Generation. At the same time they change from descendants or children into parents.
The Lake of Generation is in any case the centre of the Fairy Map of Succession, with its tributary and emissary four rivers. This means that succession is the core and heart of all our tales.
The centre of the map thus represents the triple generative meeting among the four types of actants; the first one unites in marriage male and female parental actants, the second one unites parents and children, the third one unites in a new marriage male and female actants and restores life.
Time marks these meetings with a double movement that intertwines a direct irreversible motion with a circular cyclical motion. The irreversible nature of time requires the growth of the descendant, towards generative maturity, and it also requires the ageing of the parent. Death, if it is not untimely, comes first to the parent, while the son and the daughter ascend to the throne of life. The cyclical nature of time leads the youths to the place of their parents, so that they inherit and preserve their throne, to leave it to their children when in their turn they will abdicate from it or die.
Following the irreversible movement of time, of the years that follow each other and never come back, our story starts with our birth, out of nothing, leads us to the highest power of maturity, which goes on for some years, and then we die, going back to nothing. We renew our parent's life following the cyclical movement of time, with its weeks bringing the same seven days, and its months and seasons that come back every year with their feasts. Also our parents renewed their parent's life, following a chain that started once upon a time, a long time ago, a chain that never broke, to get to us. We are a ring in this chain and we receive life from the rings before ours, as well as we give life to the rings after ours. If our personal story belongs to this chain, it cannot be voided by nothingness, but our individual life, untied from past and future generations, is always threatened by a lack of sense.
The masculine and the feminine are universally represented by the sun and the moon, as well as by earth and sky, and they make up a couple of opposites that attract each other. Their intertwining is constant and it ties them together without confusing them, indicating the fertility of their braid. Our calendar consists of months, that depend on the regular rhythm of sun, which over the course of one year covers the circle of the zodiac, and it depends also on weeks, which last for a phase of the moon.
These two motions of time could be seen as two moods of our being. One of these moods shapes and protects our perception of ourselves as distinctive unrepeatable beings, living in a time and in a space that have the same limits of our physical existence. The other mood corresponds to the cyclical motion of time and takes place between others and us. It belongs neither only to us nor only to others, but is a means between them and us and leads us to the common life. The single ring that we are gains value from its bonds with other rings, and our present is made up of the heritage that we receive from the past and the heritage that we leave for the future.
We cannot reach an equilibrium if we do not acknowledge our bond with the past. First of all, with our parents, who gave birth to us. Parents look powerful to their children, they look like the kings, queens, fairies and ogres of fairy tales, who are both givers and persecutors. Then we have to acknowledge the gift of life coming from our ancestors and from the cultures that preceded us and gave birth to our own, in which we are living and speaking. At the same time, we have to acknowledge our bond with the future generations and gain experience from it, first of all by looking to our children who gaze at us as if we were beautiful and rich, like the main actants in fairy tales. We also need to take on a responsibility for the future, without which our hopes and projects do not have space to blossom. But we cannot work successfully if we expect to immediately reap the benefits of what we do.
The beauty of the future generations is like the happy ending of fairy tales: it is told of, but we cannot be there to prove it. That bit of joy which we taste when happiness comes into the tale should be enough for us, even if we are all grown up and disenchanted.
Nobody knows if beyond the happy ending the tale’s characters will really live forever together in peace and prosperity. Nevertheless, if we were to lose even that bit of joy, if we do not smile when Cinderella finally dances and flies with her Prince Charming, we would miss a vital thing, the lightness of our desire.
There is only one woman who teaches philosophy in the Dialogues by Plato. She comes onto the stage in the Symposium, the dialogue about Love/Eros.
Diotima, this woman, tells Socrates the story of the birth of Eros and teaches him how he was wrong about Eros. The philosopher tells his table companions of what he learnt, because speaking of this topic they were making his same mistake. They thought that Love/Eros was beautiful and good because they were thinking of the one who is loved. But to love means to have desire and longing for something above everything else, for something or somebody that we do not have, another being that our desire renders perfectly beautiful and good. This beauty belongs to the main actants of fairy tales and it exists in reality: it belongs to children in their parents' eyes and to parents in their little children's eyes, as well as to lovers in each others' eyes.
The beauty of a child's mother or father becomes a fading illusion when he or she grows up, as well as the beauty of the beloved looks like a blunder or a fraud when love is gone. However, parents love their children forever, with joy when they understand each other and when they exchange gifts with each other, and then with sorrow when there are clashes and misunderstandings. When we are children, we return this love with our whole being. But as soon as we reach maturity, we break the mirror of our ideal parent into pieces, in order to look far away from our origin and find something or somebody who might build up a new mirror for our new ideal of beauty. A commitment, a job, a lover, a child, may come to us to reflect our ideal image, because somehow we always need to think that we are, or we were or will be again good and beautiful, like Cinderella and Prince Charming.
If this disenchantment does not come, if the mirror and the reflection does not break in pieces, life does not flow, because we are motionless, like Narcissus and his image. Nevertheless, this disenchantment is hard, because every transformation means a loss, and because the cyclical motion of time brings new flowers and fruits every year, but the flowers and the fruits of this particular season wither, rot and disappear forever.
All we know is that our permanence through new generations and our fleeting presence as unrepeatable subjects intertwine, and we can live in this fact and acknowledge a sense in it or not. It is however, the way life flows, because life makes use out of the death of the old generation which makes way for the new one, so that the vigour and the beauty of children, of youths, renew life while parents become old.
This is the first or the last sense of life, a mystery to be veiled more than to be unveiled. The succession of the new generation needs those three encounters, between parents through their union, then between parents and their children, and finally between different youths, who through their union reach the place of their parents. This tale has been told in one thousand tales and one. Religions and ideologies teach how to deal with it. But no tale about this logos of life could ever overcome what Diotima taught Socrates, because her tale was in love with life's truth and able to stand off against what eludes the mastery of our thought.
This procreation is the union of man and woman, and is a divine thing; for conception and generation are an immortal principle in the mortal creature … But why of generation?' 'Because to the mortal creature, generation is a sort of eternity and immortality,' she replied; 'and if, as has been already admitted, love is of the everlasting possession of the good, all men will necessarily desire immortality together with good: Wherefore love is of immortality.
What is the cause, Socrates, of love, and the attendant desire? See you not how all animals, birds, as well as beasts, in their desire of procreation, are in agony when they take the infection of love, which begins with the desire of union; whereto is added the care of offspring, on whose behalf the weakest are ready to battle against the strongest even to the uttermost, and to die for them, and will let themselves be tormented with hunger or suffer anything in order to maintain their young. Man may be supposed to act thus from reason; but why should animals have these passionate feelings? Can you tell me why?
For here again, and on the same principle too, the mortal nature is seeking as far as is possible to be everlasting and immortal: and this is only to be attained by generation, because generation always leaves behind a new existence in the place of the old. Nay even in the life of the same individual there is succession and not absolute unity: a man is called the same, and yet in the short interval which elapses between youth and age, and in which every animal is said to have life and identity, he is undergoing a perpetual process of loss and reparation—hair, flesh, bones, blood, and the whole body are always changing. Which is true not only of the body, but also of the soul, whose habits, tempers, opinions, desires, pleasures, pains, fears, never remain the same in any one of us, but are always coming and going; and equally true of knowledge, and what is still more surprising to us mortals, not only do the sciences in general spring up and decay, so that in respect of them we are never the same; but each of them individually experiences a like change. For what is implied in the word "recollection," but the departure of knowledge, which is ever being forgotten, and is renewed and preserved by recollection, and appears to be the same although in reality new, according to that law of succession by which all mortal things are preserved, not absolutely the same, but by substitution, the old worn-out mortality leaving another new and similar existence behind—unlike the divine, which is always the same and not another? And in this way, Socrates, the mortal body, or mortal anything, partakes of immortality; but the immortal in another way. Marvel not then at the love which all men have of their offspring; for that universal love and interest is for the sake of immortality. (Symposium) (AG)
There is another principle guiding our work. We love the beautiful old books of fairy tales, we enjoy their charm, page after page, image after image, surprise after surprise, and we believe that it is possible to get this pleasure also by digital means, like our Fabulando e-books. (CC)
We told almost every fairy tale in two e-books, including the tale in the original language and the facing translation in the languages we chose, Italian, that is our mother tongue, and English, which is now the international language. We drew the original language versions from the major collections available online; the Italian dialectal fairy tales come from 19th and early 20th century collections, the ancient fairy tales come from 14th, 16th and 17th century Italian collections, the European tales come from the collections written by Charles Perrault, the Grimm Brothers, and others.
The e-books of
these four sections bear the following titles on their
the Italian dialectal fairy-tales and the English,
German or French ones from the quoted sources (see
the final page Fonti/Sources in every
e-book, and the Fairybiblio,
Bibliography of Fabulando) keeping the punctuation
marks of the original edition. The punctuation
variety is a mirror of the variety of the verbal,
narrative and symbolic language of the fairy-tales.
Fabulando many illustrations come from the work of
Crane (1845-1915) who retold through images many
popular fairy tales. We imitated the Japanese kamishibai
and adapted it to the digital media, reworking these
illustrations to get a wider set of images. Everybody
can slide with a touch or a click to tell the fairy tale
as he/she likes, just like a real kamishibaya.
We have an
e-kamishibai for these fairy tales: Beauty and the Beast,
Little Brier Rose, Cat Cinderella (by
the Authors of Fabulando), Jack
and the Beanstalk, Little
Red Riding Hood, Master Cat or Puss in Boots,
in Boots, Sleeping
Beauty in the Wood, Snow
White and the Seven Dwarfs, and
The Frog Prince.
|6.3 Fairy tales for
We would like
to say something else about Puss
in Boots. Walter
Crane illustrated the most famous version of this
tale, Master Cat or
Puss in Boots by Charles
Perrault. We inserted this tale, well known
throughout the world, among our European fairy tales,
but we chose to rework the first version of Puss in
Boots published in the world (La
Gatta, available on the website Adalinda
Gasparini, Psicoanalisi e favole). It
belongs to the 16th century collection The
Nights by Giovan Francesco Straparola, and
it tells of a madam cat. So, Fabulando offers Puss and
with the same illustrations. Nevertheless, we chose to
realize our movie starting from the first charming
version, which is less
|6.5 Cat Cinderella
|6.6 History of the
We asked the Frog
and the Cat to speak in person, to say something about a
wide spread of interesting matters that are usually
enclosed in specialised fields. Our dear animals tell
their little history with mild amusing words. Unable to
deepen every topic, they briefly show all the salient
events of their fairy tale's centuries-old history. (CC)
Sixty-six fairy tales
We chose the Sixty-seven fairy tales of our collection following two intertwined lines, researching both the pleasure of storytelling charged with meaning and a philological strictness.
Our choice of ancient and first versions does not however depend on a mere wish for correctness. An example of our reasoning is given by this story. We put forward this scarcely known version of Snow White, published by the Grimm Brothers, not because it is the best one, but because it is little known and yet very meaningful. It shows the heart of this tale's subject matter more than other versions. The core of Snow White is the crucial hand-to-hand fight between mother and daughter that we called injunction of the Gibbet of the Death Sentence.
We chose our fairy tales classifying them both according to our ten injunctions, and facing the immense heritage of storytelling, especially in Europe.
We chose Cinderella because this tale has been with us since the start of our research, and because it is one of the most famous fairy tales. Similarly, we chose to include in Fabulando most other very popular fairy tales. Then we went back to the first fairy tales published in the world, which are Italian, and to the countless versions told in the Italian dialects. And so the Fabulando collection of fairy tales has three subdivisions.
There is a first thread linking the tales depending on their injunction and quadrant. There is a second thread that links the tales depending on the section they belong to. These two threads remind us that we could look at fairy tales from many angles: each of them has its value and none of them could encompass all fairy tales.
1. People of Wonders. Italian Dialectal Fairy Tales
In this section there are some tales told in many Italian dialects and three tales from Italian territories with linguistic minorities (Catalan of Alghero, Sardinia; Calabrian Occitan or Guardiolo, spoken in Guardia Piemontese (Calabria); and Tabarchino, that owes its name to Tabarca, an Algerian town where a Ligurian colony lived, which was then transferred to a little island off the southwest coast of Sardinia).
This section includes the tales Belindu the Monster, in Alghero Catalan, Little Chick-Pea in Tabarchino, Thus Ended the Idiot in Umbrian-Latial, Flower and Flowerstem in the dialect of the Abruzzi and Marche, The Mammone Cat and The Marmotta Queen in Montalese dialect (Tuscany), The Dying Fairy's Will in Ciociaria (Lazio) dialect, Solver of Riddles, Solve this Riddle in Calabrian Occitan, The Lost Doll in Piedmontese, The White Ricotta in Calabrian, The Crystal Casket in Senese (Tuscany), Smithy Menico in the dialect of Friuli, Frog, Frog in Romanesco, Sfurtuna in Sicilian and Dauntless Little John in the Italian version by Italo Calvino.
We realized the Italian Dialectal e-books putting the dialectal storytelling beside the national Italian - or the English language - to propose some fairy tales coming from different Italian regions, but mainly to give through Fabulando the opportunity to taste and enjoy the vividness and the tenderness of Italian popular fairy tales. All the dialectal tales are translated in Italian, except Frog, Frog, in Romanesco, The Mammone Cat and The Crystal Casket (both in Tuscan dialects) because Italians, or those who know our language, understand them. Even if The Marmotta Queen is equally understandable, it has a parallel text in Italian by Italo Calvino. Our aim was to give in Fabulando a clear example of the linguistic and stylistic work carried out by the Italian writer on traditional Italian tales for his collection Fiabe italiane (1956) (Italian Folktales).
Our collection includes another fairy tale by Calvino, Dauntless Little John, which can be compared with another tale featuring Little John, Little John and the Shudder, common all over Europe as well as the version chosen and rewritten by Calvino. The two little Johns are equally dauntless, and they deal with similar adventures, but their tales go in quite different directions. Their tales are in the northeast quadrant, but Dauntless Little John starts with the Fork of the Possible Task, while Little John and the Shudder starts with the Forest of the Exile. Italo Calvino introduces the first tale of his collection, Dauntless Little John, without pointing out the difference between this and the other version. Calvino likes the imperturbable main character, who in his view shows a calm firmness dealing with the unknown. But Calvino does not see the link between this lack of fear and the final death of Little John. (To read other dialectal Italian fairy tales, see Fiabe italiane dialettali e alloglotte, website Adalinda Gasparini, Psicoanalisi e favole).
To see an annotated bibliography of the sources used by Italo Calvino for his Italian Folktales, with biographical notes about the collectors, see Percorsi di pensiero, by Claudia Chellini.
At the present time, some of the dialectal Italian tales in Fabulando (those here quoted with Italian titles) have no English translation, we apologize.
2. The World’s First Fairy Tales. Published in Italy from the 16th to the 17th century
The second section of our collection is Source of Wonders. Ancient Italian Fairy Tales from 16th to the 17th century. Here we have collected the first fairy tales published in the world, which come mainly from The Pentamerone, or The Story of Stories by Giambattista Basile (1634-36), where we find very famous tales (besides Cinderella, there is also Parsley, today better known as Rapunzel, the title that the Grimm Brothers gave it), and other little known tales that belong to the narrative heritage told in Italian dialects and in other European languages. Fabulando includes: The Seven Little Pigeons, The Three Animal Kings, The Raven, The Enchanted Doe, The Tale of the Ogre, Cat Cinderella, The Cockroach, The Mouse and the Cricket, Sweet Diamond Pie, Madmatt, Parsley and Violet. Basile includes in his collection also a version of Puss in Boots (the second to be published after Straparola). The protagonist of this version is still a she-cat, which will become a male cat in Perrault's version. Fabulando does not include Basile's version, but our Puss in Boots tells something about it in her story of her tale (Puss Tells her Story).
A century before The Pentamerone, or The Story of Stories, Giovan Francesco Straparola published The Facetious Nights (1550-1553), a collection of novellas, which included some fairy tales that spread throughout Europe. This section of Fabulando presents three fairy tales by Straparola, Pooavola Doll, ancient version of The Golden Goose by the Grimm Brothers, L'Augel Belverde, an ancient version of Princess Belle-Etoille, and Pig King, an ancient version of Prince Marcassin, by Mme d'Aulnoy.
3. Europa in fabula. The World's Most Beloved Fairy Tales.
The most well-known and retold fairy tales are collected in this section. We chose these tales taking into account both their rich meaning and their philological value. The most beloved fairy tales in the world are the tales today recurrent in contemporary storytelling, particularly in films and television series. We decided to choose for our collection the versions written by the great European writers of this genre, first of all Charles Perrault and the Grimm Brothers. Their tales are intense and meaningful, and they were usually watered down by later storytellers.
In this section we have included Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in the first version published by the Grimm Brothers in 1812, where the enemy is Snow White's mother, who will become her step-mother from the Grimm Brothers' second version of the tale onwards. We have also included Red Riding Hood, which in Perrault's version has no happy ending, because no hunter comes to save the girl and her grand-mother. We selected Little John and the Shudder, Hänsel and Gretel and The Frog Prince by the Grimm Brothers and Sleeping Beauty in the Wood by Charles Perrault. The latter tale continues after Beauty's awakening, as she is persecuted by her mother-in-law, the old queen. Charles Perrault retold the tale Sun, Moon and Talia by Giambattista Basile, which does not end with the prince finding Sleeping Beauty. Finally we included Master Cat or Puss in Boots by Perrault and Beauty and the Beast by Madame de Beaumont.
This section of our collection includes two very popular fairy tales that were retold from their most ancient versions, Cat Cinderella and Puss in Boots.
Our Cat Cinderella comes from the app-tale we put together from the versions by Giambattista Basile (the first version ever published, present in Fabulando, Cat Cinderella), from Charles Perrault, from Walt Disney and from other Italian popular versions, like La Cenerentola, collected in Florence (Imbriani, 1877). Our version follows also the Cinderella told by images by Arthur Rackham, one of his masterpieces.
We retold Puss in Boots from the tale written by Giovan Francesco Straparola (The Facetious Nights) which tells the story of Costantino Fortunato who inherits from his mother a she-cat who, thanks to her cunning, makes him beautiful and rich. Then we used Perrault's version, and the wonderfun illustrations by Walter Crane. This is the best known version of this tale.
Our e-book Little John and the Shudder includes the original version by the Grimm Brothers, and the Italian translation by Antonio Gramsci from The Prison Notebooks (1929-1932).
4. Migrant Stories. Tales without Borders
This section includes The Golden Eagle, a forteenth-century novella belonging to The Pecorone by Ser Giovanni, which is not a proper fairy tale but presents a narrative rythm and interesting motifs that evoke a fairy tale. Nevertheless, we chose this tale also for another reason. The Golden Eagle tells of an ancient battle where all the rising European nations are drawn up, proudly raising their coloured standards, with the neighing of the horses and the sound of the fifes and drums all around, which made it seem as if the world were full of thunder and lightning. The two opposing armies are fiercely fighting when the Pope forces them to make peace under threat of excommunication. Then the son and the daughter of the German Emperor marry the daughter and the son of the King of Aragon, to live happily forever after. May Europe be conscious and proud of its variegated banners and tales.
Fairy tales and stories are formed and transformed through a continuous face-to-face between peoples and cultures, through the violence of wars as well as through mutual enrichment in times of peace. Whoever annexes a corpus of fairy tales, or even a single story, to a particular language or culture, and thinks that he has managed to appropriate it entirely, is wrong. Since the 19th century, many scholars have written about their migrations, between East and West, as well as between folk and educated storytellers. This Fabulando collection encompasses both very popular stories and less famous ones, to show the beauty which flows through all of them.
They may be very far from each other in space and time, but they also show amazing connections. Fairy tales do not depend on any religion, nationality or ideology; nevertheless, they can easily wear the habits and customs of every people and can speak every language or dialect. We would offer these Migrant Stories of ours as a small antidote to any form of racism. (CC)
Peak of the Impossible Task
The core meaning of this fairy tale is made up of the three attempts to hinder the main actant, Bella Caterina, and cause her ruination:
- Caterina's ugly mother and sister vex her in the hope of making her ugly; but she becomes even more beautiful;
- they send her to the fairies hoping that they would disfigure her with their scratching; instead, she gets rich gifts from them, and a star on her forehead;
- they lock her into a vat and the ugly sister pretends to be Caterina so as to marry the king's son; but Caterina marries the prince instead, and he eliminates her rivals.
When Caterina must leave her house and enter the forest to go to the house of the fairies, she is scared, and weeps: the fairies might be enemies, even more dangerous than her mother and sister.
The feeling of a mother who unjustly obstructs one's own growth is a common experience, like the longing for a mother who could totally accept and understand us. A married woman often looks at her mother-in-law as to a evil rival, while her mother is her helper. When a female main actant meets ambivalent magical characters, she has to deal with her own equally ambivalent perception of her maternal representation. Through this experience of her inconscious ambivalence she finds herself at risk, but she can also get precious gifts.
Along the way, Caterina meets a poor old man, who asks her to look at his itchy head.Caterina stops and meets hos request. She kindly says that she sees on his head gold and pearls instead of lice. The old man is a paternal helper, who lives near the forest, which is the realm of mother nature, and he knows something precious about the fairies of that realm. He gives Caterina valuable instructions about helping the kittens who live in the house of the fairies, about choosing poor ornaments instead of precious jewels, and about climbing gently up their crystal ladder. This is the way to appease the destructive side of the fairies and of the Mammone Cat. In folk fairy tales magic actants may be both harmful and helpful, it depends on the approach of the actant who meets them. (Gherardo Nerucci collected this tale in 1880 from an oral storyteller).
In one charming episode of this tale the kittens go and tell the Mammone Cat how Caterina helped them. Doing housework represents in fairy tales taking care of the beings who live in a given place, cleaning up the house and providing nourishment. Here the story tells something about the feminine talent to make a house liveable and keep it that way, and in the first place one's own house/body, where physic and psychic fecundity dwell. In fairy tales the talent to stage a space for living beings, to nourish and clean, to rest and restore them, belongs to the female main actant as expression of her being grown-up. The ugly sister is not able to do the same, because she does not feel fear or pain when she is going to the fairies; she underestimates the trial, and does not listen to the poor old man. She beats the kittens instead of helping them, she breaks the crystal ladders and she asks for precious things instead of being pleased with humble gifts. While Caterina gets a star on her forehead, she gets a donkey's tail.
Caterina's shining beauty following her visit to the fairies attracts the king's son, who asks for her hand in marriage. The evil ugly mother and sister try to take for themselves what belongs to Caterina, and close her in a big barrel. The ugly sister is dressed as the bride, veiled to hide her face and tail, and led to the prince. He is about to take her with him to his palace, when he hears the kittens meow:
Meow mew, listen to the cats,
Meow mew, Beauty is in the barrel,
Meow mew, the ugly in the coach sat!
This happens also in the Grimm Brothers' Cinderella, Ashenputtel, when the prince is about to take a stepsister as his bride. Cinderella's little helpers, the doves, sing,
There they go, there they go!
There is blood on her shoe;
The shoe is too small,
Not the right bride at all!
The Mammone Cat, a popular character in Tuscan folk fairy tales, has a male name, but its sound is reminiscent of th word mamma; the name might then refer to Mammon, one of the devil's names, or even to the Arabic maimon, which means lucky, favourable. Caterina acted in the right way in the feminine realm, getting the best from the fairies. Instead of her missing father, two different helpers come to her aid: the lousy old man and the Mammone Cat with his meowing and singing kittens.
The king's son listens to the kittens as well as Caterina had listened to the old man, and he eliminates Caterina's rivals, who find themselves in the same barrel in which they had imprisoned her. The death of the ugly evil mother and sister means the final eradication of the envy that they represent.
There is something magic in a kitten, and in the tenderness we give to a pet and receive from it in our everyday life, a tenderness which may even soothe a hardship. A pet is a creature near to nature, to Mother Nature, and taking care of it we can to some extent take care of our wounded maternal side. Waiting for the time when our pain can speak, coming out of the silence of repression, when our bond with Mother Nature will find its word, the voice of a kitten may relieve our sorrow: meow mew... meow mew... (AG)
of Riddles, Solve this Riddle
Peak of the Impossible Task
Roman Charity is the story of Pero, daughter of Myco, who secretely breastfeeds her father who has been incarcerated and sentenced to death by starvation. A jailer finds her out, but her action moves the prison officers. She thus wins the release of her father. Her daughter breastfeeding her father is the subject of a Pompeian fresco, and later many other artists painted this scene (e.g. Caravaggio, The Seven Works of Mercy).
In Solver of Riddles, Solve this Riddle the main female actant, like the ancient Roman Pero, breastfeeds her own incarcerated father and wins his release. While the Roman story stresses the daughter's charity, the Occitan tale stresses a traditional motif, linking the riddle, the oedipal situation and the irreducible ambiguity of language, a motif which here dominates the theme of breast feeding (mother/daughter) and suckling (child/father). Let us remember that Oedipus answered the riddle of the Sphinx concerning the succession of generations. Man is the simple solution, but Man's passage through his different ages is not a simple process. The hero will tragically learn this.
In the core of Fabulando, something apparently simple - a fairy tale - and something very complex - the Greek tragedy - turn into each other, entailing birth-growth and ageing-death, to permit and hinder the transfering of inheritance.
The riddle-solving Marquis of this tale of ours, believes in his own intelligence, but he crashes into the ambiguity of language when he faces the main female actant.
Solver of riddles, son of a prince and great lord, solve my riddle:
he used to be my father, now he is my child;
and my child is married to my mother
(e-book, p. 9)
After the release is won by the female actant, another prisoner comes to ask the Marquis a different riddle, similar to other riddles, which recur with little variations throughout many popular tales:
He shot what he saw and killed what he did not see, he ate both born and unborn flesh, cooked with old words, and he drank water that was neither in the sky nor on the ground (ibid., p. 13).
The marquis tries to understand, but he cannot, and so he releases the prisoner and stops promising his subjects to release a prisoner everytime he cannot solve a riddle. The power-bearer here pays less dearly than Oedipus for the disclosure of the limits of his intelligence.
Let us remember another tale, where a father-king who took his daughter as his wife wards off her suitors by imposing on them a riddle which both conceals and reveals its own solution. It is told in the Latin novel History Apollonii Regis Tyri (5th century AD), the Old English vernacular translation of which, Apollonius of Tyre (11th century), is known as the first English novel.
Later, Shakespeare told the same story in Pericles, Prince of Tyre (see also: History Apollonii Regis Tyri, website Adalinda Gasparini, Psicoanalisi e favole).
Let us read the riddle as it is presented by Shakespeare:
I am no viper, yet I feed
On mother's flesh which did me breed.
I sought a husband, in which labour
I found that kindness in a father:
He's father, son, and husband mild;
I mother, wife, and yet his child.
How they may be, and yet in two,
As you will live, resolve it you.
(Act 1, Sc. 1, 64-71)
Our seemingly simple tale invites us to think about a subject with powerful roots. It survives in a little community of speakers whose story is at the same time fascinating, adventurous and tragic. In the 13th century, Waldesian Occitan communities fled from the Piedmont because of religious persecution. They migrated to a number of Calabrian villages: the name of the village where this tale was collected is Guardia Piemontese (previously called La Gardia, andGuardia dei Valdi). The Waldesians lived there in peace for about three centuries, alongside the local Catholic communities, until they joined the Protestant Reformation, as did the Piedmont Waldesian communities. In 1561 a Catholic cardinal, who would become Pope Pius V, called for a crusade against the Calabrian Waldesians and slaughtered men, women and children. The few survivors were forced to convert to Catholicism, and they could only speak their "Guardiolo" dialect among themselves, inside their houses. Catholic friars were sent to keep them under close surveillance, and for centuries nobody remembered that there were people who spoke Occitan in Southern Italy, not even the other Waldesian communities. In the final years of the 19th century, somebody 'discovered' those few people who still spoke a language which originated from the ancient Langue d'Oc, even though it was very heavily influenced by the Calabrian dialect.
The cultural policy of the Italian state, especially during Fascism, was aimed at the elimination of dialects in order to spread the use of the national language. Nevertheless, nowadays we are finally witnessing a resurgence of interest in this particular dialect, which resonates with our contemporary passion for any species at risk of extinction. Does not this story of the Calabrian Waldesian Occitan community remind us of the incredible oppression suffered by many main actants in fairy tales? It could put together three injunctions: Tower of the Segregation, Sailing Ship of the Black Curse, and Gibbet of the Death Sentence. (AG)
Peak of the Impossible Task
A king has three sons whom he wishes to marry off. He gives each son a golden ball to throw; wherever their ball will land, there they will have to find their bride. The Grimm Brothers wrote The three feathers, a tale that tells of a king who tests his three sons in order to choose his successor; this king blows three feathers in the air so as to indicate to the princes the direction of their research. In a Russian folktale the prince Ivan is looking for Campestre Bianco. He comes across an old man in a dark forest, and asks him for help. The old man calls onto a myriad of birds, but they do not know anything. Then the old man says: "Come now! Take this little ball of thread, throw it and lead your horse in the direction of the rolling ball" (Afanasjev, p. 208). In fairy tales these odd methods always lead to a happy ending for the main actant who follows them. This is a truth that we can experience ourselves, because to follow a desire means to try to complete an impossible task; we must go on even when reason and wisdom would stop us. It is not a matter of magic, we simply have to acknowledge that the geometry of life is not simple at all; sometimes the sense appears like a sudden grace, and we are able to solve a problem just when we are thinking of giving it up.
Which is the right method to find a wife or a husband? The method of the king is not reasonable, but then again nobody could really answer this question. We suggest that the fairy tale's random method may significate the real unpredictability entailed in every marriage.
The golden balls lead the elder sons to two fine wives. By contrast the ball belonging to Nicolino, the youngest brother, falls into a ditch. Nicolino wonders who to call, and half-mockingly calls out to a frog, and the frog answers, "Who is calling me?", "Nicolino who reluctantly loves you". "If you do not love me", replies the frog, "you will love me when you see how beautiful I am". The king has no objection about these three wives. He proposes three tasks, and the girl who will complete them better than the others will be queen. The succession is the explicit issue in this tale, and it is an impossible task for Nicolino, who cannot guess how a frog could ever spin, cook or raise a puppy. Nevertheless his frog does the best work, and so he gets the throne. The day of the wedding comes, and everybody laughs at Nicolino who going to the palace with a frog for a bride. The shame-filled Nicolino is waiting for the frog, who is getting dressed. But out of the dressing room comes a beautiful girl. Nicolino tells her that he was looking for a frog. "I am the frog!", anwers the beauty, and explains to the incredulous Nicolino that her curse ended because he accepted to marry her before knowing her hidden beauty.
This frog is a fairy tale sister of the Frog Prince; on one side they look harmless and slimy, but on the other they are fairy creatures, since they can speak and complete impossible tasks for the prince or the princess who will marry them.
In fairy tales the main actant is almost always the youngest brothers or sisters: they are despised for their looks or persecuted for their beauty; they invite the listener and the reader of their tale to listen to her/his own humble hidden side, which might enrich her/his life. We are not thinking of a certain symbolic meaning, we are merely suggesting to look at the relation between nice and noble actants and vile and wretched actants. Fairy tales wave different threads, they link creatures very far from each other, they ask the actant to walk, to work, to suffer without renouncing her/his task, commitment and desire.
It is however interesting to think of the traditional symbolic meaning of the frog; it is an metamorphic amphibious animal, capable of remembering the endless movement of life. Frogs also refer to fertility. The magic in fairy tales might refer simply to the way in which life does not flow according to our command. If we follow our own desire,we are able to go on even without precisely controlling our movements, even when we have no more certainties than the princes following a ball of thread, a feather or a golden ball. A hovering feather does not give a clear direction, but it moves itself in the air, like birds and angels. The rolling balls are golden, or they hold together a very long thread; the vagueness of their rolling movement depends on their spherical shape and they are spheres like the sun and the moon. (AG; edited with the assistance of DG)
Peak of the Impossible Task
The title of this tale is dedicated to its female actant, endowed with a strong determination and a sumptuous palace. But the main actant of The Marmotta Queen is Little Andrew, the youngest child of the King of Spain. Unlike his brothers, he fulfils the task of finding the medicine to heal his father from blindness. This is an impossible task, since one has to go and find some magic water from the Isle of Tears, the cursed realm of the Marmotta Queen. This island is very far away, beyond an ocean infested by dreadful huge white bears. Therefore, the injunction of this tale is the Peak of the Impossible Task and we find it in the northeast quadrant, since the father imposes this task on the male main actant.
Italo Calvino, introducing his Italian Folktales, defines The Marmotta Queen as,
…the most Ariosto-like tale to come from the mouth of a man of the people. The story is an uncertain byproduct of the sixteenth-century epic, not in this plot (which in its broad outline is reminiscent of a well-known folktale) not in his fancyful geography (which also dates back to the ballads of chivalry) but in its manner of narrating, of creating magic through the wealth of descriptions of gardens and palaces (much more complete and literary in the original text than in my own highly abridged reconstruction, where I sought to avoid any appreciable divergence from the general tone of the present book. (Calvino 1980, p. xxiv)
Calvino’s retelling of The Marmotta Queen is thus a highly abridged reconstruction, in comparison with the original text. Following the guidelines of the Fabulando project, namely pleasure of storytelling and philological rigour, we offer side by side Calvino’s tale and the Tuscan one, collected by Gherardo Nerucci in the 19th century (see the e-book of The Marmotta Queen). The different lengths of the two versions show how Calvino cuts out many parts of the original tale. The reader can thus see that the language of the Tuscan tale gets its liveliness both from the concreteness of popular expression and from the register of the phantastical. This mixture moves the audience's feelings, while the language of Calvino’s version is plain, scarcely modulated, missing broad descriptions and curious details. When Italo Calvino published his Italian Folktales in 1956, he realized an important cultural operation: he spread the Italian dialectal fairy-tale heritage throughout Italy. Before this work, the Italian fairy tales were only published in dialectal collections, which were – and are – little known, because the researchers wrote them down in many dialects. The dialects are now spoken by the oldest generations, while the younger ones use them less and less. To retell them in the national language made the knowledge of the Italian tales accessible to all readers, both Italian and foreign, who could more easily translate Calvino’s versions than the dialects ones.
Nevertheless, we would say that he made a stylistic choice whose direction runs opposite to the one of the great 19th century collectors, from which Calvino, expressing his admiration for them, drew his fairy tales. Over a century ago, these scholars tried to highlight the linguistic and cultural contribution of every Italian region, linking texts collected in different and distant places, showing amazing ties between various narrative forms, writing down the oral language and annotating its linguistic peculiarity. Calvino chose to retell these stories in only one language, the same for all fairy tales. We do not mean his choice of Italian language instead of Italian dialects. Rather, we are noticing that what he himself defines as the general tone of the present book is couched in terms of a register that annuls the differences between the narrative structures and linguistic tones that characterize the various fairy tales told in various dialects.
Considering this variety as the heart of the Italian cultural treasure, we put in our e-books side by side the original text of the Italian dialectal tales and our English translation, aiming to maintain the peculiarity of every tale. The readers who are able to read the original version, and those curious enough to try, will enjoy it. And anyway, the English translation opens a door to relish the varied narrative and linguistic world of the fairy tale. (CC)
Dying Fairy's Will
Peak of the Impossible Task
This tale from Ciociaria begins with the death of a fairy, which is a rather rare event in wonderland. Before dying she dictates her last will to her son. He should marry his three sisters to the first three men he would see passing by the house, and then he too should get married. The main male actant of this tale offers his sisters to three humble characters who take them away; they soon reveal themselves to their brides as a pig, a pigeon and a skeleton respectively. The lwill of his fairy mother seems absurd and ill omened to her son; he is not happy to have given his sisters to those strange men, and he becomes quite unhappy when an old woman puts a curse on him. He cannot get any rest until he finds Margarita bella. This is an impossible task, like the commitment of the main male actant of The Three Animal Kings, because the protagonist has no indications on how to find Margarita Bella and his three sisters.
There is va lot at stake, since our main actant must also free his three brothers-in-law from their curses so as to make possible the return of his three sisters from their isolation, and free Margarita Bella from the ogre who has imprisoned her and eventually to free himself from the spell that prevents him from resting. In this fairy tale there are many magic elements, and the fairy's son, as well as his three brothers-in-law, has to deal with them, if he is to dissolve so many curses. At the end the ogre disappears, the three odd husbands transform themselves into three princes, the will of the fairy is carried out, and the curses are ended.
The ogre imposes three tasks on the protagonist. Let us concentrate on the third one. The ogre permits him to spend the night with Margarita bella but he will devour the two lovers if he will not find a newborn male baby the following morning. The new couple will defeat the ogre only by proving their exceptional fertility. Their helper is the skeleton brother-in-law, who brings them a beautiful male baby before dawn.
The realm of the magic characters is a supernatural world that echoes the world of nocturnal dreams, of delirium and of the underworld. It has something to do with our life, it stops us in our tracks, urging us to grow up, to become human, free from our parental injunctions, and thus finally fruitful in our own right.
The injunction of this tale is the Peak of the Impossible Task, that recurs several times and is in the southeast quadrant, since the first task comes from the fairy mother of the main male actant. (AG)
| The Seven Little Pigeons
Labyrinth of the Impossible Commitment
The main female
actant, Cianna, wishes to find her seven brothers who
left their home when she was born, due to an oversight
of their mother's midwife. The sister finally finds her
brothers that are in service of a misogynous ogre. The
happiness of their encounter does not last for a long
time, because the seven brothers turn into seven little
pigeons, due to a mistake of Cianna. She then decides to
find the way to make her brothers human again. To
do this she must find the house where Time lives,
because he knows the secret of this metamorphosis. Along
her hard long journey, Cianna listens to creatures
asking for her help and giving her precious instructions
to get the house of Time. Then she reaches her goal: she
makes her brothers human again and grants the wishes of
the creatures that she met along her way. The same
creatures help her and her brothers again to
overcome some hurdles on their way back.
This tale may be one of the most beautiful fairy tales written by Basile, both for its complex and coherent plot and for the fairy tale's ethics that it clearly displays: the main actant frees herself by freeing others, every other creature she meets along the way.
Il Gran Basile presents in this fairy tale a long interesting list of predators and little birds, told by the seven brothers of Cianna to reproach her after their metamorphosis. We present an IMAGE of all these birds, and a TABLE with various Italian and English translations of the names listed by Basile, from which it is possible to open their photograph and hear their verse. (To open them, in the website Psicoanalisi e favole of Adalinda Gasparini, click the following words: IMAGE, TABLE)
tale has a female main actant and starts with an
implicit maternal injunction, so we find it in the South West quadrant. Its
injunction is the Labyrinth of
the Impossible Commitment, since Cianna
chooses by herself to make amends for the involuntary
mess due to her and her mother's oversights. (AG)
Labyrinth of the Impossible Commitment
The younger daughter of a poor man is beautiful, and the prince falls in love with her. His aim is to have her, but Violet, the main actant, is subjected neither to her family, which represents common sense, nor to the power of the son of the king. When the prince kindly greets her, she answers asserting her kind of virtue: "Bonní, figlio de lo re! io saccio chiú de te!" (Good day, King's son! I know more than you! [Violet, e-book, p. 9]). Violet tells to the regal suitor that he cannot subdue her.
Common sense, represented by the father and the sisters of Violet, would stop her disrespectful attitude, which could ruin them, but they cannot stop Violety's challenge. When Violet lives with a tailor aunt, the prince, thanks to his power, persuades her to help him to get Violet, but the girl understands the trick and outwits him again.
Violet, armed only with her word and her nimble resolution, could be the character of a realistic story, where magic comes on the stage when she falls in the garden of an astonishing ogre, who thinks that the beautiful girl was magically born from himself. He keeps her as his beloved daughter and gives her some fairies as teachers. These fairies could look like feminists, because they support the resolution of Violet not to submit herself. The prince tries in any way to show to Violet that he knows more than she does, but she scorns him at every turn. Then he decides to marry her, since this is the only way to possess her. The ogre and the fairies help Violet, just as any fairy-tale magic helper gives aid to the main actant who is looking for his/her own path. The main actants in fairy tales do not sacrifice anything to the idols of common sense or to powerful characters. These may represent invisible and unforeseeable talents, life resources emerging just when a subject follows his/her desire, ready to risk even her/his life. Violet cannot count on her poor father or on her fearful and envious sisters, but she has on her side the paternal tender ogre and the proto-feminist fairies. She achieves the impossible goal to be at the same level of the prince, and even to overcome him.
The regal nuptials are the happy ending of the version written by Giambattista Basile, which we chose for our e-book. However, we remember a folk version of this fairy tale whic continues after the wedding. Violet knows that her prince cannot bear his defeat, and she foresees that he will take his cruel revenge on their wedding night. Violet knows that a man may marry a woman to possess her, and that to kill his wife can be his extreme act of supremacy on her. Therefore, she gets from her fairies a sugar doll looking like her, and she puts this doll in the wedding bed, and hides herself behind the curtains. The prince comes swearing at Violet, who looks deeply asleep, and claims his right to revenge, then he fatally stabs the doll thinking to kill Violet. When he decides to drink her blood he tastes the sweet liquor of the sugar doll, and he changes his mind: how can he have killed such a sweet girl? His regret and his heartache are so unbearable that he decides to stab himself, but Violet comes out and offers him all the sweetness that he thought to have lost.
This fairy tale suggest something about male violence and about the possibility to tame it turning it back to love. We must however know that it is very difficult to get this kind of happy ending, if we have not on our side a tender ogre as a father and some proto-feminist fairies.
The injunction of this tale is the Labyrinth of the Impossible Commitment, because since the first lines of the story the subject chooses her goal. She opposes also to her father, who tries to limit her desire. Violet belongs to the northwest quadrant, being a female main actant who fights against male actants - her father and the king's son - who want her submission and personify paternal power.
When the prince eventually surrenders, he leaves his royal power and acts like a young actant, giving up his hierarchical power. (AG)
Labyrinth of the Impossible Commitment
The wish of the main actant, Arighetto, son of the German Emperor, is to win Lena's love. To approach her, the beautiful daughter of the King of Aragon, he builds a golden eagle and hides himself inside it. When the King gives the golden eagle to his daughter, Arighetto comes out and speaks to the princess. The princess falls in love with him and they secretely leave Spain to go to Arighetto's Empire. Then the King of Aragon declares war on the German Emperor and they call their allies to a war that involves all the European peoples.
This tale shows a middle age battle, full of flags, weapons, sounds of fifes and drums, fierce duels and carnages; and chivalry always rules throughout. At the end an intevention of the pope makes peace between the enemies and we have two weddings: Arighetto with Lena, and Princivale, brother of Lena, with the daughter of the German Emperor. The tale remembers ancient epic wars, and the gracefulness of courtly love or fine amor. This 14th century Italian tale could be an introduction to the knowledge of Europe, its nations, its wars, its peace.
The injuntion here is the Labyrinth of the Impossible Commitment since the main actant decides by himself to follow his desire, the realization of which looks impossible. The Golden Eagle is in the northeast quadrant since the main actant is Arighetto while his antagonist is the King of Aragon, a paternal character. (AG)
Labyrinth of the Impossible Commitment
In other fairy
tales it is told of actants who do not fear anything,
nor death. The actant of one of these tales is Dauntless Little John,
who is not afraid because he simply does not know death:
for this reason, he dies as soon as he sees his own
shadow. The actant of another tale, Little John and the Shudder,
does not know death, but he feels that he misses
something, and goes around the world looking for
shudder. He happens to marry a princess, but the happy
ending only comes when he finally feels goose bumps.
The fairy tale of
Menico is in the North
East quadrant, because St. Peter represents
during the whole tale the antagonist paternal character,
disapproving the choices of our cunning fellow Smithy Menico. The
injunction of this tale is the Labyrint
of the Impossible Commitment. (AG)
Labyrinth of the Impossible Commitment
On the website of The Royal Society Publishing House we can read something about a piece of research (Comparative phylogenetic analyses uncover the ancient roots of Indo-European folktales. Sara Graça da Silva, Jamshid J. Tehrani, 2016), that tells of how some fairy-tales were spread many centuries before their recording. Notably, the story of The Smith and the Devil - the type of this story of Master Bëninhë - who is a fairy-tale brother of Smithy Menico - has been told since the Bronze Age (3300-1200 b. C.).
Let us note that among people without writing - and without codified literature - the narrative patterns collected by travelers and scholars are at the same time religious stories, myths, fairy-tales, apologues, and moralistic tales. We think of fairy tales as a specific genre - notably, European fairy-tales, that colonizers and missionaries spread all over the world - were born in the 16th century, which is the century of the Protestant Reformations and of the Catholic Roman Counter-Reformation.
The method followed by the authors of the research cited above does not take into account any difference between fairy tales, legends, myths, apologues, and religious stories - narrated as true and identifying a certain people in a certain period. It is however interesting to follow a narrative type through a biological method - which is mainly applied to understand the human migrations through DNA.
What we can know for sure is that the stories of the human being who forges metals have been, since the dawn of time, associated with the human ability to fool or cheat supernatural powers, like the Devil and Death. Technical expertise and intelligence - released from common thought, often frightened by the unknown (is there anything more unknown than Death?) - are at the heart of our human condition, paradoxical or miraculous, perennially exiled from grace and yet able to deserve it by overcoming apparently insurmountable obstacles.
Homo faber fortunae suae, as a Latins said: the blacksmith represents the man who, thanks to his power over fire, can forge metals. The first human beings did it with metals from meteorites - their origin was celestial, as in the latin word sidera, from which the English word sideritic - then with metals from the ground, extracted from Mother Earth's womb. The master smith works what he extracts with his own tools - and so he is a maker - smith, faber - of his own destiny.
Coming back to our fairy tale, Master Bëninhë - benigno, benign well disposed, nomen est omen - in a rainy night hosts a whole group of wayfarers, without knowing that they are Jesus, the Master, St. Peter and other disciples. He warms them, feeds them and quenches their thirst: feeding the hungry is one of the seven works of mercy. Nor would he ask for anything in return, if it were not for the suggestion of St. Peter. But unlike the magical items mostly requested and obtained in fables, what Master Bëninhë asks and gets is only to multiply the duration of his life: he does not seek any dominion over objects or other living beings. It seems that Master Bëninhë shows us a difficult and luminous truth: the true good, the only one, is life itself.
Thanks to his magical objects, the master blacksmith multiplies his life eight times, before following Death, this time without jokes, when Master Jesus sends Death for the third time to bring him away from this world. This ancient homo faber appears to us as a magnificent homo laicus, not only when we see that for master Bëninhë the greatest good of life is life itself, but also when we see how he behaves in the after-life. Simpler - perhaps also more elegant - than his Fabulando brother, Smithy Menico, Master Bëninhë is not blasphemous, nor does he ignore his own limits. Jesus Christ - named as the Master, capital letter - undoubtedly knows how the blacksmith Bëninhë could use them. The blacksmith Bëninhë - master with the small letter -, who bends metals with fire, stands in front of the Master with all the dignity that a human being can express. He handles the fire that Prometheus stole for him from the gods. The dignity of our little blacksmith is made of the same stuff of the great literary subject that has enjoyed and still enjoys a universal and uninterrupted fortune: Nobody, Odysseus, Ulysses.
Master Bëninhë is a fairy tale, not a sapiential story, only a fairy tale belonging to the literary genre that appeared in the century of the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation, as we said above. Nonetheless, the way this main actant of a fairy tale tells us that the greatest good of life is life itself, moves and cheers us up more than the exhortation of any apologist or sapiential story..
Someone, a blacksmith generous and never greedy, who recognizes divine power, was able to forge his destiny, asking and obtaining for himself a part of divine power: power to repel Death and the Devil, to extend life - he multiplies its duration by eight - to enter Paradise fooling Saint Peter.
If Master Bëninhë is entitled - in the name of God! - to enter Paradise thanks to his magic rucksack, St. Peter, who has forgotten the third gift obtained by the blacksmith, may lament his own simple-mindedness. This is St. Peter's character, which is the ordinary folk character, who often forgets things that people like our master blacksmith never forget. We risk an analogy, seeing in St. Peter together with the master blacksmith a couple descending from the great mythical couple of the titanic brothers Prometheus and Epimetheus. If St. Peter forgot that the backpack of master Bëninhë had been enchanted, this forgetfulness of his is not more serious than that which, according to the Gospels, made him forget his Master, when he denied Jesus three times in the night when his Master was tortured.
God, the Master, loves to play with the master, who in turn plays well thanks to the divine spark of intelligence, just as the Master loves the man who repudiated Him, because he was weak and afraid. Jesus appointed St Peter, the a common man, his heir on earth and porter of Paradise. The simple St. Peter does not understand this taste for the game shared by his Master and by a human master, but he has to accept it, together with master Bëninhë entering Paradise.
This story could be understood as a hymn to life, which corresponds to the hymn to the life of the community that has handed it down to us, the Occitans of Guardia Piemontese, in Calabria.
After escaping from Piedmont, their place of origin, during the persecutions of the Waldensians in the 12th century, these Protestants openly manifested their religion centuries later, at the time of the Reformation, to undergo a short time later persecution during the Counter-Reformation. The few who were left alive, converted by force,were forbidden from professing their religion and speaking their language, and were forgotten. Nonetheless, the surviving members of the small Protestant community kept their traditions alive, until a demologue - as was te name for researchers of folk traditions in the late 19th century - recognized the amazing presence of Occitan speakers in Calabria. The damnatio memoriae of the Counter Reformation period was not successful, despite a Jesuit monastery being erected nearby, whose friars could use a peephole that opened from the outside into the houses of the descendants of the Protestants to check that nobody was contravening the rules imposed by Catholic authority. (AG, 04/02/2018)
Three Animal Kings
Labyrinth of the Impossible Commitment
Tittone, a prince, is the main actant of this fairy tale. He takes on the impossible commitment of finding his three sisters who had left the realm before his birth. Three animal kings forced the king to give them his daughters to marry, and they took them so far away, that nobody had never had any news about them.
After a long way, Tittone finds his sisters, one after the other, who are happy to see and host him in their husbands' wonderful palaces. Their husbands, who are a hawk, a deer and a dolphin, give him a magic present taking it from their own skin when he takes his leave. They endow him with a feather, a hair and a scale, saying that he should use them to get their aid when he will not know what else to do. Along the way Tittone sees a beautiful princess who asks for his help; because a dreadful dragon holds her captive. Tittone falls in love at first sight with the princess, and he calls on the three animal kings for help. Thanks to their magic powers, they defeat and kill the dragon, free the princess, and eventually destroy the awful place where the princess was imprisoned. The happy ending of this tale, one of the most popular tales all over Europe, consists of four happy nuptials of the youths, with the four couples of their royal parents who had thought to have lost their successors forever.
The injunction of this fairy tale is the Labyrinth of the Impossible Commitment. The main male actant decides to leave by himself; however he answers to an implicit maternal request; the mother queen gave her daughters three identical rings to give them the possibility of recognizing their relatives; she gives her son the same ring when he leaves to look for his sisters. Therefore the tale is located in the southeast quadrant, as is The Dying Fairy's Will, which has the same plot and the same quadrant as The Three Animal Kings, but a different injuction. Tittone, as we said, decides to leave by himself, while the male main actant of The Dying Fairy's Will embarks on his quest after the spell of an old woman. (AG)
Labyrinth of the Impossible Commitment
If you read the English translation of this fairy tale, you can only catch a glimpse of the Romany heritage which makes this tale different from the same type of popular fairy tales belonging to the Italian or the European traditions. Violet has its prototype in Violet by Giambattista Basile, and if you would like to feel something of the Romany tradition you should read the Romany text.
The story of the cunning peasant girl, who is able to best the king in the administration of justice and to win his anger with a lovely ruse, reminds us of the novella of Griselda. If the heroin of the hundredth novella of Boccaccio is endowed with a superhuman patience, Violet is endowed with a superhuman cunning, and the same ultra-capacity of Griselda not to oppose frontally the male ruler, her husband, who does not tolerate being contradicted by her in the exercise of his kingly power. Her lovely cunning reminds us of the ending of the popular versions of Violetta, missing in Basile's. The main female actant knows that her suitor married her out of the desire for revenge, because she has never yielded to him. Therefore, she puts in her place in the marriage bed a doll made of sugar and filled with honey. The king, still angry for not having been able to defeat her, stabs the doll, and licks her blood on the blade. But when he tastes such sweetness he repents and regrets killing such a sweet wife. He would kill himself, but his bride jumps out of hiding and runs to embrace him. Therefore they live happily ever after. (See in Fabulando the appendix that we added to the end of Basile's Violet. See also, in the collection of Giuseppe Pitrè the Sicilian fairy tale on line La grasta di lu basilicò).
The main actant is a female and her action is related to her father - who does not understand her - and to her husband: therefore, we see it in the southwest quadrant.
Its injunction is the Labyrinth of the impossible commitment because her action depends on her choice more than on the male character's actions, as in Basile's Violet. (AG)
Labyrinth of the Impossible Commitment
The Prince, husband of Catarina the Wise, introduces their fairy tale
I had gone to the school of Catarina the Wise with all my good will, and I thought she would feel honored to have the Crown Prince among her pupils. And instead she gave me a slap when I was unable to answer her first question. I, a man, a prince of royal blood, could not let slip such an affront by the daughter of a merchant. If she had repented, I would have forgiven her, but she threatened to beat me again! She would obey me, by force if not for love. And so, I married her and locked her down in the underground icehouse, but she still did not repent, as if she did not feel the cold and hunger. I could not understand how she could resist there, in the underground icehouse.
Maybe she had contrived a way to resist without eating. And so, I left for Naples, then for Genoa, then for Venice, trying to forget Catarina. But wherever I went, I always found a beautiful lady who looked exactly like her, and that's why I fell in love with those ladies and married them. With these women, I sired three children. In those days, in the realm of fairy tales, we crown princes could do that, didn't you know? But as much as I could take three wives, and keep Catarina in my icehouse jail, I could not tame her.
Every time I returned to my palace I went to ask Catarina if she had repented, but she always answered no, and every time she was more beautiful and witty than ever.
I had decided to marry a princess from England, but right at the start of the wedding Catarina appeared and introduced to me our three children, two princes, Napoli and Genova, and a princess, Venezia. Oh dear! Catarina had always been my wife, whereas I thought I had married three different women! She was really wise, and I, in order to have her love and to love her in return, resigned myself not to command her. In fairy tales, equality between males and females, wives and husbands, nobles and bourgeois, has existed for centuries. They told me that now this equality is a common right: there is no longer any need to fight for it, as Catarina did, traveling throughout Italy on those slender and fast brigantines. But is it really true?
(English translation by AG, from Sorgente di meraviglie. Fiabe antiche e popolari nei diversi idiomi d'Italia. Volume I: Sicilia. A cura di Claudia Chellini e Adalinda Gasparini. Foschi Editore: Forlì 2018. ll principe commenta la fiaba di Caterina la sapiente, pp.118-119)
When the utopia of Humanism and Renaissance set, and Protestant Reforms together with Catholic Counter-Reformation spread all over Europe, the freedom obtained by women disappeared, but found shelter in the new-born literary genre of fairy tales. We find an ancient version of Catarina the Wise in The Facetious Nights of Giovan Francesco Straparola, the first book printed in Europe including modern fairy tales. Straparola could be a nome de plume for a delegate of the powerful Venetian Republic who had spent many years in a Near East Arab country, and he could have known stories belonging to One Thousand Nights and One Night. In the Arabic collection you may meet a Muslim demon, a jinn, ready to serve good Muslims. The Devil of the fairy tale of Straparola has a concern for the woman he carries from Florence to Flanders that is absolutely uncommon for a Catholic devil: nevertheless it might come from the Arabic presence in Sicily, where they reigned from nineth to eleventh century. (See also, in the website Psicoanalisi e favole: Isabella and Ortodosio, Night the Seventh, the First Fable) (AG)
Fork of the Possible Task
Does anyone know the previous version of this fairy tale, by Perrault, with no hunter, where the girl ends in the belly of the wolf for ever after? Perrault wrote also a conclusion, a warning to girls, not to give in to the lure of their suitors, who threaten their chastity. Red Riding Hood should not stop to listen to her wolf, and good girls should not listen to their suitors, who are more dangerous when they look polite and courteous.
This edifying morality does not deplete the rich meaning of this popular tale, misunderstood by a pedagogical interpretation that looks at the wolf as a paedophile.
Little Red Riding Hood defines herself by her name and her red garment, and by her movement into the female element. The girl never comes out of the maternal range; her mother sends her to her grandmother, and her path she is supposed to follow goes into the wood, the realm of Mother Nature. The task looks possible: simply bringing a cake and some butter to a grandmother, but in this maternal world there is a devouring beast. The wolf here represents the destructive side of the Mother. We could think of the Indian goddess Kali, or of Lilith in the Jewish tradition; we could think of so many mother or stepmothers, who in fairy tales try to get rid of their daughters as soon as they grow up and cast a shadow on their supremacy. We should also remember that Mother Earth is the goddess that gives food and life, but she also incorporates dead bodies. Freud wrote that the man meets the woman in three forms: the mother, the wife and the earth; it is the third that take him definitively in her arms. Mother Nature includes Death, in the shape of the Wolf. This cannibalistic beast has nothing to do with the beautiful wild animal risking extinction, as well as the hunter in fairy tales has nothing to do with today's hunters. Any pedagogical confusion between them engenders confusion among children about what is dangerous for themselves.
Red Riding Hood follows the maternal injunction, and her mother does not warn her to avoid Nature's dangers. This injunction drives the main actant to death, because the parents protect here their children giving them simple tasks or teaching them how to avoid any danger. This parental care looks good, but fairy tales work in many dimensions, not only on the surface. The child who lacks its own desire or its own thought cannot develop as a free subject, and death is its imminent destiny.
Let us now think of the best-known version of this tale, where a hunter comes to kill the cannibalistic wolf and cut its belly, so that Red Riding Hood and her grandmother come out through a kind of Caesarean Section. The maternal realm is more dangerous when it looks quite harmless, and its hidden danger is lethal for the growing subject. Nevertheless, if a paternal character comes, he can help her or him to get a happy ending, thanks to his knife, his skill, and his knowledge of the wood.
We come to life thanks to the maternal nature and we become human subjects through maternal nourishment and paternal culture. We should not literally identify these two generators with a concrete couple, like a mother and a father. A parent can give a child both these signifiers, while two parents may be unable to do it. The confusion between the symbolic and the concrete presence of the maternal and the paternal figures prevents the understanding of fairy tales as well as of the children's needs, that take place in these precious popular tales. (AG)
See also, the e-kamishibai of this fairy tale, which is available via its fairy tale map.
Fork of the Possible Task
Italo Calvino opens his collection of Italian fairy tales with this tale, and he explains why he does not quote his sources: the story is very popular all over Italy, and his version follows this manifold tradition. He writes:
Not only for that reason have I put this tale first, but also because it is one of the simplest and, in my view, one of the most beautiful folktales. It does not bat an eye, like its imperturbable main character; it distinguishes itself from the innumerable ghost stories, full of deaths and spectres, because it deals with the supernatural with a still steadiness that deems everything possible, without any subjection to the unknown.. (Calvino 1956, p. 85; English translation ours)
In his Introduction Calvino, who places himself as the last ring of a long chain of storytellers, affirms that …fairy tales are true. They are all together a general explanation of life, with their always repeated and always varied records of human happenings. (Ibid, p. 15)
If we acknowledge the still steadiness of little John in front of the unknown, we must also acknowledge that he does not know anything about his own shadow. Moreover, he does not know anything about his backside. The most popular version of Dauntless Little John tells that he dies of fear when he allows without any fear that somebody cut and reattach his head, because his head is reattached back-to-front and he sees his dreadful backside. Why Calvino did not tell anything about the evident death by fear of his Little John? He is scared to death in the face of something that belongs to everyone, something that children know well, like one’s own shadow or backside. To be afraid of one's own shadow means to be fearful, and this happens to people who repress fear. They may look brave, or at least imperturbable, facing the unknown, in the same way that Little John looks to Calvino.
I have told this tale to many children, and their amusement is due to the contrast between the amazing calmness of Little John in front of ghosts and deaths that fall through the chimney, and his being scared to death in front of his shadow or his backside. Boys and girls would never spend a night by themselves in a cursed castle, but they are not afraid of their shadow, and they laugh hearing that somebody may die looking at it. (See also, in Fairy Tales at a School, website Adalinda Gasparini, Psicoanalisi e favole)
Our shadow and our backside are what always follows us, unseen, even unknown, like our unconscious; if we think that it does not exist, it annihilates us, suddenly bursting into our lives.
Which boy would agree to let somebody cut his head? Dauntless John may look like a supernatural, imperturbable being, as he is considered by Calvino. When children listen to this tale, they may feel ashamed of their own fears, but they rejoice when the dauntless actant dies for something that they know and see without any fear, like their shadow and their backside.
We would ascribe this Calvino's lack of attention to a common pedagogical ideal that sees our psychic life only within our consciousness. However, the unknown Unheimliche, the unconscious, exists. It structures us, even if we try to repress the perception of it. We could try to ignore the unheimliche unsettling mystery of the night, of sleep, of dreams, and of nightmares, of ghosts and of deaths that appear frightening to us, but we will never live a day without darkness and shadows, without a backside that follows us.
We included this version by Calvino of Dauntless Little John in Fabulando because it stresses a pedagogic illusion, expressed by those parents that try to reassure their child afraid of the night simply asserting that there is no reason to be afraid. This attitude may seem realistic, but it is very far from reality, because life is full of risks and dangers, even if we do not think of the dread we feel when a nightmare unsettles our sleep. We discover very soon that death could hit anyone, and this is the root of all our different fears. The Indian epic poem Mahabharata tells that the greatest miracle is that we know that we could die in any moment but we nearly live as if we were immortal. Human dignity rests on the space opened up by the word nearly. The subject who lives without fear of death does not know this space at all, but fear is the hidden master of his life.
Dauntless Little John does not know death or fear; for this reason he is imperturbable, and for this same reason he dies the first time he looks at his shadow, which is what, unseen, always follows him.
In an ancient version of this tale, the first one published in the world, we can find a key to understand it better, the 16th century Italian fairy tale - the Fourth one of the Fifth Night - from The Facetious Night by Giovan Francesco Straparola. (Flamminio senza paura, website Adalinda Gasparini, Psicoanalisi e favole). A fairy tale homonym of Little John is the main actant of the tale Little John and the Shudder, (See also, by A.G., La fiaba, la morte, la paura: un fuoco, un tornio, un banco da ebanista, San Miniato, Pisa, 1994).
This tale belongs to the injunction Fork of the Possible Task. No parental actant orders the main actant to do anything, but the illusory ease of living without any fear is the result of the lack of a father, of his word and of the law that he embodies. For the same reason this fairy tale is in the northeast quadrant. Here the missing parents cause the ignorance of any limit that leads Little John to live without any fear. Appearing dauntless, he represents a thoughtless condition. (AG)
Ended the Idiot
Fork of the Possible Task
In fairy tales, an idiot boy, like the dauntless actant, may meet two opposite fortunes. The difference depends on his parents; his tale has a happy ending if the parents have uselessly tried to educate him and then banish him. The idiot has no happy ending if his only parent, usually a mother, tries to do everything to compensate for her son's dumbness, thinking of his risks as of something that she can foresee and overcome by teaching him some simple instructions.
In this dialectal Umbrian tale, the main actant memorizes the words of his mother and repeats them without thinking about the context in which he utters them. People beat him, and when he asks what he should have said, they teach him a different sentence that he memorizes instead of his mother's one. However, each of this sentences is out of sync when it is used by him, and people beat him again, and again he memorizes a new sentence, good for that circumstance, bad for the new one he is living.
This tale could represent the lethal power of the Freudian repetition compulsion, Thanatos. The dumb boy has no desire and no thought save his mother's, and he consequently never doubts her instructions. There is no chance for him to learn from experience, because we can learn something only if we feel ourselves free to feel and think in a way that may be different from what our parents or other masters teach us. During our whole life, we build up this subjectivation, and the death of the dumb boy could be equivalent to the anguishing experience of our blind failures. If we can bear to be disillusioned about the assurances of our parents, if we stop believing them, our subjectivity can emerge and live.
It is very interesting that this tale totally concerns language, with a dumb boy who does not know its polysemous and ambiguous nature. A subject can emerge and grow up only if s/he can understand this about language and learn how to deal with it. Fairy tales are thus ambiguous like language, whatever they might really mean, and the choice to give an interpretation is always subjective and questionable, or falsifiable.
We would finally stress that the poor dumb boy ends his life when he bumps into a blacksmith who is trying to light some wet brushwood. The idiot is coming from a town where a house was burning, and people taught him to say, “May God put it out". The human heir of the forge-god Vulcan cannot bear this dumbness, and taking a hammer he kills him. We remember a Latin sentence totally unheeded by the dumb boy and his mother: unusquisque faber fortunae suae, every man forges his own fortune.
Children have their own thoughts, and they may feel guilty if they see that these thoughts are different from their parent's: this rich Umbrian tale reinvigorates their rising subjectivity, and it reassures them about the guilty nature of their independent thoughts, since the tale comes from an authority, be it a parent, a teacher, a book or a tablet. (AG)
Forest of the Exile
Fabulando collection includes this fairy tale, even if it does not introduce any parent or child. The theme of Succession, in the sense of a hierarchical relationship between powerful and poor actants, is here represented by the relation between a supernatural actant - a god here, a fairy in other versions of this story - and a poor actant - a woodcutter. Something should go from the strong actant to the weak one, as in the relationship between parents and children. In Smithy Menico the donor actant is Jesus and the weak actant is a poor smith. The Ridiculous Wishes might belong more to the fable genre than to the fairy-tale one, to be considered as a cunning apologue about the ambiguity of desire. Let us quote a renowned sentence by George Bernard Shaw, "There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart's desire. The other is to gain it."
Our story tells that Jove, King of Olympus, appears to a poor woodcutter and tells that he will grant him three wishes. The man goes home and tells his wife what happened, and they agree that they will think carefully the following night before choosing what they can ask Jove. But the woodcutter exclaims that he would like a sausage, and a sausage appears in his dish, satisfying his first wish. Since his wife violently rails against him for having wasted one desire, the man shouts, Could it stick to your nose! And the sausage sticks to her nose. Now the woodcutter can cast only one wish, and he thinks about asking to become king of a big realm, with castles and servants and estates. But he then thinks that he would have a queen with a sausage hanging from her nose, an he eventually decides to use his third wish to turn his wife back to her nice old looks.
If you look at the figure of this story's e-book, you see how the sausage is a grotesque phallic appendage, which is caused by the couple quarrel, and vanishes with their agreement. We hear of wishes that are wasted, of course, but perhaps anything but ridiculous. Noticing that Jove gave no limit to the woodcutter's three desires, we can think of a dirty trick, because no human desire exists without limits, since it comes from lack.
The Ridiculous Wishes played a role in the debut of Charles Perrault as a writer of fairy tales. He wrote in 1691 Griselidis. Nouvelle, a free verse translation of the hundreth novella of the Decameron. Boccaccio's Griselda has been retold, painted and set to music by writers, painters and musicians ever since Boccaccio's time (including Francesco Petrarca, Geoffrey Chaucer, the Master of Griselda, Antonio Vivaldi, and Domenico Scarlatti). In 1693 Perrault wrote The Ridiculous Wishes (Les souhaites ridicules), and in 1694 he published it together with Griseldis (Griselidis), adding a third new story, Donkey Skin (Peau d'Ane). So, Donkey Skin is the first fairy tale written and published by Perrault, three years before the first edition of his renowned Les Contes de ma Mère l'Oye. In the upcoming Grand Tour "A Forgotten Desire crossing Novella and Fairy Tale. From Griselda to the Green Beaubird", we will resume this topic, to which we have now made only a first hint.
The little story of the woodcutter and his wife who could get anything and get nothing, is then quoted twice in 1919 by Sigmund Freud. About his interest in folk tales (see also The Theme of the Three Caskets. SE, 12: 291-301 [Das Motif der Kästchenwahl 1913]), we will resume this topic in the upcoming Grand Tour of the (non) Ridiculous Wishes.
In a note added to the Interpretation of Dreams, 1919 edition, he quotes The Ridiculous Wishes after these words, in order to briefly explain them:
No doubt, a wish-fulfillment must bring pleasure; but the question then arises 'To whom?' To the person who has the wish, of course. But as we know, a dreamer's relation to his wishes is a quite peculiar one. He repudiates them and censors them - in short, he doesn't like them. Their fulfillment can therefore give him no pleasure, but just the opposite; and experience shows that this opposite appears in the form of anxiety, something still to be explained. Thus, in his relation to his dream-wishes, a dreamer can only be compared to an amalgamation of two separate people linked by some important common element.
We eventually think that the short simplicity of the three ridiculous wishes may be illusory, like the seeming simplicity of the Sphynx's riddle, solved by Oedipus. As the desires can be fulfilled, but not exhausted, so the secrets can be revealed, but only in the moment they hide themselves again. (AG)
Forest of the Exile
Here we have two beautiful youth, Flower and her brother Flowerstem. Their mother died and their father married a woman who persecutes her stepchildren. She eventually turns them out of the house, because her daughter is ugly and she cannot stand their beauty.
Let us read this beginning, common to many tales – the most famous is Cinderella -, as something difficult to express, namely a mix of love and hate towards the mother figure. Fairy tales often stage two actants to tell this ambivalent connection: a dead good mother, who may reappear as a fairy – it happens in this tale of ours -, and a bad mother, usually a stepmother. This bad mother acts in the tale and the main actants have to face her to grow up and become independent, able to get their happy ending. In Flower and Flowerstem, we have a female main actant and a female parental injunction, therefore this tale is in the southwest quadrant. Its injunction is the Forest of the Exile, because the adventure of Flower and Flowerstem begins when they are cast out of their home.
They have always been beautiful, but their stepmother turns them out of home after a special event. One time they go to a fountain to draw water, and meet twelve fairies who ask them for a bit of the flatbread they are eating. Then Flower divides her flatbread in twelve pieces and gives it to the fairies, without keeping even a little bit for herself. To reward Flower, the fairies give her three gifts: whenever she speaks, flowers will blossom on her lips; whenever she unwinds her braids, a cascade of golden pearls will fall from her hair, and the son of the king will marry her.
When the good mother dies and an envious stepmother takes her place, the actants usually meet a magic female actant, who can either damage them or fulfil their wishes. Fairy tales say that when the actants honour these magic helpers, they are always rewarded with something precious. In fact, when Flower and Flowerstem are alone, they can make a living thanks to the flowers blossoming on Flower’s lips, which Flowerstem goes to sell. Through her flowers, the king sees Flower, and finding her beautiful, he asks to marry her. But Flower has again to face her stepmother, and her happy ending is still far.
Let us now try to understand what this story is telling about this theme. We noticed the mix of love and hate belonging to the mother-daughter relation. The mother's death means the loss of the all-good mother, and the fairies represent her donor side, while the stepmother represents the mother's destructive side. In this real relationship, to unravel the tangle of these feelings is nearly impossible, because they are interconnected, belonging both to mother and daughter, and they are mainly repressed, therefore unconscious. Fairy tales stage an innocent beautiful daughter and a bad ugly stepmother, therefore the blame of the aggressiveness lies on the older woman, while in real life it belongs also to the daughter, who tries to overcome her mother.
We know that growing away from her mother is necessary to any daughter in order to become an independent subject. It is the only way to find her place in the world, but this parting is painful. The daughter has to give up the feeling of security that she received as a child from the strong tie with her mother. Like a mirror, the mother offers herself to her little girl, so that she can build up her identity. That sense of security and that reflection entail the unconditional adherence to a female model, and the little daughter thinks impossible to move away from this model, because this is the only way she knows herself. But growing up she feels the uncontrollable urge to set off and find her own way. This desire entails an aggressiveness, and the daughter wavers: should she follow it or fight against it? The daughter someway feels her separation as an aggression against her mother, and ascribing her own aggressiveness to the maternal figure she can think she is quite innocent, and therefore become able to find the impulse necessary to leave her.
We can now appreciate how fairy tales stage this dangerous vital mix of deep feelings, which often cannot be spoken. Thrown out of her home, even though she is now the promised bride of the king, Flower suffers another aggression from her stepmother. She makes Flower fall into the hands of the Sea Siren, a mermaid who kidnaps beautiful girls, while her ugly stepsister takes her place and marries the king.
The journey of Flower towards her happy ending is not complete. She has to live for some time with the powerful magic creature who captured her. The Sea Siren is another maternal actant, which in other variants of this fairy tale the girl calls “mother” (see Ciciruni, collected in Palermo by Giuseppe Pitrè, in Internet Archive).
To get its happy ending, the fairy tale needs now a male actant, Flowerstem, who acts as an intermediary between his sister and the king, as he did when he was selling Flower’s flowers. In this part of the story, the gifts of the fairies are again precious, because the golden pearls coming from Flower’s hair feed the king’s geese. Flowerstem is their guardian, and the geese, coming back to the palace, tell how the beautiful Flower has nurished them with golden pearls. When the king learns what happened, he frees Flower facing the Sea Siren, not only thanks to his courage, but also because Flower reveals him how to do it.
Let us notice this passage: he determines her liberation, and without him, Flower would still be on the seashore, imprisoned by the Sea Siren.
But he would not know how to do it if she had not provided him with the right information. This story tells that when a girl has to face a persecutor mother, which is powerful like this female sea monster, a male actant has to act and help her, however following the knowledge that the female actant has learnt from the magic being (see also Parsley).
It eventually tells that a female main actant can never get a happy ending if she does not learn to act with others and share what she knows. (CC)
Cockroach, the Mouse and the Cricket
Forest of the Exile
Every fairy tale can be read at various levels, and every level displays a meaning. It can be interpreted in psychoanalytic terms, depending on whether you subscribe to Freudian, Jungian, Kleinian or Lacanian theory. A fairy tale looks manageable, like a centuries-old humble form patiently waiting for the hermeneutics of a learned scholar. There is no damage, because the extraordinary vitality of this narrative form does not depend on any interpretation, and every reading can make sense provided that the scholars are not too sure of their own method and theory. If they force the fairy tale’s complexity into their particular interpretation, trying to exhaust its meaning, they lose the fairy tale itself, which disappears easily slipping out of their hermeneutic exercise. Sometimes fairy tales, like poetry and dreams, delude us into thinking we have glimpsed their source, but they slip out of our grasp, making our interpretation insignificant.
Hoping to resist this temptation, which loses its sense just when it seizes it, we propose our interpretation of The Cockroach, the Mouse and the Cricket, which is one of the most beautiful, hilarious tales of Basile’s collection.
It tells of a merchant and his only son, Nardiello, who is so silly and idle that he has already squandered one half of his father’s riches, gambling and hanging about with prostitutes and innkeepers, making fun of him to get to his money. After having tried with no success to convince him to stop this inane behaviour, his father sends him to the market of Salerno, providing him with one hundred ducats to buy some calves, so that he could start breeding livestock, so as to become so rich that he might even buy a noble title.
Nardiello sets off on his journey, but he sees, not far from home, a fairy who is having fun with a cockroach playing a little guitar, better than all the musicians of his time. Craving for this magic animal, Nardiello gives the fairy the hundred ducats and buys the cockroach, then he goes back home to tell his father what a good deal he made. His father, seeing nothing but an insect, does not give Nardiello even the time to show him the cockroach's virtuosity, and starts yelling at him. But later he provides him again with one hundred ducats, warning him not to stop before he reaches the market of Salerno. Once again, Nardiello falls in love with a little animal, a mouse who dances so skilfully and delightfully that he gives its owner fairy his hundred ducats to get it. But when his father sees a mouse, he loses patience and scolds him. Nonetheless, he gives Nardiello the same amount for the third time, warning him that he will punish very harshly a third mistake. For the third time Nardiello gives a fairy all his hundred ducats, to get her singer cricket, whose voice is so melodious that it can send everybody to sleep. This time the father, seeing this third insane purchase, loses all patience, and gives him such a savage beating that Nardiello escapes from him and runs away from home.
The paternal upbringing failed. Nardiello choses the exile, getting his way with nothing but his three miniature artists. When he hears of a king who promised the hand of his daughter to whomever will make her laugh - the sad princess had not laughed for seven years -, he decides to try the test, even if those who fail it must die. The performance of the guitarist cockroach, of the dancing mouse and the singing cricket, makes the melancholic princess laugh, but the king becomes sad, since he does not want the wretched Nardiello to become his son-in-law. Therefore he says that Nardiello has to pass another test: if he is not able to consummate the marriage within three days, he will die.
Art cures melancholy, not only in fairy tales. Music has always been considered a remedy against the ancient disease that somehow corresponds to today’s depression, furthermore, art therapy is a contemporary cure for diseases. In this fairy tale of ours, the three little artists allow the misfit spender Nardiello to overcome where all the others failed. But this brings him into the lion’s den. The value of art can look negligible for common sense, and it can be underrated by rulers, as for example by an Italian minister who some years ago declared that you can’t eat culture. But we can see that art survives for centuries and millennia, after the kings and merchants, who failed to appreciate its strength and value, disappeared.
It is true that there are no guarantees of success or of good luck for those who possess and exercise an art, like Nardiello, who keeps his magic artists inside a little box. Until the time when - Basile tells in this wonderful fairy tale - he releases the art itself, so that it can live beyond his own death. Now the cockroach, the mouse and the cricket have no master, no fairy or a poor devil sentenced to death. This for them is the right time to speak. They tell Nardiello that they want to reward him, because to get them he gave away all his money, he tenderly protected and nourished them, and eventually he gave them freedom, which is the most precious gift. Then they repeat their performance, and if the first time they cured the princess, now they tame the lions, which immobilize themselves. Their art repeats the miracle of Orpheus, the artist par excellence in Greek mythology, whose music enchanted the wild animals too. While the lions stand like statues, the little artists lead Nardiello out of the den, to a safe haven, and they ask him what they could do for him. Nardiello asks them to prevent the new bridegroom of the princess from consummating the marriage, because this would consummate his own life.
Now the scatological enterprise of the three little animal artists begins, and their magic consists of cunning and operations that correspond to their physical abilities, to remain invisible thanks to their small size, not to shy away from dirt, to gnaw, using also their artistic expertise.
The king had just married his daughter to a German nobleman, who on the first night falls soundly asleep .
The guitar-playing cockroach acts as a suppository for him,
...in such wise that he could have said with
Petrarca, “From love it extracted thence a subtle
The sapper cockroach changes the royal alcove into a sickening place, and the second night the defence of the bridegroom, who barricades his orifice with a trench of bands, clothes and underpants, is useless. If the cockroach cannot enter like the first night, the mouse steps up, and gnawing at the trench he opens a breach for him, so that the insect,
… gave him another medicinal dose, in such a guise that a topaz sea came forth, and the Arabian perfumes infected the whole palace. The bride being tainted with such odour awoke, and sighting the orange deluge which had coloured the white Holland sheets to Venetian tabby, holding her nose, flew to the chamber of her handmaidens. The wretched bridegroom, calling the valets, loudly and at length lamented his misfortune, that through a lax foundation the greatness of his house would be closed (ibid., pp. 65-67).
To prepare himself for the third night, the bridegroom blocks his orifice with a custom made wood plug, resolving to stay up not to lose control. Now the cricket takes action, sending the German groom to sleep with his sweet singing, but the mouse, finding a barrage that he cannot open with his teeth, cannot make way for the cockroach. Then the mouse goes to the larder and dips his tail into a jar of mustard, and then he rubs his tail several times under the nose of the bridegroom,
…and he began to sneeze so loudly and strongly, that the stopper came forth in a fury, and as he lay with his back turned to the bride, it struck her mid-breast with such a blow that it nearly slew her. And she screamed and screeched, and at her screams the king ran in, and enquired of her what ailed her. She told him that a petard had been shot at her breast. And the king marvelled with excessive marvel at such a folly, and wondered how a petard on her chest she could speak; and lifting the bed-clothes, he found the bran mine, and the petard's stopper which had hit the bride, and made a good mark in her breast; although I know not which caused her more disgust, the stink of the powder, or the blow from the ball (ibid., pp. 79-81).
Then the king chases away the German nobleman. The king
gets upset thinking that that disaster came from his
unfair death sentence, and misses the innocent
three little magic animals promptly come to cheer him
up, telling him that the legitimate pretender is alive
and that they are ready to go and get him. Then they turn him
into a handsome
youth, worthy husband of the princess, and all live
happily ever after.
Basile devotes more than one third of this tale to the
scatological war operation of the three little animals,
who act for the sake of Nardiello, who loves them and takes care of
his love leading
him to conquer the princess and
defeat all his opponents.
Italy has, with Lo cunto de li cunti or Pentamerone by Basile, the most ancient, rich and artistic book of fairy tales, by mutual consent of the foreign critics who know this subject. (Croce, in: Basile, 1974; our translation)
So Benedetto Croce in 1925 introduced his complete
translation of Basile’s collection, the first Italian
one, which we still consider the most beautiful. An
introduction by Italo Calvino enriched the 1974 edition
of this text,
but the Italian writer never read Basile’s text:
“Moreover," he wrote, "I am dealing with a book of
Basile-Croce, because I know the first only through the
second one” (ibid., vol. I, p. V; our translation).
Basile's work resembles the dream of a hideous Neapolitan Shakespeare, obsessed with the horrible, so that ogres and witches are never enough, with a taste for the tortuous grotesque image, where the sublime mingles with the coarse and the sordid. (Calvino 1968, vol. I, p. 7, our translation; see also Calvino 1980, p. XV)
By his analogy with Shakespeare, Calvino seizes the amazing linguistic skill of Basile, which reaches one of its peaks in this fairy tale's operation of the three little artist animals. He moves to perfection his juggler tools, mingling scatological, sexual, military languages, and then he ends his amazing performance with some lines of Francesco Petrarca. The amazing writer provokes laughter and admiration, bringing on the stage the infinite resources of the language.
Tale of Tales is a Neapolitan work, and its language is today nearly incomprehensible even in Neaples, but its influence on the Italian and European fairy-tale imagination testifies to its universal value. As for the adjective hideous, we agree with Italo Calvino on condition that we think as hideous the human being too. From Basile's baroque point of view life usually mingles together the sublime and the coarse. Moreover, we can feel Basile close to us thanks to his irreducible complexity, which reflects our weakened identity, because no salvific ideology looks now able to ensure us.
We can feel ourselves exiled and delegitimized like
Nardiello, when we undergo the narcissistic injury
coming from the disillusion about our possibility to
master ourselves. The ego is not master in its own
house, as Freud said.
The dreamer writer Giambattista Basile did not get a throne like Nardiello, nor did his art make his life easy. However, he endowed his creature, The Tale of Tales, with the magic of art, and it has been travelling through time and space, beyond borders that he could not even dream.
To acknowledge the magic of art means understanding that art is the offspring of human culture, and the only kind of immortality to which a human being can aspire. But it means also giving up the illusion to master one’s own creature, be it a little or great artistic work. (See also: Lake of Generation)
In art alone, it still happens that a man, consumed by his wishes, produces something similar to the gratification of these wishes, and this playing, thanks to artistic illusion, calls forth effects as if it were something real. We rightly speak of the magic of art and compare the artist with a magician. But this comparison is perhaps more important than it claims to be. (Freud, 1912-13, p. 96)
Thanks to this magic, the tales by Basile, and Nardiello, the princess, the king and the merchant, live happily forever after, together with the guitar-playing cockroach, the dancing mouse and the singing cricket. (AG)
John and the Shudder
Forest of the Exile
The Italian writer Giovan Francesco Straparola wrote in the 16th century the first version of this type of tale ever published in the world. It is not included in Fabulando, but we are going to tell something about it, before speaking of Little John and the Shudder.
In Ostia, an ancient city situated no great distance from Rome, there lived in former days, according to the common report, a young man of a nature rather weak and errant than stable and prudent, whose name was Flamminio Veraldo. He had heard it said over and over again that there was in all the world nothing more terrible and fright flu than Death, the dark and inevitable one, seeing that he shows pity to none, having respect to no man, however poor or rich he may be. Wherefore, being filled with wonder at what he had heard, he determined by himself to find and to see with his own eyes what manner of thing this might be which men called Death. (Straparola, W. G. Waters translator, p. 112; English version available online in the website of Adalinda Gasparini, Psicoanalisi e favole)
Flamminio leaves his home and after a long hard way he reaches a desert marble city where he meets a very ugly and old woman. He thinks to have finally found what he was looking for, but the woman reveals herself as Life. Nevertheless, having heard the youth's request, to try fear and know Death, she satisfies him. Old ugly Life cuts the head of Flamminio and reattaches it backwards on his neck.
So Flamminio looks down and sees his shoulders, his loins, and his big buttocks standing out. He falls into such a fit of terror and dismay that, not being able to think of any place where he could hide himself, he cries out to the old woman in a trembling dolorous voice:
Alas, alas, my good mother! bring me back once more to my old shape; bring me back, for the love of God, for by my faith I have never seen anything more frightful and more hideous than what I now behold (ibid.).
Old ugly mother Life leaves Little John/Flamminio in this dreadful condition for some time, then she cuts his head off again and reattaches it in the right way. When Little John/Flamminio
…perceived that he had once more become his old self, put on his clothes; and now, having seen what a terrible thing, and by his own experience proved what a hideous and ugly thing Death was, he made his way back to Ostia by the shortest and the quickest way he knew without saying any more farewell words to the old woman, occupying himself for the future in reaching after Life and flying from Death, devoting himself more diligently to the consideration of those matters which he had hither to neglected (ibid.).
We know fear since we know the existence of death; and we stop looking for death like we did whan we did not know fear. Death is the only thing, together with birth, that we do not need to look for. This tale may be a masterful flash of light if we get a glimpse into the human reality that it enlightens. It explains our trend to run many risks when we go beyond limits without any goal. We may lose our life looking for death, but what we are really looking for is the experience of our limits. To see death makes us feel dread and may be the biggest push to look for better occupations.
The ancient Italian fairy tale is a perfect introduction to Little John and the Shudder, which tells of a boy who did not know what fear was, but different from the version retold by Calvino (Dauntless Little John). It includes motifs that we see in Calvino’s version, for example the night that the main actant spends in a cursed castle, where all who had tried to do so had died. Here we present this tale, widespread all over Europe, as Wilhelm Grimm wrote it in 1818: Märchen von einem, der auszog, das Fürchten zu lernen (The Story of the Youth who went forth to learn what Fear Was).
The main actant does not know what fear is, like Little John/Flamminio, and his father is not able to teach him this. He throws Little John out of his house, because the only aim of his son is to learn what fear is. Like Little John/Flamminio, he sets off following his desire, while the main actant of Calvino's version simply meanders without any desire. Since the main actant of the sixteenth-century Italian story - like the one of the story retold by Wilhelm Grimm - does not know fear, his condition seems to be the same as Calvino’s Dauntless Little John. But they are different from this fairy brother of theirs, because they desire - they know that they need - to know fear, while Calvino’s main actant has no desire. In the tale retold by Grimm, that Antonio Gramsci translated into Italian during his incarceration, Little John goes on complaining of his lack of fear. Even when he becomes the husband of the daughter of the king, he goes on longing for shudders, the goose bumps, namely the bodily test of that feeling. This physical reaction gives evidence of something unheimliche, unsettling, deep, unknown. It is the alive perception of the unconscious, be it represented by our shadow or by our backside.
In the ancient Italian tale, it is a female character - a helper actant, so to say - the old ugly Life, who offers Little John/Flamminio what he was looking for. In Little John and the Shudder, the main actant also reaches his goal thanks to a female actant.
It is told that the princess married by Little John was bored, listening to the continual complains of her husband, missing the experience of goose bumps. Her maid concluded the matter with a masterful hit that reminds ourselves of the cutting of the head acted by the old ugly Life, even if here there is no magic power.
She went out to the stream which flowed through the garden, and had a whole bucketful of gudgeons brought to her. At night when the young king was sleeping, his wife was to draw the clothes off him and empty the bucketful of cold water with the gudgeons in it over him, so that the little fishes would sprawl about him. When this was done, he woke up and cried "Oh, what makes me shudder so?—-what makes me shudder so, dear wife? Ah! now I know what it is to shudder!" (Little John and the Shudder e-book, p. 83)
Here is the happy ending of this tale, which comes, as in every fairy tale, when the main actants realize their desire. It is the desire that sets in motion them and their story.
Let us underline another detail of Wilhelm Grimm's version. When the main actant is going to spend his first night in the cursed castle, he asks and gets from the king some tools: a fire, a lathe and a carpenter's workbench with a knife. Forging metals, working and transforming natural materials means making use of a human basic inheritance. Little John, asking and getting them, endowes himself of instruments to become homo faber, the human being who can give shape to his life. Becoming a member of human culture, he can use these instruments to limit and defeat the ghosts haunting the cursed castle.
We leave our childish illusion understanding that we are not masters of ourselves. Something unknown always follows us, like our shadow, taking our same steps. Freud named our unknown side "the unconscious". The main actant of the popular version retold by Calvino, like his two fairy tale brothers, ignores it, ignoring for this reason fear and death. And he does not feel any lack of fear, while the main actants of Straparola's and Grimm's versions feel this lack, so much that they live to find it.
In Calvino's version Little John dies of fear seeing his back side, in other similar versions it is the sight of his shadow to kill him. Fear fatally comes to him and tears up the frail texture of his identity.
Calvino's choice to open his collection with his version of Little John, could place the Italian writer on the side of those educators who think that telling children who are afraid of darkness that there is no reason to be afraid, can eliminate their anxiety. Nonetheless, this fairy tale works in its own way, inviting children to acknowledge their fears instead of repressing it. Children would never spend a night by themselves in a cursed castle or let anybody cut their heads off, even if they pledge to them to reattach them without any damage. They may feel a little cowardly hearing that Little John did it, but they feel good and brave when Little John is scared to death, just looking at his shadow or backside. By different means all the fairy tales of Little John's type, from the 16th first version to Calvino's one, tell that fear and goose bumps are not only licit but also necessary to live and grow up.
These fairy tale belongs to the injunction of the Forest of the Exile, because Little John sets off on his way when his father throws him out of the house and tells him never to say who his father is. It is in the northeast quadrant having a male main actant and a father ordering him to live by himself. (AG)
Tale of the Ogre
Forest of the Exile
This is the first story of Basile's Tale of Tales. It tells of a silly layabout youth, in some respects a fairy-tale brother of the main actant of the Umbrian fairy tale Thus Ended the Idiot, of Nardiello of The Cockroach, the Mouse and the Cricket and of Madmatt. While each of these three actants is an only child, our actant, named Dumbtony, has six sisters, who, having no dowry, cannot get married. The family is very poor, and the mother hurls insults at her son, who never does anything but eat and act the fool. She finally gives him such a hard thrashing that he runs away from home. Thus the injunction is the Forest of the Exile, southeast quadrant.
The Umbrian tale is also located in the southeast quadrant, but its injunction is the Fork of the Possible Task, since the mother of this story does not chase her son away, but she gives him a simple task and puts into his silly son’s mouth her words, to compensate for his dumbness. The Idiot never meets a fatherly helper, and knowing nothing better than repeating other’s words, he finally dies. Death finally comes also to Dauntless Little John, who did not consider any task awkward or frightening.
Also the mother of Madmatt does not turn her son out of the house, but she does not try to compensate for his dumbness; the boy encounters a magic helper and an enemy king, but finally becomes the wise handsome husband of the crown princess. As for Nardiello, from the story The Cockroach, the Mouse and the Cricket, he has a father but no mother. He encounters three fairies, and buys their little animal artists with the money received from his father, who, upon learning that Nardiello has spent all his money, beats him and turns him out of the house. Just like Madmatt, Nardiello first gets, then loses, and then gets back a princess, becoming heir to the throne.
Dumbtony runs away from home and goes on running and running, until he finds himself facing an ogre and stops in his tracks. This ogre has little to do with the cannibalistic ogres of many popular fairy tales; he is rather a preternatural creature, a remote descendant of the fauns and satyrs who once upon a time dwelled in the wild lands. They nearly disappeared when the angels and devils came, strictly separating good and evil. The pagan creatures found shelter in superstitions and fairy tales. We can see another ogre of this kind in the fairy tale of Violet, an urbane gullible ogre, friend of fairies and fatherly and tender helper to the female main actant.
In The Tale of the Ogre, Dumbtony faces this ogre, who is ready to welcome him like Violet's ogre. However, he is a wild ogre, and thus lives far from the city, and is grotesque in appearance.
His head was larger than an Indian vegetable-marrow, his forehead full of bumps, his eyebrows united, his eyes crooked, his nose flat, with nostrils like a forge, his mouth like an oven, from which protruded two tusks like unto a boar’s; a hairy breast had he, and arms like reels; and bandy-legged was he, and flat-footed like a goose; briefly he was an hideous monster, frightful to behold, who would have frightened a Roland, horrified, a Scannarebecco, and turned pale an experienced wrestler ; but Dumbtony, who cared not for ugliness or aught else, nodding his head slightly to him, said, ‘Farewell sir, what are you doing here? How are you? Would you something? How far is it from here to the place whereto I am bound?’ the ogre, hearing such foolish queries addressed to him, burst out a-laughing, and because he was pleased with that humourous beast, said to him, ‘Are you looking for a master?’ and Dumbtony rejoined, ‘Which monthly pay would you?’ and the ogre answered, ‘Mind and serve me honourably, and we will not dispute about the wage.’ (The Tale of the Ogre e-book, pp. 13-15)
Dumbtony's service to the ogre only consists in eating, and so he becomes very fat. But after two years he becomes homesick, and, losing weight day by day, he wastes away.
Unable to work and provide for himself and his family, Dumbtony has found a master who feeds him, because he is only able to eat, just like a newborn child. Nevertheless, he is so homesick that he stops eating. The ogre sees that he iswasting away, and lets him go home with a magical gift. He gives him a donkey, ordering him not to say “Ass do goldpoo!” before arriving home. Dumbtony promises to obey him, but as soon as he is out of sight of his master he pronounces the magic words. In the blink of an eye, the donkey spews forth a lot of rubies, emeralds and diamonds, which Dumbtony puts into his knapsack.
Unable to understand what to say out loud and what to keep to himself, as well as being unable to work and carry out any duty, Dumbtony is robbed by an innkeeper who replaces his magic donkey with a common one. Let us remember that the magic ass of this fairy tale is the same as in Perrault’s Peau d’âne, where the animal supplies the king’s treasure with its munificent evacuations.
Dumbtony then arrives home promising his mother to enrich her forever, and the woman takes linen from her six daughters’ trousseau and spreads them on the floor to get the precious stones. However, the ass does not care for magic words and when Dumbtony tries to convince it with a stick, the poor donkey evacuates ruining the linen and making the whole house stink. To escape his mother’s blows, Dumbtony runs away and goes back to the grotto of the ogre, who scolds him. Nevertheless, the ogre takes him back. Once more, Dumbtony becomes very fat, and after one year, he becomes homesick and wastes away. This time the ogre gives him a napkin for his mother, ordering him not to say "Napkin, open!" or "Napkin, fold!" until he is at home.
Like the first time, Dumbtony immediately tries the magical words, and discovers the amazing property of the napkin, which conferes delicious foods served on precious dishes. The cunning innkeeper robs him again, and for the second time Dumbtony promises his mother to enrich her, bringing only a common napkin. Angry and disappointed, the poor woman turns him out of the house ordering him to stay away forever.
For the third time the motif repeats itself, with Dumbtony who serves his ogre master eating and fattening up for three years, then becoming homesick and wasting away. The ogre gives him his third gift, warning him that it is the last one,
‘Take this stick and keep it in remembrance of me, but be careful not to say, ‘‘Erect thyself, mace’’, or ‘‘Lie down, mace’’, for I want no part with thee’ (ibid., p. 45).
For the third time Dumbtony soon tests these words and his behaviour with the innkeeper looks the same as the other times, but he reveals only the first part of the magic formula. Dumbtony somehow learnt that there are things to keep to himself, and this is decisive for his story, because the innkeeper, thinking he will get a third treasure, finds himself under a burst of heavy blows without any remedy. He must go to Dumbtony and beseech him to stop the frenzied mace. Here we are sure that our main actant has learnt the lesson, because he does not say the magic word before the innkeeper gives him back the magic ass and napkin.
Then he goes home with the three magic gifts, gives his six sisters a rich dowry, so that they can get married, and enriches forever himself and his mother and lives happily forever after.
The motif of these three magic objects is very popular in Italy and in Europe, but this grotesque ogre “hideous of favour but handsome of heart” (ibid., p. 33) comes straight from Basile, who holds together at the highest level the naturalness and the vividness of folktales and the art of writing.
We could give in to the temptation to interpret these three magic objects connecting them to the libidinal stages described by Freud, which here follow each other with one only exception, the napkin, linked to the oral stage, in the fairy tale follows the donkey, linked to the anal stage, while the oral one is the first libidinal stage. In every tale where the three objects appear, the stick, or mace, or cudgel, is the final gift, which enables the actant to face and win over the innkeeper. Only with the mace, linked to the phallic stage, Dumbtony can keep what he received from his ogre master and get back the napkin and the donkey, and then he can fully provide for himself, his mother and his six sisters. Linking the fairy-tale happy ending to the genital stage, missing in The Tale of the Ogre, we can link the final wealth of Dumbtony to the latent stage, with his mother finally proud of her son, who she previously beat and turned out of the house. The stick of the son, finally initiated into life, takes over the mother’s stick, with mutual satisfaction. It could mean that a phallic mother turns into a welcoming mother, thanks to the growth of the son.
This interpretation, convincing but fairly mechanical, might work for all fairy tales where there are these three magical objects. Nevertheless, whether we would relate it or not to the Freudian libidinal stages, this motif is for Basile the canvas on which he embroiders the relationship between Dumbtony and the ogre, who is “hideous of favour but handsome of heart” (cit.). He is an extraordinary educator, a father figure endowed with such patience, intuition and generosity that he is made into an inimitable model. The first fairy tale of the Tale of Tales tells of the unrealistic virtue of an educator, like the novella of Griselda, the hundreth and last of Decameron, tells of the unrealistic virtue of a wife (see, about this subject, also The Green Beaubird). We would like to see in the ogre's ethics something psychoanalytic: he knows and tolerates the repetition compulsion, welcomes whoever runs into him, he nourishes them and lets them go their way. Stretching the interpretation, we would like to say that the power of the three magic objects reminds us of the power of transfer, which enables experiences that were impossible up to that time. The ogre performs female and male functions; he is paternal in showing Dumbtony his simple-mindedness through its consequences and imposing limits on him. He behaves like a mother when he welcomes and feeds Dumbtony for years, waiting for pain and desire to call him to humanize himself. The ogre follows Dumbtony's own time, understands his needs and allows him to grow year by year as a subject, until he gets homesick. This feeling overcomes his wish to eat and laze around without limits.
Regarding his ugliness, this is precisely why the ogre could resemble a psychoanalyst.
Both the ogre and the psychoanalyst are far from the 'normal' people's common sense, and they do not look reassuring at all. A psychoanalyst becomes as ugly as the ogre, when he turns into a mirror where his/her patient sees something so ugly and dangerous, that he/she has tried not to see it. If the patient is not too afraid, if he/she does not run away, he/she can find something that had been inaccessible or seemed forever lost. The ogre gives Dumbtony the chance to regress to the oral stage - when he has to do nothing more than eating -, then to the anal stage - when Dumbtony should be able to keep the secret of the magic donkey. We know that for the child living the anal stage what it makes with its body is as precious as gold. But Dumbtony is not able to keep his treasure, and the innkeeper steals from him the magic donkey, as well as the magic napkin. He cannot discern words to be said from words not to be said. The ogre invites him to keep secret the magic formulas, and to say them only at the right time, but Dumbtony fails and comes back to the ogre. Only the third time, when he has the magic club, namely a phallic symbol, he reaches his goal, to be useful to himself and to his poor mother and sisters. This story tells of a post-weaning time, which can also be the time of a psychoanalytic journey.
Let us finally remember the answer of Dumbtony - we quoted it above - when he replies to the ogre who asks him if he will serve him. Whilst it looks like a non-sense, it may be a full-sense.
‘Which monthly pay would you?’ and the ogre answered, ‘Mind and serve me honourably, and we will not dispute about the wage.’ (ibid., p. 15).
A patient serves the psychoanalyst because, thanks to the transfert, he plays with him/her the dependent role he/she played as a child with his/her parents. But he/she pays a fee to the psychoanalyst who is and is not his/her mirror, who is and is not the avatar of his/her parents. And when the post-weaning - or Nacherziehung, post-education, as Freud sometimes named it - is fairly complete, the psychoanalytic journey is over.
Then he/she can leave forever the psychoanalyst in his grotto built of pumice-stone. (AG)
Marsh of the Dereliction
Once upon a time, in Venice, Poavola meant doll. Its fairy tale was written and published for the first time in Venice by Giovan Francesco Straparola (16th century), and about a century after Giambattista Basile rewrote the same tale - The Goose - in his collection, in Napoli.
In his tale Basile turned the Poavola from a doll to a goose, possibly because the Neapolitan writer did not know the meaning of Poavola. The Grimm Brothers, two centuries later, inserted this story in their collection, with a goose evacuating golden coins for her sweet foster mother. From Straparola to the Grimm Brothers the magic helper bites the ass of the king and hangs on to it. Why would a servant catch a goose to meet his king's need for some toilet paper? Moreover, could a living goose stay still in a rubbish heap? In fairy tales many odd things can happen, and a misunderstanding made the Poavola doll turn into a goose, but this did not decrease the strength of its tale. Children love it, also because it tells of solid goldcoins coming from the magic creature instead of excrements, and because the magic creature bites a royal back. Children are seriously interested in the anal sphere and coprolaliac expressions, for this reasons we named Pooavola, instead of Poavola, the doll of this version of the fairy tale - the first published in the world. Only scholars of 16th century Italian literature now read Straparola's fairy tales, and we are happy to invite you to enjoy his stories.
A shallow look does not see that magic in fairy tales follows a strict constraint, first because fairy tales must begin and end within a human horizon, as human as their main actants, even if they may have a star on their forehead or be forced into animal forms. The magic appears in a thousand and one shimmering ways. There are many motifs, which we inherited from ancient myths to retell them in contemporary literature and cinema. At the end however the main actant does not need a fairy or magician any more; the magic object is not in her/his hand any more, the witch is defeated, the ogre is far away, the curse that imprisoned the main actant is over and she/he will be free for ever after. The magic actants with their gifts or damages disappear, like the Poavola, to appear again in another tale, even if turned into a goose.
They vanish, so wrote Straparola, just like dread or glee after a dream, like the shadows of the night that in the darkness scare children, they vanish because they are made of the same stuff of dreams. Their substance is finally revealed to be intimate with our own substance, but it does not confuse itself with everyday life, with the reality that we share with everybody.
The injunction for this tale is the Marsh of the Dereliction, because the story begins with the need of the main actant and her sister that becomes desperate after the death of their mother that was their only parent. Having a female main actant, it is then in the southwest quadrant. (AG)
Marsh of the Dereliction
What makes this tale so peculiar, is that the story of the maiden dressed up as a man, travelling around the world, is framed by another story, the tale of the parrot who acts to keep the main actant - a queen - faithful to her king. Here we have a tale within another tale, which comes to the oral Italian dialectal storytellers from a faraway oriental origin (other versions of this fairy tale were collected in Sicily, Tuscany, Sardinia and Calabria). We do not know which road this fairy tale covered, but we know an Indian collection called Śukasaptati, or Seventy tales of the Parrot existing since the 12th century. There is a tale encompassing others tales, a frame story: a parrot tells stories for seventy nights, to keep at home his master’s wife, so that she cannot be unfaithful to him. Some scholars think that Śukasaptati was known in Europe since the Middle Ages, other scholars think that it entered in the European tradition some centuries later. How could the Piedmontese folk storyteller in the 19th century know a fairy tale told in an unknown language? We do not know other subsequent variants of this parrot's story, the charm of which is intriguing. What is more interesting for us is that it gives evidence to one of the main magic virtues of the fairy-tale genre: to cross any boundary of time, space, language, and culture. They live and flourish thanks to the pen of cultivated writers as well as to the speech of illiterate people, giving us a various and abiding pleasure.
parentage of our dialectal fairy tale with the Indian
collection concerns only the frame story, since the
tale told by the Piedmontese parrot has nothing to do
with the Eastern ancient collection. It tells of a
king’s daughter who is left quite alone, without her
beloved doll, and is left to wander the world. She
happens to cure many cursed princes before finding the
prince who is lovesick for her.
Let us now notice something about this fairy tale, travelling together with the princess disguised as a man, who tests a feminine aptitude: to take care of others. Along her way, she treats ill princes cursed by underworld actants, mainly female ones. The princess can always find out the evil troubling them, watching all the night long over the bewitched prince, then going down a dark and deep place, which may be an underground prison or a cave opening under the prince’s bed. Therefore, this story tells that the princess herself needs to gain experience of the deep link between life and death, to understand how to care the others before, finding her lost doll - her own self. As soon as she discovers it, she meets her prince, and their happy wedding means the par excellence happy and fruitful alliance. We already said that the prince is already in love with her, since when he saw her image, her doll. She has no chance to meet him before achieving her journey, during which she tests herself in the powerful plot of illness and recovery, life and death. When the princess has experienced her power to care male illness, she finds herself. (CC)
Marsh of the Dereliction
Tunafish is a male helper - let us remember also the
phallic symbolism of the fish -, and his aid comes from
another world; through this encounter, Madmatt can fill
the lack of his father, who has passed away. The
confrontation with the king then represents Madmatt
facing the human law, which he violated magically
impregnating the little princess Juliet.
This fairy tale starts with a prank that repeats itself every day, when Madmatt, coming home in the evening, screams at his mother to take all her containers out to the front of the house so that he can fill them up with his catch. But he never catches anything. Then he makes funny faces, sticking out his incredibly long tongue, triggering the laughter of the little princess, who appears at the window of her castle, angering Madmatt.
Then, one day, Madmatt, who is ugly, clumsy, and unable to fish anything, catches an enormous tuna, and he sets off towards home, happy to bring with him such a big fish. But the fish speaks, asking Madmatt to release him and arguing that eating him he will not be satisfied in the long run, but only once. Since Madmatt does not free him, the Tunafish promises also to give him a lot of fishes, and to make all his wishes come true.
Madmatt gives up his need of food and puts the Tunafish
back in the water, and following his words he fills up
his little boat with so much fish that it nearly sinks.
For the first time the poor lad tells the truth, when
he screams that he is bringing a big catch, but
his mother, for the very first time, finally refuses
take all her containers outside.
But her love for him quickly wins her good sense, and
the poor woman hurries up to prepare cans, pans, and
dishes that Madmatt finally fills up. Nevertheless, the
little princess goes on laughing, and Madmatt does not
simply rail against her as he used to do: he runs to the
shore and calls the Tunafish, who appears in the blink
of an eye, ready to fullfill
his desire. Madmatt asks the fish to make the
princess pregnant with his offspring, and this is said
When the father king learns that his little daughter is pregnant, he does not believe her innocence and sentences her to death. However, the queen intercedes on behalf of their daughter, persuading the king to wait for the birth of the child. When the baby is born, he is so beautiful that the king decides to wait another year, hoping to find a way to find his unknown father. Then he invites all the men of the city for his grandson's birthday, hoping that the child will naturally recognize his father. But the baby does not go to anybody, until he tries to reach a door, behind which is Madmatt, who is feeling too ashamed to enter the hall. When he is ordered to come in, the baby smiles at him and throws his arms around Madmatt's neck. The dismayed king orders to put her daughter, Madmatt and his grandson into a barrel, and throws them into the sea, where they are supposed to quickly die.
a recurring motif, which reminds us of the Greek myth of
Perseus, conceived by the princess Danae with the
supernatural love of Zeus. Danae's father, the
king, puts her in a casket together with
his grandson and throws them into the sea. The
king is trying to oppose his destiny: it has been
prophecized that his grandsn would kill him.
The King is dead, long live the King. The flow of the generations following each other includes ageing and death together with birth and growth. The ancestor, the king, tries to dodge this law of life, sentencing to death his descendant, but he inevitably fails. Let us notice that in all myths and fairy tales newborn babies who are abandoned like Perseus always find somebody who rescues them, so that they can grow up beautiful and strong. Moreover, they leave their adoptive parents and return to their unknown parents. There is no chance of dodging one’s destiny, like in our Greek myth, because Perseus accidentally kills the king, without knowing that he is his grandfather.
of the death of the parent who abandoned them, fairy
tales tell that the old king abdicates to give the
throne to his descendant, finally recognizing her/him as
his worthy successor, as happens in the tale
Cockroach, the Mouse and the Cricket.
now go back to our fairy tale, which was first written
in Venice by Giovan
Francesco Straparola, then retold by Giambattista
Basile in his collection. The little princess, Madmatt
and their child are in the barrel with “a basketful of
bread, a flask of good Chianti and a crate of raisins
and figs” (e-book,
p. 37). While Madmatt eats and drinks as if nothing bad
could happen, the princess gets upset and is busy
calming down their baby, giving him some figs. When she
asks Madmatt how he can be so indifferent to her and
their baby’s suffering, which he caused, and to their
mortal danger. Madmatt answers that they are not in
danger at all, because he has a magic helper who will
make all his wishes come true. Then the princess asks
him to share his magic helper with her, and when the
Tunafish appears, the princess asks him to lead them to
safety on an islet and to change Madmatt into a
beautiful wise youth. Then she asks for a wonderful
palace, surrounded by an amazing garden with a tree of
Some years later, the king and the queen, the parents of our princess, were oppressed by melancholy after having lost their only daughter. So they decided to leave for a pilgrimage by ship, and when they saw that amazing palace, shortly after their departure, they went ashore to visit it. When their daughter, Madmatt and their child welcame them, they did not recognize them.
while the king and the queen were admiring the wonderful
garden, looking at the magic tree with three
golden apples hanging
from its branches, the princess played a trick
on her father, with the help of the Tunafish. A golden
apple fell into the clothes of the king, and the
princess then asked all the guests to prove that they
did not steal the precious fruit. When the golden apple
fell from his clothes, the dismayed king proclaimed his
innocence. Princess Juliet first pretended not to
believe him, and then she said:
should believe you are innocent about the apple
which fell from
your bosom, but you didn't believe that your daughter was
innocent when her
child was born! Now it must be known: I'm
thrown into the high seas with Madmatt and the
of us condemned to a cruel death by you". With
tears in her eyes Juliet revealed all: "This is the
innocent child, born out of no fault of mine, and this
is Madmatt, who has become very wise thanks to the
power of a fish named Tunafish". (e-book,
the parent’s mirror breaks into pieces, because the
chain of the generations lasts thanks to this
discontinuity; it is a game of vital conflicts that
parent's minds can understand only if they acknowledge
and sustain this narcissistic injury. They can come to
terms with it only after a long and hard reflection.
In the tale of Madmatt, the king, representing the law, cannot understand magic, just as the king in the fairy tale The Cockroach, the Mouse and the Cricket, because they ignore or condemn whatever goes beyond their mastery. On the contrary, Madmatt puts the Tunafish back into the sea, giving up his first chance to satisfy his and his mother’s hunger: he gives credit to the unrealistic promise of the speaking sea creature. In a similar way, the little princess, in a barrel shaken by the waves, gives credit to Madmatt who is telling her that his magic friend will easily lead them to safety. Then she saves herself together with him and their child, conceived with the magical help of the Tunafish. We find other amazing magical pregnancies, e.g. due to a sea-dragon heart, in the fairy tale The Enchanted Doe. Nevertheless, is there not something magical in every birth, in every child who resembles a man and a woman coming from different families, and ancestors of which every memory is lost?
of storytelling, as well as every other art, requires a
work of symbolization, looking for nourishment beyond
realism: a fabulous nourishment:
But what shall we say to those who have such compassion on my hunger that they counsel me provide myself bread? Certes, I know not, save that, whenas I seek to imagine in myself what would be their answer, an I should of necessity beseech them thereof, to wit, of bread, methinketh they would reply, "Go seek it among thy fables." Indeed, aforetime poets have found more thereof among their fables than many a rich man among his treasures, and many, following after their fables, have caused their age to flourish; whereas, on the contrary, many, in seeking to have more bread than they needed, have perished miserably. (Boccaccio, Day the Fourth; p. 319)
Cat or Puss in Boots
Marsh of the Dereliction
Antoine Galland was a French scholar who knew Arabic and other ancient and modern languages. He returned to Paris after having spent many years in the Middle East. People in Paris was already very fond of Perrault’s fairy tales, and Galland, who knew the Arabian tales from The Thousand and One Nights, had a 14th century manuscript of that great collection sent to him from Syria. He translated it, and the first volume was published in 1704, when I happily lived at the court of Versailles and spent time in the salons of the of Versailles and spent time in the salons of the city. Other translated volumes of the collection were published with enormous success until 1715, when both Galland and the Sun King died. The Arabian collection, translated for the first time by Galland into an European language, was then published in many other languages and became Europe’s 17th century best-seller. Well, what has all this got to do with me? Among the first group of tales translated by Galland, I read of a challenge that was just like my story with the ogre!
Wouldn’t you like to listen to this Arabian story?
Kana jama kana… sorry, this is Arabic. When Galland was reading the Syrian manuscript, I was there, purring next to him…
Once upon a time there lived a fisherman. He was poor and unlucky just like my little master, and he often didn’t even have enough to feed his children. He went on fishing and fishing, and at the end of one of his unlucky days he prayed and cast his net for the last time.
All he got was an old brass vase, and hoping to sell it he started to clean it. When he removed the seal that covered the mouth of the vase, a column of smoke lifted out of its depth and climbed up and up. It reached the clouds, and took the shape of a huge demon, frightening the fisherman, just as the ogre had done with me.
The demon said:
- Choose the kind of death you prefer, because I am going to kill you.
The poor fisherman fell on his knees, begging the demon for his life and for the life of his children, because he was the only one who could feed them.
The demon laughed and said that he did not care for anything or anyone. The fisherman told him that it was not right or generous to give death to his deliverer. That unclean spirit replied that he didn’t care about being right, and least of all about being generous.
- You have to know – he said – that I was generous during the first century of my imprisonment. I thought of making rich forever whoever would have freed me. But nobody came. Then I decided to show to my deliverer the secret treasures hidden underground, but nobody came.
Then I vowed to be the faithful servant of my savior, to make him or her forever happy, but nobody came, and centuries passed. At last I became angry, and I decided to kill my deliverer. And here you are, prepare yourself to die.
The poor fisherman felt that he was lost and soiled himself in fear; this hadn’t happened to him since his childhood! Then he thought that human beings are frail in front of a demon, but they were endowed by God with a mind that makes them greater than any other creature. He said, quivering:
- Great demon, would you grant a last wish?
The demon nodded.
- I can’t believe that that you could fit in this vase, since I see you now so gigantic that your head brushes against the clouds. Please, almighty demon, show me if you really can reduce your size.
The demon was certain of being invincible, and he changed into a column of smoke that became smaller and smaller as he entered in the vase. The fisherman did not waste a moment, and quickly resealed the brass vase. He was as quick as I was when I grabbed the mouse. Then it was the demon’s turn to beg the fisherman, not to be imprisoned for another thousand years. They found an agreement, and the fisherman became very rich and even a friend of the sultan. There is also a city turned to stone together with all its inhabitants, but there are no fishermen or cats in that part of the story. (From the e-book Puss Tells her History, pp. 3-41)
(AG; edited with the assistance of DG)
See also the e-kamishibai and the history of this fairy tale (Puss tells her History), which are available via its fairy tale map.
Marsh of the Dereliction
Our Puss in Boots, whose story was first published by Straparola, was told also by Basile, but the ending of his version was very sad so sad for the Cat that she left her Neapolitan last writer.
After that unhappy ending I left Naples and Lombardy and on and on and on I walked. About sixty years later I arrived exhausted in Paris. I was not in the mood to help anyone, least of all to hold a fine conversation, because Basile had made me sure of this: to do good to donkeys you get kicks in exchange.
I also lost my passion for hunting, and I often starved, like so many poor French men and women, while their immensely rich king lived in the Château de Versailles like a fabulous sovereign, amid masked balls and unending escapades. Once I ended up in that realm and I saw miniature ships on the Grand Canal, with the Sun King and his courtiers playing naval combat. I suddenly stood aside when a coach arrived to the gates: the coach stopped before going in, and a lord dismounted and said:
- Maître chat! Pardon: Madame chat!
He really was talking to me, and invited me to get in his coach. I was uncomfortable, because I was in such a bad state, but I acted nonchalant - a cat can always look fair. Then I bowed slightly and accepted the invite.
The man was Charles Perrault, the Architect of the Sun King and his favorite storyteller. He told me that his majesty loved fairy-tales, and that mine was one of his favorites.
- I would be honored to have you as my guest, - he said, - and since my desire is that you quickly recover, I will order my cook to prepare whatever you wish. Then I’ll commission for you a pair of soft boots and a plumed hat, so that you can come with me to hunt in the Royal Reserve.
Obviously, I accepted. It came again to my mind that fairy tales come true, as I remembered a saying that Basile wrote at the end of one of his stories: do a good deed and then forget it. It seemed to me that when one does something good the reward sooner or later comes: on that gorgeous coach I forgot the donkey’s kicks.
My tale had moved faster than I had myself: Perrault, who had red Straparola and Basile, had written for me a beautiful tale that became the most popular one regarding me.
Sure, I loved Straparola, the first one to write – or perhaps even the inventor of - my tale, and I loved the great Basile, even though if he gave my story an unhappy ending. But I adored the Sun King’s favorite story-teller, Perrault, who made me one of the most famous fairy tale characters ever.
But why did Perrault call me Monsieur? Maybe I had lost all of my femininity by not taking care of my cleanliness anymore.
I have to admit that when Perrault told me that in his version of my tale I was not a she-cat anymore, but had turned into a he-cat, I kept silent for a whole day.
Eventually I came to terms with this change, remembering that the Greek prophet Tiresia, who was born male, changed into female for seven years and then became male again. I simply did the opposite, because in this tabtale I am a she-cat again, as I had been for Straparola and Basile.
So you can also see how I would never take off my new boots, since they are so comfortable and elegant. Besides this significant change, Perrault made other innovations. Now I belonged to a father, as in Basile’s version, but he was not poor. Maybe the Sun King did not like to listen to stories of extreme poverty, even though many of his subjects were very poor. That father was a miller, and his two elder sons inherited their father’s mill and donkey. And - wouldn’t you have guessed? - the youngest brother inherited only me, a he-cat now, named Puss. This poor lad as well starved, and I decided to change his destiny. I asked him only for a pair of soft boots, to hunt better than ever. I really was a smart hunter, because I could go everywhere with my boots, and my conversation was gracious as if I were speaking with the Sun King.
I used the same the ruses that you know of already, presenting my preys to the king in the name of my noble master and then arranging for the usual river meeting. Everything worked out for me and for my dear master, now named Marquis de Carabas. After this Perrault gifted me with an episode of my story that had never been written before, which I am proud of more than of my new boots and plumed hat. I think that this new part, that you all know, is even more significant than my new male sex. In those ancient times a male was held in higher regard than a female. Perrault made me perform the feat of challenging and defeating an ogre.
In the 16th century version of my tale I got mansion and estates for my master thanks to an accident that happened to their true owner. In the 17th century version of my tale, instead, my master bought them with the rich dowry of the princess he married. In the Perrault's version, finally, we get to the happy ending not just thanks to luck, but thanks to my imagination and smarts. If I had not been able to defeat that stupid ogre, my ruses would have been useless. If the King had known that the Marquis of Carabas actually had neither a mansion nor even a hovel, he would have executed both the lad and me together with him.
Now you might ask: why did Perrault make me perform that feat with that ogre, which fits me just as well as my boots, with the result that I still wear those boots and still challenge the ogre in every tale which tells about me? To answer this question I will tell you a tale belonging to The Thousand and One Nights, that Europeans were able read for the first time thanks to Antoine Galland, a contemporary of Charles Perrault. (From the e-book Puss Tells her History, pp. 35-49) (AG; edited with the assistance of DG)
See also the movie, the e-kamishibai and the history of this fairy tale (Puss Tells her History), available also via its fairy tale map.
and the Beanstalk
Marsh of the Dereliction
Fabulando offers this renowned tale in an anonymous version (The History of Jack and the Bean-Stalk, London 1807), which declares itself to be the reproduction of a never before published manuscript.
Jack is unable to help his mother meet their needs, and the poor woman decides to sell her cow, which is her last property, so as not to starve. She sends Jack to the market, but the youth stops along the way when he meets a man who shows him some coloured seeds. Jack desires these seeds so much that he gives away his mother's cow in exchange for them. Jack follows his own desire, like the main actants of Pooavola Doll and The Cockroach, the Beatle and the Mouse, even though this looks quite foolish. His mother, whom Jack thought to make happy, becomes furious and throws away the coloured seeds. But the next morning Jack sees in their garden a beanstalk so high that its top rises beyond the clouds. Jack decides to climb the beanstalk to find his fortune, even though his mother tries to deter him. Jack has always lived with his mother, down on the earth. Now he goes up, towards the sky. His mother has never answered his questions about his unknown father, but now he reaches beyond the clouds to a world where an old fairy tells him the truth about his origins. His father was a very rich and generous man, who always thought of doing good for those in need. But an envious ogre, pretending to be poor, took advantage of him, robbed him, and killed him. The old fairy orders Jack to avenge his father, recovering all of his father's treasures. Now Jack has a task that links him to his lost father, and thanks to his cunning he starts carrying it out, despite being full of fear and wanting to be at home with his mother. Jack manages to be hosted by the wife of the ogre, and when the giant is sleeping he steals all of his treasures. First he takes the chicken that lays golden eggs, then two bags of gold and silver coins, and finally a harp which plays itself. While he is fleeing for the third time, the ogre wakes up and runs after him, and although he is slowed by having drunk too much wine, he is about to catch Jack. But the youth, as soon as he touches down on the ground, cuts the Beanstalk which falls down together with the ogre, who is killed. And so Jack frees his mother from any concern, and they can live in peace and prosperity ever after.
The theme of greed and generosity crosses the tale of Jack, who learns of his paternal origin and retrieves what his father had lost. The ogre had cheated, murdered and robbed Jack’s generous father, but the ogre is now duped, robbed and killed by his son, who eventually takes possession of his paternal inheritance.
But nothing would have happened if Jack had not desired and bought the coloured seeds, which are a common and magical food, like the chickpeas of the fairy tale of Little Chickpea. Jack gave all he had for those seeds, although this meant going to bed without supper, and the same thing happened to Adamantina in the fairy tale Pooavola Doll.
Jack, who had been an idler and a slacker, has many fairy tale brothers, actants who do nothing and mooch off their poor mothers. They are unable to find their own way, which would mean growing up, until the time when, following their longing, they manage to obtain a gift, a magical object.
Jack and the Beanstalk tells of the huge cannibal ogre defeated by the young main actant, thanks to his own agility and cunning. It is the ancient eternal motif of the small winning over the large. It happens to David with Goliath, to Ulysses with the Cyclops, and to the youths, who sooner or later defeat the old generation, surviving it. (AG, edited with the assistance of DG)
|See also the e-kamishibai of this fairy tale, which is available via its fairy tale map.|
the Lucky Bird
Marsh of the Dereliction
The main actant of this fairy tale is a poor woodcutter, and his donor is the magic bird Humà. When the magic bird sees that derelict man sleeping under a tree, he lays a golden egg beside him. The poor man is unaware of the egg’s value, and gives it to a merchant who pays him a pittance. Since the greedy merchant promises him a rupee if the man will bring him the bird who has laid the egg, the woodcutter catches Humà. The Lucky Bird begs him to free him, promising him a priceless jewel if the woodcutter will bring him to his otherworldly family by burning one of the bird's feathers. The main actant is not willing to listen to his donor, as Madmatt does with the talking Tunafish, and he does not give up the prospect of an actual rupee. The woodcutter acts differently from Adamantina who goes to bed without dinner in order to get the Pooavola Doll, as well as from Jack, who gives a cow - his and his mother's last property - for the coloured seeds he desires. Seeing that the bird has died, the woodcutter burns one of his feathers, and suddenly finds himself in the birds' otherworld, where Humà's parents despair over the death of their son. A magic creature turns Humà back to life, and the Lucky Bird rebukes the woodcutter and sends him back to his poverty.
In a European fairy tale the woodcutter unable to listen to a magic donor would end bitterly, condemned to hopeless poverty or to a harsher punishment. Instead, this Kashmir tale goes on to give the poor man another chance, and it gives us too the chance to see an interesting difference between European and Eastern tales regarding generosity and greed.
Humà, the Lucky Bird was collected in Kashmir in 1888 by the Rev. J. Hinton Knowles, and we can recognise a theme that runs throughout the Arabian Nights, the collection that has its roots in the Indo-Iranian area. In the Arabian Nights there are many tales where we find a wise generous King - here named as Caliph Harun ar-Rashid – who is always fair and ready to rescue his subjects and lead the story to its happy ending. In this Kashmir tale the name of this incredibly generous ruler is King Hatam the Noble, and we meet him when the poor woodcutter goes to seek audience with him. The poor man goes to ask this King to help him because he is so poor that his daughters cannot marry, having no dowry at all. But in the meantime, the Noble Hatam had become as poor as the woodcutter. Having nothing else to help the woodcutter, he gives him his only daughter. She is beautiful, and the woodcutter will get what he needs by selling her at the slave market. But along the way they meet another young king who falls in love with the beautiful girl and marries her, giving lots of money to the woodcutter, who finally puts an end to his poverty.
Thus ends the story of the woodcutter, as the main actant of this fairy tale, but the story of generosity goes on, as a new tale springs out of the previous story. One day the young king who married the princess - thinking her the woodcutter's daughter – carries out a generous action, and his wife says that his action is worthy of King Hatam the Noble. When the king asks her how she knows this king, she answers by telling him who she really is, and how her father gave her to the woodcutter. The young king summons the woodcutter, who tells the same story told by the princess, and also tells of his whole adventure with Humà the Lucky Bird. Astonished at first, the young king then summons King Hatam the Noble and asks him to reign in his stead, because he will do it better than himself, who is still inexperienced and too young. Hatam the Noble gets back a kingdom thanks to his royally generous son-in-law, and under such utopic rulers - non-existent in Europeans fairy tales - justice and happiness can triumph throughout the Kingdom. Not even the golden egg laid at the beginning of our story is forgotten. The greedy merchant is ordered to give it to Hatam the Noble, truly worthy of the magic gift of Humà, the Lucky Bird.
This Kashmir fairy tale belongs to an ancient Oriental tradition, which The Arabian Nights inherited and retold in the heyday of Islamic culture: the first manuscripts of the great collection date back to the 14th century. They are still unpublished, except for the manuscript which was freely translated by Antoine Galland (By Muhsin Mahdi, New York 1990).
We can date the birth of European fairy tales as a literary genre back to the 16th century, when Giovan Francesco Straparola inserted some fairy tales - never published before - among the novellas of The Facetious Nights, and we regard The Tale of Tales by Giambattista Basile as the first European fairy tale collection.
Returning to the theme of greed and generosity, we observed above that in European fairy tales the actant unable to receive a magic gift does not attain a happy ending. Western fairy tale actants triumph or fall depending on their responsibility, because in this modern literary genre there is no perfect King to come and save them. We see European fairy tales as a lay collection of human encounters with destiny and unknown powers, a story-telling that cannot count on human rulers to understand human life. Fairy tales, like Thomas Mann’s spirit of storytelling, do not depend on any religious or secular power, and they give stories where human rationality does not remove what it cannot master. We follow the tradition that names their protagonists as actants, because their tale depends on their acts, not on their name, origin, or psychological features, which are always undefined. For these reasons they can be a form storytelling befitting of our time. They are today the main narrative structure of many novels (e.g. many Postcolonial Novels) and many TV series, followed episode by episode all over the world. (See also, about this issue, Il romanzo new global. Storie di intolleranza, fiabe di comunità, by S. Albertazzi and A. Gasparini, Pisa 2003; see also Malefincent & Co, by Claudia Chellini, 2015 and Nelle fiabe a passo di danza, by Claudia Chellini, 2016). (AG, edited with the assistance of DG)
|The Golden Goose
Marsh of the Dereliction
The Grimm Brothers, who knew well Basile's Tale of Tales, tell about the story of three brothers who, one by one, went to cut wood in the forest. They encountered a little grey man, who asked them to share with him their omelette and their wine, because he was hungry and thirsty. The two elder brothers refused, saying, “What I give you I lose myself, so be off with you”. (The Golden Goose, e-book, p. 17) The youngest instead, named the Simpleton, welcomed the little old man to sit beside him and share his food. So he received a magic gift, while the elder brothers had had to run home after they wounded themselves with their axes.
In fairy tales, where the main actants are poor and gullible youths and get a magical gift, like a doll or a goose with golden feces or eggs, the narrative unfolds around the generosity of the main actants and the greed of their antagonists.
Reading the Russian story The Duck with Golden Eggs, we observe the naive Little Ivan, who benefits from magic, and the greedy swindling begger, who does not draw anything from it. Common sense easily understands this opposition as concerning good and evil characters, within a moralizing story telling of reward and punishing. This current moral standard misses a more precious meaning, which we are going to understand looking at the little grey man of The Golden Goose, the donor actant of this fairy tale.
We begin mentioning the gospel about the Day of Judgment, when the Son of Man will separate the righteous from the unrighteous, awarding the first and punishing the seconds to eternity.
For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. (Matthew 25, 35-36)
The righteous, invited to His right side, ask when they did all this, and the King of Heavens answers,
Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Ibid. 25, 40)
The unrighteous who must go to His left, punished because they never met Him, pose the same question and receive the same answer: when they did not take care of a little brother or sister of His, they rejected the Son of God Himself.
The events of fairy tales happen in a far away space, a long time ago. About this time and space, it is told that others have told others, in a long chain of storytellers, until the present narrator. There is no direct witness for the fairy tale’s events, no authority for their truth, which is only a feeling, shared between teller and listener. Everything happens and has worth within the fairy-tale, between its opening and closing formulas.
Gifts and punishments, risks and solutions, spells and incantations, pomp or nefarious magic, unfold within the story, which never refers to any external world.
Reward and punishment are given to those who deserve them within the fairy tale, which is the only time and space for the Simpleton, the little grey man and the other actants.
Let’s now go back to the fairy tale, where the little grey man tells the Simpleton to cut a tree and take what he will find among its roots for himself. The magic donor never postpones a gift to a time and space external to the narrative itself, this makes the main difference between the fairy-tale genre and the religious stories or parables.
The inclination toward the other, to see in the other one's own need or pain, forms the Simpleton as well as any fairy tale main actant, from the moment in which they meet the other who asks them a question, or something to eat and to drink. The other always appears small and weak, and the actants who follow common sense do not stop to listen to him or her, because they do not look by no means able to give anything to anyone. The naïve actants give all the little they have without thinking of a reward, so accessing to the experience of the sacred. Here we hear an echo of the words of the Gospel.
In fairy tales the magic power that allows the actant to reach a happy ending, often springs from something which looks insignificant, like the little brothers or sisters of whom God tells when he speaks to the righteous and to the unrighteous (see above).
The ingenuity of the youngest brother is introduced as a gullibility, he is ridiculed, and called the Simpleton. His two older brothers, following common sense, adhere to the concrete measure of what they have, like their omelette and wine, and they reject the little grey man, saying, “What I give you I lose myself, so be off with you" (quoted above). For the Simpleton’s elder brothers it is a foolish thing to give away what belongs to them, sharing it with somebody in need. The hungry and thirsty little grey man looks unable to give something in exchange, like a beggar asking alms. Only a naïve actant, named the Simpleton, can be generous with him, and the little he gives to the grey man is not lost, because in the ethics of fairy tales one’s treasure comes from the act of sharing or giving one’s wealth to others.
So, we can understand the Simpleton’s compassion, remembering its ethymological meaning, feeling and suffering together with the other (Latin cum – with - and patio – passion, feeling, and suffering). The naïve main actants who share or give the other their own food, represent the human disposition to see in the other their own passion, feeling, and suffering. It is an experience enriching the actants who give something up to another, on condition that they do not expect anything in return for whatever they generously give the other. This human disposition is always naïve.
When the naïve main actants share their food, however little, they get the chance of a magic endowment, as we can read in the fairy tale of Flower and Flowerstem, just like we are doing in this story of the Simpleton.
The little grey man rewards the youth who shared his own food with him, showing him a tree that he must break down, and among its roots he will find a gift for himself. The donor actant here gives no statement about what the Simpleton should do with the golden goose that he will find, and we see our Simpleton who simply takes the animal in his arms and goes to an inn. Here a girl tries to snatch one of the golden goose’s feathers, but she finds herself attached to the magic animal, and when her sister tries to pull her away from the goose, she attaches herself to her sister.
This magic attachment is the same as that of the Pooavola Doll to the king’s bottom, told by Straparola, and the same retold by Basile about a goose and a royal bottom. The Grimm Brothers, retelling this tale, changed this magic power, removing the embarrassing scatological trend of both Italian fairy tales.
The day after, the Simpleton gets on his way with the golden goose in his arms, no matter who is attached to his magic animal, and the two girls must walk and run behind him. Whoever tries to free the girls, attaches him or herself to them, and the same happens on and on along the road. The Simpleton goes hither and thither holding his golden goose without bothering the people who unwillingly follow him, until this procession is so funny that a melancholic princess laughs for the first time in her life as soon as she sees it.
In many fairy tales it happens that a silly poor actant succeeds in healing a sad princess, while doctors and magicians had been unable to do it. Like Nardiello in the fairy tale The Cockroach, the Mouse and the Cricket, the Simpleton wins the hand of the princess, but, like Nardiello, he faces the hostility of the father king, who tries to get rid of a son-in-law who does not look at all suitable for his daughter. Nardiello overcomes all obstacles thanks to his magic little animals, and the Simpleton overcomes the tasks imposed on him by the king, asking and getting the magic help of the little grey man.
You find this fairy tale in the northeast quadrant, because there is a male main actant who sets off thanks to a paternal magic donor. Its injunction is the Marsh of the Dereliction, due to the poverty and dullness of the main male actant. (AG)
|The Youth and the Lamp
Marsh of the Dereliction
In the beautiful collection of folk stories Novellistica italo-albanese (1967), one finds a richness of motifs and combinations largely unheard of. One wonders how it has been possible that a small people, separated from its original country, and surrounded by Italians for four centuries, were able to maintain and develop such a rich art of story telling.
There are many cross-references, giving us original and different stories from other southern Italian traditions. The works to which we are regularly reminded are The Tale of Tales of Giambattista Basile and The Thousand Nights and One Night. The fairy tale we wanted to enclose in Fabulando tells of the folk variant of our beloved Alaaddin. (See also: Adalinda Gasparini, Aladino e la lampada meravigliosa,1993)
The main character is here named just as the youth, the Sultan is here simply the king, and princess Badr al-Budur (Full Moon of Full Moons) is here named the king's daughter or the youth's bride. The lamp is never said to be magic, and no jinn comes out of this magic object. But it is no less powerful than its literary sister: it tells of the wonderful castle built in only one night for the young protagonist, and of the evil magician ordering the lamp to carry the castle in the middle of the sea.
Like his analogous figure in the original version by Antoine Galland, the magician here obtains the wonderful lamp by exchanging new lamps for old ones. Alaaddin is one of the fairy tales told by the Maronite Hannà from Aleppo to Galland, as well as The Bird Bulbul Hezar, available here in Fabulando.
The oral story teller did not tell why the magician had imprisoned Aladdin in his well, where the youth by chance finds the lamp, or why he wants to take the youth's golden palace, his bride and his mother. This lack is precious because it is evidence of the literary source of the story, as well as of the popular skill of taking motifs and characters from the cultured tradition. It is the democracy of fairy tales, their true magic.
You find this Arbëreshë fairy tale in the southeast quadrant, because the young male actant sets off following the magician. Its injunction is the Marsh of the Dereliction because the tale begins with such a poverty, that the magician can cajole the young main actant into following him. (AG)
Marsh of the Dereliction
The first thing we ask ourselves reading this fairy tale by Basile, who retells Straparola's Pooavola Doll, is why the Neapolitan writer replaced the magic doll with a goose.
Both Basile and Straparola tell of a magic being showering the bed of her poor but kind owner with golden coins, while she showers with foul-smelling excrements the sheet of the greedy and envious woman who stole the doll from her owner.
The story can concern the equation between money, gold, and feces, which the child experiences during the anal stage. Parents usually experience the obstinacy with which their child imposes its management of the only product it can master by itself, and its true despair when a little enema forces it to capitulate. From this experience, parents could obtain the basic elements to understand the power games with which humans dominate and submit each other, if only they would carefully observe their children during this stage.
Even if fairy tales do not stop at theboundaries of time and space which govern the measures and rhythms of our waking life, it is not easy to imagine that a goose may be suitable for the function already fulfilled by the rag doll. Nevertheless, if a doll and a goose can shower their dear mistress' white linen with gold, both can also stick - one with its teeth, the other with its beak - to the royal bottom, and keep it until their loving mistress doesn't convince them to leave alone the king and jump into her arms.
We like to think that the Neapolitan Basile did not know the meaning of the Venetian poavola (bambola, doll), and that he associated the magic helper of Straparola’s fairy tale with an ancient gifter of golden eggs. The Greek Aesop and the Latin Phaedrus told this fable, which has since been retold many times as a moral exemplum. Two gold donors met, a Venetian rag doll giving golden coins instead of excrements, with an ancient - but evergreen - hen that laid golden eggs. Thanks to this encounter, an ancient hen or goose giving golden coins can fill with excrements the antagonist's bed and stick to a royal bottom with her beak, like the rag doll, the Venetian Poavola.
From the cloacas of the hen and goose come excrements and eggs, which become golden eggs or coins in fairy tales. In the little childrens' fantasies the anal orifice overlaps with the genital one, giving room to the overlapping of precious products - babies, golden coins -, to be kept, and stinking products, to be eliminated. Listening to the children's fantasies about how babies are born is the easiest way to see this overlapping .
Children enjoy this tale, almost as if they were engaged in the defence of their management of their anal product, which is so precious because it is the only one which depnds exclusively on them. They like the great value of the doll’s and goose’s evacuation, when they still cannot accept the grown-ups’ disgust and contempt for the only product of their own body.
In many languages the vulgar term for feces is used to disparage a person, an object, a situation. The magic creature, be it a doll or a goose, realizes the fantasy of the child, who gives immense value to its feces, against its parents' contempt. Moreover, this fairy-tale donor, who is just a little doll or a barnyard bird that can be thrown into the trash, has such power that the king and all his servants and doctors cannot prevent it from remaining attached to the royal bottom.
The Goose continues like Pooavola Doll, with the same humble and naïve main actant who frees the king from the torment that the animal is inflicting on him. The younger sister recognizes and greets her Goose.
“O Chubby, my little Chubby!”
The Goose, hearing the voice of the girl who beloved her, at once released her grip, running jumped in her arms, and caressed her and gave her lots of kisses. She did not care a fig about losing the bottom of a king, preferring the mouth of a country maid. (The Goose, e-book, p. 26; our translation) (AG)
Duck with Golden Eggs
Marsh of the Dereliction
This Russian story was collected by an anonymous English folklorist at the end of the 19th century. It tells of a derelict youth who becomes the tsar in a manner paralleled in many stories of the Arabian Nights. When there is no heir left to the throne, the dignitaries and people of the kingdom go out of the town gates to give the crown to the first man they will see coming from the desert. It is an odd method, like the one adopted by the king of Frog, Frog to give a wife to his three sons. This king gave his sons three golden balls that the princes were supposed to let roll; they were then to choose their brides from wherever the balls stopped. In another Russian tale the main actant finds his way by throwing a ball of yarn and following it. Little Ivan, the main actant of this fairy tale, eats a roasted duck ignoring that it is the magic animal who laid golden eggs. His father banishes him, not knowing that his wife had killed the magic duck for an apprentice who knew that by eating it one would become the tsar. Leaving home as a young derelict, Little Ivan then becomes the tsar. Greedy, cheating and envious figures never get a happy ending, at least in fairy tales.
If we read this fairy tale - together with those we collected in the Tour of the Derelict Youths - as an apologue on generosity and greed, telling only that the naive innocent youth is rewarded, while the envious greedy actant gets no gift or is punished, we stop merely at the surface of this story. We would thus risk losing its lively and dynamic value, which has nothing to do with any moralizing and edifying teachings.
Fairy tales are narrative maps concerning the journey of the subject facing fate. The latter is, story after story, personified by objects, magic animals or human beings endowed with mysterious powers. Living means also facing the happy or tragic events that happen to us, regardless of our faults or merits. Events are refractory to any rational explanations, and their logic does not obey the principle of non-contradiction. They are like birds, and our indexes are cages that we build to grasp them. But events change size and shape like the dwellers of fairy tales, and when we think we have mastered them, they leave us and fly far away. If we then do not give up our cage, we work with dead simulacra of fairy tales.
Concerning the naivete of those who benefit from the magic, we can observe that they are actants who do not measure what they encounter, be they objects, animals or humans, by the yardstick of common sense. Seemingly naïve, they come into play by suspending the rational criteria and common calculation that guide their antagonists - e.g. the roundsman preferred by the mother of Little Ivan. Their nature enables them to interact with favourable and unfavourable forces, which manifest themselves in every life. No common sense can really measure or order them. (AG)
Cinderella - by the Authors of Fabulando
Tower of the Segregation
This version of Cinderella is the story that we retold and animated in the app Cat Cinderella, available for free on the App Store. We intertwined the stories of Zezolla, then called Gatta Cennerentola (Basile, 1634-36; Cat Cinderella. First Published Version, 17th century), of Cendrillon (Perrault, 1697), of Cinderella (Walt Disney, US 1950) and of a Florentine Cenerentola (Imbriani, 1877). Whatever our explicit desire, in reality we always change something when we retell a story, combining various details from different tales that we remember from our childhood. There are however some constant features in each version of Cinderella: a motherless girl who must submit to her stepmother and stepsisters, who then meets the prince thanks to the help of a fairy and escapes from him, the prince who eventually finds her thanks to the shoe she lost, and finally their happy marriage.
These stories have variations that make each of them unique, and we retold our tale combining these variations, so as to compose an original new version of the world's most famous fairy tale. We also followed another beautiful version of Cinderella, told in pictures by Arthur Rackham; it is a masterpiece from which we drew and reworked the illustrations that we put on each page of this e–book. To know which features we drew from the different versions mentioned above, see, on the website Fairitaly, Una fairy tale tutta nuova e tutta antica. Lettura narratologica, by Claudia Chellini, part of the app Cat Cinderella).
We would now point out
some features of our new tale, which with pleasure we
found in the film Cinderella, directed by
Kenneth Branagh and produced by Walt Disney Pictures
Marian Roalfe Coxa member of the London Folklore Society, published in 1893 a book which is very important for anyone who wants to study the story of Cinderella. She collected three hundred and forty five versions of this tale, divided into five broad types. One of these types includes Catskin and Donkey Skin (see also, for another short account of Donkey Skin, the Castle of Forced Love). In this type, the main male actant, who is a determined prince, falls in love with a girl who wraps herself up in a dirty animal skin, after catching a glimpse of her beauty while she is wearing her wonderful secret gowns. He recruits the help of his royal parents to reveal her for what she really is and happily marry her.
In his film, Kennet
Branagh depicts a wilful prince, determined enough to
find his own way to inherit his father’s throne. He
loves and respects his father, but nevertheless he
faces up to him, reasserting his wish to marry the
girl he once met while hunting, instead of the
princess that he should marry for reasons of state.
In addition, Branagh,
like Rackham, gives the
lizard-valets a particular space, making them into funny
characters that however hold an uncanny feature. As
men, they have a translucent greenish skin, yellow
green gloves that recall little paws and sharp animal
teeth. We see one of them catching a flying bug with
his long snappish tongue, just before midnight, when
Cinderella returns to the coach.
See also the app-tale
(Cat Cinderella) and the e-kamishibai
of this fairy tale, which are available via its fairy
Cinderella - First Published Version, 17th
Tower of the Segregation
We know they are a symbol, an important one; the perfect
correspondence between shoe and foot reminds of the
ring-finger correspondence, in engagement and in
marriage, like in a perfect erotic intercourse. The
women’s love for shoes tells of their wish to grant a
privileged care to the lower side of their body. The
foot, with its mobility and the possibility to move
oneself that it gives, compensates for the lack of the
male organ being the bodily signifier of the phallus.
High and very high heels – the top stylists in 2015
only created very high-heeled Cinderella glass
slippers – stress the worth of the foot as a strong and
Let us now remember the gesture by which a male hand
puts the glass slipper on Cinderella’s foot, presented
in every film following Disney’s 1950 movie. The
director presents a male character, the prince or one of
his servants, who kneels down to allow Cinderella to
perfectly fit her foot – representing a phallic appendix
– with its receptacle – a symbol of the female genital.
There is something so charming and precious in the fact
that a real slipper could reach the very real price of
two million dollars. The suitor acknowledges the
performance of the female main actant, who could hold
both the content and the container; moreover, he chooses
her precisely because she can act this out. The prince
thus legitimizes the female desire not to be captured by
the male, and to be able instead to escape from his
Let us now look at 17th century Neapolitan Cat Cinderella (La
Gatta Cennerentola), which is the prototype of all
the modern Cinderella variants. We see that the main
actant does something terrible, something which is still
present in some folk versions, but disappears from Perrault onwards. The main female
actant's mother is dead, and her father, who is a
prince, loves his only daughter very much, but has
remarried a woman who does not please her step-sister.
The girl has a sewing teacher who is always kind and
affectionate with her, and suggests her how to get rid
of her stepmother. If the girl follows her instructions,
she can then persuade her father to marry her sewing
teacher, getting the ideal mother she longs for.
Following her teacher's advice, Cinderella drops a
chest’s cover on
her stepmother’s neck, and after her death, she
persuades her father to marry the sewing teacher, who
promised to grant all her desires.
Regarding the footwear, there is an important difference
between the most known version and Basile's
one. In the time of the great writer of fairy tales, the
women wore lo
chianiello, a fashionable very high overshoe,
which could increase a woman's stature by one handbreadth
and a half. This is one of the things that the
enamoured king says when he speaks to the chianiello that
slipped away from the foot of the unknown beauty.
Thou wert the covering for a white foot, and now art thou the pulled of this blackened heart; by thee stood thy fellow, one handbreadth and a half taller, who is the tyrant of this life of mine ; and by thee groweth so much sweetness in my soul, whilst I gaze upon thee and possess thee ! (Cat Cinderella, e-book, pp. 62-63)
years after the publication of the Tale of Tales,
Charles Perrault retold Basile’s
story, entitling it Cendrillon ou la petite pantoufle de verre.
Could Cinderella have gone to the gala ball, where the
crown prince – a king in Basile's
version - was going to choose his wife, with just
slippers on? Could the Fairy Godmother have dressed her
like a queen without changing her house shoes? Of course
not. These slippers are indeed made of verre, glass slippers
in English. Regarding the material, they hypothesized a
misspelling on Perrault's
side who would have given Cinderella pantoufles,
slippers made of vair, that in French sounds
To go to the ball wearing pantoufles/slippers made of
vair, a very precious fur, could be sensible, but what
does it mean to wear glass ones? With regard to this
issue, prominent figures like Honoré de Balzac gave
their opinion, opting for the fur, even if this rational
argument leaves unsolved the pantoufles/slippers issue,
still unsuitable for a gala ball.
date-tree tall and golden,
tender puppet theatre of the fairy tale, the genius of Basile gives
notes of humanity, which make his fairy tales the
masterwork of the European fairy-tale literary genre.
the Disney films, both the first (1950) and the
last (2015), there is only one ball instead of
Perrault's two. The French author tells of how
Cinderella forgets her fairy Godmother's advice, risking
to turn, in front of the prince, into a poor ragged girl
with an escort of mice and green lizards. Her flight is
so hasty that she loses one of her slippers, and the
prince who is following her picks it up. In Basile’s
tale, Cinderella goes to the promenade three
times, and twice she escapes from the king’s
servant who is following her. The third time, when the
king's servant is about to reach her, her coach,
following her order, runs so fast that it nearly flies.
At that moment she loses the chianiello that
we already saw in the hands of the enamoured king. Her
lightness, her grace in dancing, and the rapid flight of
her coach structurally belong to Cinderella. Also Aschenputtel,
Brothers’s Cinderella (1812), is as light
an acrobat. Ashenputtel is free from all ties about
coming home at midnight, and she goes to the gala ball
for three times, like in Basile’s tale.
When she goes home, the prince follows her to find out
whom she is, but she escapes him. The first time she
jumps into her house through the dovecote, the second
she nimbly climbs a pear-tree to hide. The third night
the prince, devising a plan to catch her, sprinkles the
palace staircase with
tar, so that a little golden shoe of
Ashenputtel attaches itself to the tar.
great illustrator Arthur
Rackham drew a picture that we would call The Fugitive,
where a ragged Cinderella flees from the ball to her
house. She is about to put a bare foot on the ground
while the other is lifted up, still wearing a heeled
shoe (see the cover picture of Cat Cinderella - e-kamishibai). We
already know that the other shoe is in the hands of the
enamoured prince. How could Cinderella run so fast and
lightly, with just one heeled shoe? Moreover, why did
the elegant shoes, which appeared by magic, together
with the gown, not disappear at midnight?
now come back to the double paradox of la pantoufle de verre,
the glass slipper.
dancing lightness and the fragility of the glass, its
transparency and its impossible possibility, give the
chance to establish a space where, for the time of a
fairy tale, of a film, of a dream, the female desire
triumphs together with the male one. Only a prince can
do this, being noble enough to understand that his own
desire is not the only one in the world, instead
of ignoring, fearing, or claiming to master the female
Tower of Segregation
Parsley (whose name for Basile is Petrosinella, Rapunzel for the Grimm Brothers and for Walt Disney) has golden hair, so strong and long that an ogress can use them to ascend and descend through the only little window of her tower. This image could come out of its tale to live even by itself, probably because it recalls the eternal vain attempt of the old to possess the young. The golden long hair of Parsley might represent the strength of life that nobody can stop.
This story starts with a pregnant woman, who cannot resist her craving for parsley. The superstition concerning the cravings of a pregnant woman has an ancient origin, and the damage that it would do to the future child belongs to the old belief that the unbridled imagination and craving of the pregnant woman would damage her baby.
Since the parsley in this story belongs to an ogress, the future mother who secretly steals it, becomes indebted to this magical being. The injunction of the Tower of Segregation opens this tale with the pact between the woman and the ogress, who is a threatening maternal actant, who will kill the pregnant woman if she does not promise to give her her child. The ogress demands Parsley when the girl is seven years old, and she takes her away to imprison her in a tower without any door.
The ogress raises this high tower, a phallic symbol, built by her magic power. She can reach the top of her tower thanks to the young vigour of Parsley, represented by her amazing golden hair. The old mother ogress and the young daughter Parsley form a couple, separated from the rest of the world. Nevertheless, fairy tales do not permit anybody to stop the flow of life, and when Parsley grows up, a prince comes to the tower and stares at her beauty, enchanted by the longest golden hair. Before only the ogress used Parsley's hair, to join her old age to her youth. Now, the prince uses them to climb up the tower and enter through the little window, and the two young actants plan their flight. Parsley had discovered from the ogress where to find a drug to send her jailer to sleep. Once the ogress is asleep, she steals the three magic acorns that will help her escape.
The ogress chases her and the prince, but just as she is about to reach them, the young couple uses the magic acorns. Three huge animals appear one after the other; the first and the second one stop the ogress, the third magic animal devours her, and Parsley and the prince reache his kingdom, where they marry and live happily ever after.
The motif of an ogress, or of another magic and threatening being who catches a girl, is not rare, and these fairy tales tell how the main female actant grows up beautiful and leaves her prison and her adoptive mother with a prince. Like the ogre in other tales (The Tale of the Ogre), these underground beings may reveal themselves as amazing educationalists (see also, by Giambattista Basile, the Eighth Tale of the First Day, La facce de crapa).
The first maternal actant in this tale is Parsley's pregnant mother, who cannot stand her craving and gives her daughter to the ogress. The ogress is the second maternal actant, who imprisoning Parsley possesses her youth. The beautiful main female actant is here endowed with hair so long that it makes accessible the top of the tower where she is growing up. The same ogress unwillingly gives Parsley the means to win; the three acorns are the magical inheritance for her adopted daughter. The ogress dies, and this simply means that she disappears. She had come on the scene before the child's birth and she disappears when Parsley can live happily ever after with her prince. (AG)
Beauty in the Wood
Sailing Ship of the Black Curse
we should remember that the three spinners in Greek
mythology were the three Moirai, Parcae or Fata for
Latins, Norns in Norse mythology. Clotho spun the thread
of life, Lachesis measured the thread and Atropos cut
it; not even Zeus, King of Olympus, could change their
decisions. We prefer to interpret this fatal encounter
of the female main actant as her encounter with the
mystery of birth and death that comes true for the girl
when she becomes a young woman. The princess is now
fifteen years old and she could give birth to a baby and
thus risk her life. She was fated since her birth, and a female
actant cursed her: this means that a bad tie between
her and her maternal figure may make her growth fatal.
In Basile’s version
there is no bad fairy, but a bad destiny, and this
does not make any difference, because the goddesses of
destiny were the three Parcae or Fata. Fata comes
destiny, and gives origin to the Italian fata, to the
old French fae,
then to the English fairy. The
curse of a female parental actant and the risk of dying
for the female filial actant need a long time that
suspends the growth of Beauty. The tale may tell of a
century, which is a long defined time, or of an
indefinite long time (in Basile’s version), and this is
a time that life, or nature, or destiny, impose on
mothers and daughters. The little girl is eager to grow
up; she wants to take her mother’s throne, seize her
treasures, her adult charm, her place near the girl’s
father, and her power to give birth. When the
princess is fifteen years old she would be ready to do
this, she in fact is dying to do it. Her fatal
sleep averts the dangerous conflict with the maternal
actant, who would forever keep her power.
version by Basile
and by Charles
Perrault, do not end with the awakening of the
princess. A maternal actant tries to kill her children
and her, burning her at the stake as was really the case
with women convicted of witchcraft or heresy. The
awakening and the union with the prince are not enough
to resolve this conflict between the maternal and the
filial actants. This tale tells of a hard conflict
between parental and filial female actants, of the
desire of the daughter to quickly get her mother’s place
against the desire of the mother that is in Perrault’s
version the queen mother of the prince. In Basile the
persecutor of Sleeping Beauty, named Talia, is the
queen herself, wife of the king who made Talia pregnant without
awakening her. In the most famous version, an old irate
fairy comes to Beauty’s baptism because the king forgot
to invite her. The king father then forbids spinning in
his realm, but a woman cannot avoid the encounter with
the mystery of life and death that she can only know
through her mother. Bettelheim interprets the spindle
and the distaff as phallic symbols, but they belong to
the feminine area. It would then be difficult to see a
phallic symbol in the fragment of flax that causes the
fatal sleep of Talia,
the same object that causes the apparent death of
Zellandine, in the more ancient Roman de Perceforest.
These objects tell of a feminine power, and of a
Brothers, followed by Walt Disney,
conclude this tale with the chaste encounter of Beauty
with the prince, losing the second part of the tale that
proves that the area of the tale is maternal. Walt
Disney inserted the kiss of the prince, while in the
Grimm Brothers' version the arrival of the prince was
enough to awake her. In the tale by Basile and in the
ancient novel Perceforest a kiss was not enough for the female main
actant, and neither were her consequent
pregnancy and labour. In these tales the main sleeping
actant gives birth to twins, a boy and a girl, and one
of them sucks her finger instead of her nipple and
removes the fragment of flax, so its mother awakens. If the prince or the
king had not arrived, Beauty’s sleep would have lasted
forever, and we can say that that encounter is a
necessary but insufficient condition towards the happy
Her love for
her baby, and her baby’s love for her, may fully awake
her passion for life and her bodily pleasure, just as
well as a passionate erotic encounter. The woman opens
herself to the other losing the virginity of her soul,
even many years after having lost her physical
virginity, and her feminine desire awakes in her body
and in her mind.
Then her prince must fight against his own mother to overcome his wife’s persecutor and save their children. In real life, these conflicts are as frequent as they are in fairy tales, even though they are usually softened by love and feelings of gratitude. (AG)
Sailing Ship of the Black Curse
But then, just
when Sfurtuna is feeling the most dejected, she meets Gnà
Francisca (Lady Francesca), who
treats her not as a stranger, but as a guest, gives her
a plate of food. She then offers her a job, washing,
ironing and starching the garments of the king (Riuzzu)
together with her. Then they work together, and Gnà
Francisca brings the King his clothes each week,
and the King gives her money in return, with which the
woman buys ingredients to cook some cakes, as well as
typical feminine objects, like clothes, combs and beauty
creams to give to Sfurtuna's bad Fate. The story tells
how the maiden can take care of the male actant, thanks
to this maternal donor, and how this care provides her
with a wealth; this wealth, thanks to the action of the
same maternal figure, converts into a means that allows
Sfurtuna to get in touch with her harmful Fate and
change her into an ally. Only her Fate can give Sfurtuna
that which allows her to meet and finally marry the
Let us now
dwell on her Fate’s gift, which is a palm of ribbon (un
palmo di gallone), a little piece of fabric that
however weighs more than gold.
Sailing Ship of the Black Curse
Brier Rose, told by the Grimm Brothers in the first edition of the Household Tales (1812), is today the best known version of the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty. The story has the injunction Sailing Ship of the Black Curse, and it is located in the South-West Quadrant, because it begins with the curse cast by the old fairy, who is a maternal actant.
Before the Grimm Brothers wrote their Brier Rose, the fairy tale of the Sleeping Beauty had been already told by two great storytellers: Giambattista Basile, who in the 17th century established the fairy tales as a narrative genre, and Charles Perrault, who sixty years later made fairy tales the most popular narrative genre at the time of the Sun King.
The story of Brier Rose is similar to that of Basile's Sun, Moon and Talia and