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For over a month my spouse has been reading aloud Italian Folktales by Italo Calvino, translated by George Martin, as my bedtime stories. She has been reading me to sleep for years, but a few months ago we started doing traditional folk tales. Several translations of Grimm, Aesop’s Fables, earlier some Ainu ones and now the classic Italian ones. This book is quite long at 713 pages and contains 200 folk tales collected from Italian sources. There are various narrative styles, some exceedingly simple, and a few complex. The end notes are filled with reasons and apologies by the author as to why he made modifications of his original source stories to clarify issues. Some of these stories appear to be adaptations of ancient stories from the Arabian Nights, etc., but I was unfamiliar with the majority of them.

There are lots of beautiful virgins in this book, and clever younger brothers and an abundance of other people with unexpected qualities both foolish and wise. Giants and midgets, lots of kings and palaces and hazards galore lurking behind ordinary things. It seems like every other person is royalty, if not at the beginning then at the end of the story. One shocking thing about this book is the strange morality it develops. I’ve sometimes thought Italians had a different sense of morality than I as a typical American possess, and perhaps these folks’ stories, learned in childhood, are the explanation. Often as not the protagonist performs foul deeds, and his or her behavior I would consider abhorrent, but they are set in the role of hero and at the end of the story, if he’s a guy he gets the princess and a short time later the previous king dies and he inherits the kingdom, or obviously the reverse if “he’s” a girl.

Typically a story ends with the teller of the story saying something like, “And here we sit picking our teeth.” In other words we ordinary honest people are just chumps, and the people running society are probably either crooks or inherited their wealth and position from crooks.

These Italian folktales are nonsense and perfect for a bedtime sendoff.