Stories From the Penatmerone by Giambattista Basile

Stories From the Penatmerone by Giambattista Basile
Stories From the Penatmerone by Giambattista Basile

You know, having kids means you get to read a lot of fairy stories and in some cases they examine them more carefully as they grow up and find them wanting. It’s not necessarily because the original fairy story has issues but because of what’s been done to it in popular culture i.e. Disney has changed it beyond recognition. We have a tendency to reduce the goryness of these stories and make them more palatable to the new generation while retaining the lesson.


I bought this book because I heard it was the original fairy stories and thought my DD might be happier with them. She did read it but I have no memory of her remarks, she didn’t seem too happy.

Anyway, these stories were first collected in the 1600s and published posthumously by Basile’s sister in 1634-1636. Many of them are the oldest known variants of their story so if you’re doing research on fairy stories then you can’t go past starting with this book. If that’s the case then here’s the link to buy it.

They are gory, there is blood, guts and horrible behaviour. There is a moral in every story and there is a lot of misogyny, now tell me why I’m surprised by some of this. I feel I understand a little more about holy wars and why nations invade other nations to kill the infidel, there’s a lot of travelling through a land and killing whoever is trying to stop them. This is what people have grown up with, the idea that they should kill whoever is trying to stop them going through their land.

Some things I loved about it are the turn of phrase. Here are two selections for you

in the sea of human affairs, the greater part are fishers in smooth waters, who catch crabs


that you carry grief lodged in your eyes, and despair sitting under the pale banner of your face?

There are also ideas you can see in much later literature. I’ve found mice nibbling cords binding a person in order to free them, a feature used to get Aslan out of a problem in one of the Narnia books.

I did find them challenging to read, each story is fairly short but the syntax and turn of phrase combined with the story itself made me struggle. Bear in mind it is a translation from the Italian. My copy is only 108 pages but it took me over two weeks. The book I’ve linked to is 220 pages so I hope that means the print is larger, in mine it’s very tiny and that would have exacerbated things.

It is interesting how we’ve moved on so much with telling stories to our children. These stories were told to the children quite frequently. The ones we tell now are very toned down, with much less gore and killing, with much fewer graphic words. We let kids be kids for much longer and I’m not sure it’s a good thing any more.