The Castle of Crossed Destinies Characters

Italo Calvino

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

The first narrator

The first narrator, a traveler (perhaps a knight) who comes upon the castle in the woods and joins the guests, who recount their tales through the medium of tarot cards. Weary from many recent trials and combats, the narrator feels unstable and confused in his perceptions. His confusion contributes, as the story unfolds, to his uncertainty about reading the various stories accurately. The uncertainty of reconstructing stories from emblematic representations, a dominant theme of the book, originates in this state of mind of the narrator.

The alchemist

The alchemist, who selects the King of Cups tarot card to represent himself. He is identified with Faust, and the tale of the bargain with the devil for the secret formula of gold begins with the alchemist’s reading of the Ace of Cups and the Popess cards, which conclude the tale of a knight who narrates before him. The alchemist challenges the others with his elliptical and allusive style in representing his story. The many symbolic possibilities of the cards he employs and the rich complexity of the Faust legend make his audience restless and impatient for clear exposition.


Roland, the mythical knight of the Charlemagne legend, who identifies himself with the King of Swords card. Roland is referred to as gigantic, moving his leaden arms and ironlike fingers slowly. Domineering and threatening, he hoards the most beautiful of the tarot cards for the colorful tale of his going mad in pursuit of Angelica. As he recounts his tale, Roland undergoes a visible transformation. Ending with...

(The entire section is 670 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The narrators, who in reality are one person, are clearly the most important individuals in Calvino’s collection of tales. They are the interpreters of the cards and therefore control the stories as they are told. This control is limited, however, since each person provides variant readings of the cards and even supplies narrative when gaps exist within the stories. Because the cards also appear in the margin as they are mentioned, the reader can also function as narrator by rejecting variants or by supplying personal interpretations, particularly of the evocative picture cards.

The other characters fall into three broad categories, themselves tangential: folkloric, mythic, and literary. Each has some hamartia or flaw which has led to a ruinous miscalculation in life. The Ingrate, for example, rejects the love of the woman who rescues him and pays for his ingratitude with his damnation in the forest of self-loss, the very place in which all Calvino’s storytellers find themselves. Astolpho, the English knight and companion of Roland, ascends to the moon in an attempt to retrieve Roland’s lost reason but discovers that every human undertaking begins and ends in the realm of madness. In the end, one always returns to the center of an empty horizon. The Waverer, like the Ingrate, also rejects love, though doing so because of indecision rather than selfishness. His near possession of the “City of All,” the place where all alternatives are reconciled, is withheld when he insists on possessing the sea to satisfy his thirst. He, too, finds himself in the forest of self-loss and confronts his other self, the man prohibited from choice by his double’s refusal to choose.


(Great Characters in Literature)

Calvino, Italo. The Uses of Literature, 1986.

Carter, Albert Howard. Italo Calvino: Metamorphoses of Fantasy, 1987.

Eco, Umberto. Travels in Hyper Reality: Essays, 1986. Edited by Helen Wolff and Kurt Wolff.

Olken, I.T. With Pleated Eye and Garnet Wing: Symmetries of Italo Calvino, 1984.

Perosa, Sergio. “The Heirs of Calvino and the Eco Effect,” in The New York Times Book Review. XCII (August 16, 1987), p. 1.