‘‘The Feathered Ogre’’ was first published in Italo Calvino’s collection, Italian Folk Tales, in 1956. It is a transcription of a traditional story from the oral tradition in Italian culture. In this fairy tale, a man goes on a quest for a feather plucked from the body of a terrible ogre who lives in a cave on a mountain and eats every human being he sees. In his search for the ogre, the man stops four times and promises each of the people he meets to bring them back a feather from the ogre. When he reaches the ogre’s cave, a beautiful girl, the ogre’s wife, helps him to trick the ogre, so that they may both flee the cave with the desired feathers. On their way home, they give a feather to each of the parties the man had met along the way, and they share the ogre’s solution to the predicament of each. When the man returns with a feather to cure the king, he is doubly rewarded, with a promise to marry the beautiful girl. In transcribing such folk tales, Calvino especially valued brevity, repetition and rhythm in the plot and structure of the tale. ‘‘The Feathered Ogre’’ is written with these stylistic concerns in mind, which lends the story a familiar feel to anyone who has been told fairy tales as a child. It contains familiar themes in which good triumphs over evil, the wicked are punished, and the brave hero is rewarded for his courageous good deeds with wealth and marriage to a beautiful girl.
A king falls ill and is told by his doctors that the only way he can be cured is by obtaining a feather from the ogre that eats every human being it sees. No one of his subjects is willing to go on a quest for one of the ogre’s feathers, until one attendant bravely volunteers to go. The man is told that the ogre lives in a cave on a mountaintop. Along the way, he stops at an inn, where the innkeeper asks if the man will bring back a feather for him, for good luck, and if he will ask the ogre if he knows where the innkeeper’s daughter, who disappeared years ago, may be. The man agrees and goes on his way. He then takes a ferry across the river, and the ferryman asks if he will bring back a feather for him and if he will ask the ogre how he can escape from the ferry, as he has not been able to go ashore for years. The man agrees and goes on his way. He then stops to rest by a fountain, and two noblemen ask if he will bring them back a feather and if he will ask the ogre why their fountain, which once spewed silver and gold, has gone dry. The man agrees to do this and goes on his way.
He next stops at a monastery, where the monks ask if he will bring them back a feather as well and if he will ask the ogre why it is that there has been so much discord among the monks for the past ten years. The monks also give the man advice about how to find the ogre. The man agrees to do this, and the next day he climbs the mountain and enters the seventh of seven caves, at the very end of which is the door to the ogre’s home.
When the man knocks on the ogre’s door, the ogre’s wife, a beautiful girl, answers. When he explains that he has come for some of the ogre’s feathers, she warns him that the ogre eats every human being he sees. The girl agrees to help him obtain the feathers and to answer the questions he has so that she can escape the ogre, whom she can’t stand. When the ogre comes home, the man hides under the bed, and the girl serves the ogre his dinner.
When the girl and the ogre go to bed and the ogre has fallen asleep, the girl plucks one of his feathers and hands it to the man under the bed. When the ogre wakes up with an ‘‘ouch!,’’ the girl explains that she had been dreaming that the monks in the monastery had been fighting amongst each other for the past ten years. The ogre responds that the monks have been in discord because the Devil has been living among them, dressed as a priest. When the ogre falls asleep again, the girl plucks another of his feathers and hands it to the man under the bed....
(The entire section is 1,261 words.)