"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 133
- Che bel granchio, che bel granchio! -
If you've been reading the Italian texts, did you notice that they use dashes instead of quotation marks? =)
I'm sorry for being a bit behind schedule. It feels good to get this post up at last. This week's Italo Calvino retelling is Il principe granchio. In English: The Crab Prince.
Un granchio cosi grosso che non bastavano due occhi per vederlo tutto
Il principe granchio kept me guessing. I can usually figure out how a faerie tale will work itself out as soon as I read the first paragraph or so, but this one just showed me that I didn't know the conventions as well as I thought I did. For my guess was that the fisherman would try to eat the crab and that the crab would make a magical bargain for his life. Then again, perhaps I just didn't know fishermen. Since they do sell most of what they catch, why did I assume he wouldn't try to get prime price for his latest one? It would have been worth more to his family as a novelty he could sell to the king than as the main course for their next few meals. Besides, fishermen and their families must enjoy variety as much as the rest of us: an all-seafood diet can get old fast.
Something else I would have guessed was that the vagabond whom the princess gives alms to would try to get more money out of her after he discovers the underground cavern. And now I must apologise to all vagabonds for assuming that they are not as ready as the rest of us to return kindness for kindness!
The quirky princess herself was a surprise . . .
Alla Principessa, se il granchio gia le piaceva, il giovane uscito dal granchio le piaceva ancora di piu . . .
LOL! It's perfectly fitting, for sure, but also hilarious to me that a princess who is so fascinated by marine life would "find her prince" among them in such a literal way. For sure she would fall in love at first sight: the guy couldn't be more perfect if he had been made to order!
(Note: When Calvino was compiling his folktales, he found a variant in which the prince was not a crab, but a shrimp. Apparently, it's all about the exoskeleton.)
The princess turns out to be perfect for the prince, too: he can only be released from the enchantment by a girl who is willing to die for him. It's a lot to ask of someone whom you haven't even spoken to before then (though the two aren't total strangers)--but if that's the nature of the curse, then it's the nature of the curse. The Fata designed her spell very carefully, probably never imagining that somewhere in the world was a girl who would do anything for a crab.
The cynical voice in my head is now pointing out that we now have many girls like that, thanks to an environmental movement that places the good of the earth over the good of those who were given dominion over it. Apparently, there are good reasons to die for a crab and bad reasons to die for a crab. (Or a shrimp.)
- Si che suono, basta che lei mi dia quel fiore che ha in testa -
I suppose the weakest link in the story is that the reason behind the crab prince's enchantment is never explained. The fantastic nature of his bondage--from the daily meetings with the Fata to his life being tied to a flower she wears on her head (Oooh! A Naso d'Argento connection?!)--demand a bit more credulity from us without a history to tie them together. We know from other faerie tales (e.g., The Frog Prince, Beauty and the Beast and Snow White and Rose Red) that when a prince is trapped in some animal form, it is because he offended a faerie in some way. Perhaps this was also the case for the crab prince--but we can't be very sure.
Now that I've mentioned Naso d'Argento, I have to say that the prince's means of escape here is much better than the third sister's in the previous story! It is based on both the design of the curse and some insight into the character of the Fata, which he would have been able to gather during all those enchanted dinners. Granted, it's less a plan than a built-in escape clause . . . but I like the idea that malicious forces can't totally trap us. That there is, if you will, a deeper magic from before the dawn of time.
And may I say that the Italian "Fata" strikes me as superior to the English "faerie"? It gives us a connection to fate--il fato--worth thinking about. Maybe what was holding the prince down was a destiny that he could not escape. And by "destiny," I don't necessarily mean supernatural forces; perfectly natural circumstances can often hold us down in ways that don't seem very fair.
But there is also an element of what we might call "dumb luck" in the prince's rescue. The princess cannot reach the flower by her own power. She gets it only when a wave sweeps it into her hand.The odds, friends, the odds . . .
- Questo e il mio sposo, questo e il mio sposo! - -
The ending mirrors the beginning. Or is it that the beginning foreshadows the ending? But for sure we shouldn't forget the middle! Indeed, now that we are ending, let's start with the middle.
When the princess tells the king that she wants to play her violin on a cliff by the sea, it is enough for him to say, "Sei matta?" ("Are you crazy?"), and to insist that she be accompanied before letting her do what she likes. How easily he can be swayed by this crazy daughter he loves! We saw it for the first time when the fisherman brought the crab to the palace, and we see it again when the prince returns by his own power. It's really the princess who makes this story, through her affections, her confidence, her virtue, her willingness to do what needs to be done, and her hold on the hearts of others.
Totally Optional Discussion Questions for Il principe granchio:
1. How does making the prince a crustacean--rather than a frog, a bear or simply a "beast"--change this type of story?
2. If the love of your life were trapped in an animal's body by an enchantment, which animal would be most fitting?
3. Does well-played music being the key to the prince's liberation seem a little random or does it make perfect sense?
Our next story will be I due gobbi or The Two Hunchbacks. Read it in Italian (LINK FIXED!) or in English . . . or you know, in any language you can find a translation. =)
Image Source: Il Principe Granchio drawing