This one has been a toughie… most of the books that make me happy are my favorite books and thus, have already been covered in a “Book of the Week” entry or are slated for a “Favorites” entry within this meme.

I finally decided on the faerie tale, “The Man Wreathed in Seaweed” from Italo Calvino’s collection, Italian Folktales, as a story that makes me happy. It makes me laugh, is short and easy to re-read, and I love the differences between the Italian tales and the more mainstream Germanic and English stories that  we usually read.

The first difference is that the hero of this particular tale,  Samphire Starboard, is a reputed drunk and considered lazy and useless. Instead of being a brave and deserving youngest son or noble prince, Samphire spends his time carousing and daydreaming about taverns. He’s taken aboard as a last resort by a captain who is about to set sail to search for a kidnapped princess. A few weeks later, fed up by his lazy crewman, the captain maroons him on a seemingly deserted island where Samphire just so happens to run into the missing princess. She tells him that she’s been capture by a giant, shape-shifting octopus. Samphire waits around for it and battles it throughout its various incarnations. After the octopus has been worn down, it reverts to its humongous, eight-legged form.

This leads into the second major difference between the Germanic heroes and these ones and also one of my favorite faerie tale lines of all time:

“Samphire was upon it instantly and beat it to death with an oar.”

With an oar! No mighty battle with swords or lances, no poetic challenges and pithy sayings, just jumping on the thing and killing it with whatever is handy (as one should do with monsters, really). It’s the sheer matter-of-factness of the statement that gets me every time. With an oar! Ha!

See, I think it’s the level of common sense and deadpan tone in these tales that gives me such enjoyment. Often, one of the first things mentioned is that the hero packs a lunch – usually bread, cheese, and wine. I don’t think we really ever see the usual faerie tale heroes pack provisions – they just stumble upon them, but the Italians don’t take that sort of thing for granted. I love it!

In the end, Samphire’s captain tries to take the credit for the princess’s rescue by dumping Samphire overboard on the return journey. But, in typical faerie tale fashion, Samphire crashes the wedding celebration wearing a ring that the princess gave him as a thank you. The jerk captain gets it and Samphire gets to marry the girl – smiles all around!

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