Last Christmas I was given Il Pentamerone, by Giovanni Batiste Basile (also called Giambattista Basile—I swear this man has a different name in every edition). This is the collection of fairy tales that contains the infamous story where Sleeping Beauty gets raped. So right away you know it’s gonna be interesting, at least. (The weird part is that I asked for this book.)
But Sleeping Beauty is old news. Let’s talk about The Golden Root. No one knows about it, and it is definitely worth knowing.
The Golden Root actually shows up immediately after Sun, Moon, and Talia (Sleeping Beauty). Fourth Diversion, Fifth Day. (Il Pentamerone has a frame narrative. Kind of like The Arabian Nights. There’s this group of ten people telling stories to this pregnant girl. Each person tells her one story every day for five days. The guy who got this girl pregnant is supposed to be with another girl who’s one of the storytellers. The pregnant girl is black. Remember that. That’s important. The black girl stole some other girl’s charming prince and then got pregnant.)
So The Golden Root starts with this girl, Parmetella, the third daughter of a poor gardener. Parm takes her pig out to the forest because her sisters are taking their pigs to the pasture, and they won’t let her come. But in the forest she finds a really cool pasture ground, and a tree with golden leaves. She takes these leaves home to her father every night, until the tree is bare. Then she notices that the tree also has a golden root, so she goes home for an axe, then she chops it off and pulls it away from the tree.
Under the root there’s a staircase. Parm goes down the staircase, finds a palace, and meets a black guy. (Again, this is important. Remember this.) The black guy proposes, and she says yes, and they take a flying carriage to a different palace.
Then we get a whole bunch of weird euphemisms. Like, really weird. He cards her wool, but he doesn’t comb it. He sucks the first egg of the beauteous chicken. Anyway, basically they sleep together, but first he makes her put out the lights. Then, when she can’t see him, he becomes a handsome youth.
So what we have here, basically, is the specific type of Enchanted Bridegroom story that I like to call “Only Hot When You Can’t See Them.” Think Cupid and Psyche, East of the Sun West of the Moon.
And then think about how when the prince in East of the Sun West of the Moon wasn’t hot, he was a POLAR BEAR. Think about Enchanted Bridegroom stories. Think about Beauty and the Beast.
And now, remember that during the day he was a black guy.
Someone cursed him to be black. His Beast form is a black guy. Like turning a guy black is the same kind of thing as turning him into a polar bear.
Now remember how the pregnant girl who stole someone else’s boyfriend in the frame story was black, too? Also, a whole bunch of girls in other stories, evil stepsisters and evil boyfriend-stealing servants, rotten girls who take everything from the innocent heroine—they’re black too. All of the black girls are evil. I can’t remember if there are other black guys, but this one is playing the Beast in our enchanted bridegroom story.
Now sometimes I misunderstand these things, but this is racist, right? Like, really, really racist? Because I read this book for the first time when I was thirteenish, and even more clueless than I am now, and I didn’t even notice, that first time, that Sleeping Beauty was getting raped. But this I noticed right away. Like seriously, Basile, dude, what is your problem?
Anyway. Back to the story. Parm, of course, is curious about who or what she’s sleeping with. So she lights a candle and sees how incredibly hot and white he is, and then he wakes up. He wakes up and begins to curse and swear, and this is my favorite moment, this is the one moment that’s actually good, as opposed to so-messed-up-it’s-kinda-funny, because if I’d been this close to being uncursed, and some dumb girl did that thing I’d specifically told her not to, I would totally be swearing. I would be so incredibly pissed at her. You never see Cupid or the polar bear getting mad.
When he’s done swearing, Hot Guy tells Parm that he’s gotta be a black guy for another seven years now, and then he takes off. Parm goes outside and meets a fairy, who tells her to find seven girls on a roof, then gives her a bunch of presents that’ll keep them from hurting her.
She finds the girls. She also finds out they’re Hot Guy’s sisters, and then meets their mom, who is inexplicably an ogre. No word on why Hot Guy is not an ogre. But they’re all pissed at her, because Hot Guy is black, and they can’t hurt her because of the fairy, and somehow she ends up sort of working for them.
Ogre Mom gives Parm some impossible chores. Hot Guy (who is no longer black, so those seven years sure went fast) yells about how stupid she is and then helps her. Also, we find out his name. Hot Guy=Thunder-and-Lightning.
Ogre Mom is pissed about this, and sends Parm to get something from her sister. The sister is also an ogre, and the fairy did nothing to protect Parm from her. So Parm goes, not knowing that it’s a trap, and Thunder finds her. Because apparently just not going to see the crazy ogre lady is not an option, nor is sending Thunder in her place, he tells her how to escape after she gets there. This is very complicated and has several steps, but basically what it comes down to is “Throw her baby in the oven, grab Mom’s box, and run.”
That’s right. He tells her to bake his baby cousin. Don’t worry, it doesn’t really matter, it’s just an ogre’s kid.
Um, Thunder? Last time I checked, you were also an ogre’s kid.
So Parm murders the baby, opens the box, gets rescued and yelled at by Thunder, and delivers the box to Ogre Mom. Then it’s time for Thunder to get married.
His bride is an ogre, too. I’m still wondering why he’s not an ogre, but whatever. They have the wedding. They have the reception. Thunder sits between Parm and Ogre Bride. Thunder’s a little drunk by now, and he’s shamelessly flirting with Parm, right there in front of his new wife. It’s kinda the first time he’s been nice to her since he was black.
Thunder wants Parm to kiss him. Parm is like, “Dude, you just married that girl over there. Like, five minutes ago. I’m not kissing you.” But Ogre Bride says, “Oh, just go ahead and kiss him. He’s really hot. Once I kissed a shepherd who gave me two chestnuts.”
Ogre Mom and the sisters take off, so then it’s just Thunder, Parm, and Ogre Bride, and Thunder’s whining some more about how Parm won’t kiss him, and Ogre Bride says the same thing again.
Thunder flips out. He slits her throat, buries her in the cellar, and gets with Parm, who, oddly enough, has no problem sleeping with a homicidal maniac who killed his last wife on their wedding day, literally half an hour ago.
Also, he calls her an “ass of honour.”
When Ogre Mom finds out what happened, she’s pissed. She goes to see her sister, but after Parm murdered her baby, the sister threw herself into the oven, too. Ogre Mom is so upset by this development that she turns into a ram and headbutts the wall until her skull cracks. Then Parm and Thunder and his sisters live happily ever after. Racism, infanticide, weird double standards, alarmingly unbalanced relationships, this story just has everything. So if you’re ever looking for a new fairy tale to read—
Actually, you should probably just stick with King Thrushbeard or something. At least no one dies.