Prunella (fairy tale)

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"Prunella" is an Italian fairy tale. Andrew Lang included it The Grey Fairy Book.[1] It is Aarne-Thompson type 310, the Maiden in the Tower.[2]

A version of the tale also appears in A Book of Witches, by Ruth Manning-Sanders.

Italo Calvino included a variant Prezzemolina in his Italian Folktales.[3] He took a variant from Florence, but noted that variants were found over all of Italy.[4]


A girl went to school, and every day, she picked a plum from a tree along the way. She was called "Prunella" because of this. But the tree belonged to a witch and one day she caught the girl.

Prunella grew up as her captive. One day the witch sent her with a basket to the well, with orders to bring it back filled with water. The water seeped out every time, and Prunella cried. A handsome young man asked her what her trouble was, and told her that he was Bensiabel, the witch's son; if she kissed him, he would fill the basket. She refused, because he was a witch's son, but he filled the basket with water anyway. The witch then set her to make bread from wheat while she was gone, and Prunella, knowing it was impossible, set to it for a time, and then cried. Bensiabel appeared. She again refused to kiss a witch's son, but he made the bread for her.

Finally, the witch sent her over the mountains, to get a casket from her sister, knowing her sister was an even more cruel witch, who would starve her to death. Bensiabel told her and offered to save her if she kissed him; she refused. He gave her oil, bread, rope, and a broom, and told her, at his aunt's house, to oil the gate's hinges, give a fierce dog the bread, give the rope to a woman trying to lower the bucket into the well by her hair, and give the broom to a woman trying to clean the hearth with her tongue. Then she should take the casket from the cupboard and leave at once. She did this. As she left, the witch called to all of them to kill her, but they refused because of what Prunella had given them.

The witch was enraged when Prunella returned. She ordered Prunella to tell her in the night which cock had crowed, whenever one did. Prunella still refused to kiss Bensiabel, but he told her each time: the yellow, and the black.

When the third one crowed, Bensiabel hesitated, because he still hoped to lure Prunella to kiss him, and Prunella begged him to save her. He sprang on the witch, and she fell down the stairs and died.

Prunella was touched by his goodness and agreed to marry him.


Prezzemolina was captured not because of her own eating, but because of her mother's craving for, and theft of, fairies' parsley (prezzemolo in Italian), as in Rapunzel; the girl was seized when going to school, but after the fairies had sent her to tell her mother to pay what she owed, and the mother sent back that the fairies should take it.

The hero, Memé, is not the son of a fairy but their cousin, though he helps her as Bensiabel did, despite refusal of kisses.

The tasks altered, in that she had to paint a coal room white and with all the birds in the air, and was sent to Morgan le Fay to be eaten. Finally, the fairies decided to boil her, and Memé warned her to say that there was not enough wood for the fire and to go to the cellar for it. When she did, he and she blew out the candles that were the fairies' souls, including Morgan le Fay's, and then lived in Morgan le Fay's castle, where they were generous with the servants who had not attacked her on Morgan's orders.

Also Prunella is the name of a character in the Arthur books.


The captor who demands his captive to do impossible tasks, and the person, usually the captor's child, who helps with them, is a very common fairy tale theme -- Nix Nought Nothing, The Battle of the Birds, The Grateful Prince, or The Master Maid -- but this tale unusually makes the captive a girl and the person the captor's son.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Andrew Lang, The Grey Fairy Book, Prunella
  2. ^ Heidi Anne Heiner, "Tales Similar to Rapunzel"
  3. ^ Italo Calvino, Italian Folktales p 310 ISBN 0-15-645489-0
  4. ^ Italo Calvino, Italian Folktales p 733-4 ISBN 0-15-645489-0