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] 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.



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 wicked 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 force 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 and they lived happily ever after.


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, good son of the evil fairy queen, Morgan le Fay (Fata Morgana), helped Prezzemolina as Bensiabel did, despite her refusal of kisses. The tasks were different in this version, however.

In the end, Memé and Prezzemolina together destroyed the fairies. First they tricked and boiled three fairy ladies in the garden house, and then blew out the great many magical candles that held the souls of the all the fairies, including Morgan. They then took over all that had belonged to the fairies, married, and lived happily in Morgan's palace, where they were generous with the servants who had not attacked her despite Morgan's orders.

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