The Beautiful Girl
The innkeeper’s daughter, a “beautiful girl,” is first encountered by the protagonist as the wife of the ogre, who has been his captive for years. She comes up with a scheme to take four feathers from the ogre, answer each of the four questions, and escape with the man, without either of them being eaten by the ogre. She tells the man to hide under the bed while she feeds the ogre his dinner, and when she and the ogre go to bed, she plucks one of his feathers, which awakens him, at which point she tells him she has been dreaming, and he explains the significance of her dream. She repeats this four times during the night, handing each feather to the man under the bed as she does so. The fourth dream that she describes to the ogre is about the innkeeper, whose daughter disappeared years ago. The ogre explains that she herself is the daughter of the innkeeper. The next morning, the girl flees with the man, and, when they reach the innkeeper, he is so grateful for the return of his daughter that he immediately gives her hand in marriage to the man.
The Ferry Man
The protagonist first encounters the ferry man on his way to the cave of the ogre. The ferry man asks if the protagonist will bring back one of the feathers of the ogre and if he will ask the ogre why he has been stuck working on the ferry for years and cannot get off. When the girl tells the ogre she has been dreaming of this predicament of the ferry man, the ogre explains that the only way for him to get off the ferry is to jump ashore before his next passenger gets off the ferry; that way he will be free, and the passenger will be stuck working as the ferry man. When the man and the girl take the ferry on their way home, they give him the feather he asked for. Only after they have gotten off on the other side of the river do they explain to him how he can escape the ferry. It so happens that his next passenger is the ogre himself, who has no idea that the ferry man has been informed of this. Before the ogre can step ashore, the ferry man jumps off, and the ogre must stay on the boat.
The man first encounters the friars at the monastery on his way to the cave of the ogre. The friars inform him that the ogre lives in the back of the seventh of seven caves, and they give him a candle and matches to light his way. They also ask if he will bring them back a feather from the ogre and if he will ask the ogre why they have had nothing but discord in the monastery for the past ten years. When the girl pretends to be dreaming of the friars, the ogre explains that the Devil has been living among them, disguised as a priest, for the past ten years, and that is why they have not been able to get along. The ogre says that if all of the real priests do good deeds, the Devil will be found out, and they can get rid of him. On their way home, the man and the girl give the friars a feather and tell them what the ogre has said. The true friars all go about doing good deeds, and the Devil is found out and sent away.
The innkeeper is the first person encountered by the man on his way to find the ogre. The innkeeper asks if he will bring back one of the ogre’s feathers for good luck and if he will ask the ogre where his daughter, who disappeared years ago, has gone. When the beautiful girl who is the wife of the ogre pretends to have dreamed about the innkeeper’s predicament, the ogre tells her that the innkeeper is her own father and that she is the daughter who has disappeared. When the man and the girl reach the innkeeper after escaping the ogre, he is so grateful that he immediately gives her hand in marriage to the man.
The king falls ill and is told by his doctors that he can only be cured with a feather from the ogre. Only one of his attendants, the man who is the protagonist of the story, is brave enough to volunteer to find the ogre and bring back one of his feathers. When the man returns with the feather, the king recovers from his illness and rewards him. When the man tells the king he is going to be married, the king doubles his reward.
The King’s Doctors
The king’s doctors advise him that the only way for him to recover from his illness is to obtain one of the feathers from the ogre. Their advice turns out to be true, as the king does recover once the man has brought him a feather.
The King’s Attendant
The protagonist of the story is one of the king’s “most loyal and courageous attendants.” He is the only one brave enough to volunteer to obtain a feather from the ogre in order to cure the king’s illness. On his way to find the ogre, he stops at four different places, at each of which he is asked if he will also bring back a feather and ask the ogre a question. The man agrees to each request without hesitation. When he reaches the home of the ogre, he is greeted by a beautiful girl, who is the ogre’s wife and captive. She instructs him to hide under the ogre’s bed, while she plucks his feathers and hands them to the man. The next morning, he and the girl flee the ogre, bringing feathers and answers to each of the four questions. When they reach the innkeeper, whose daughter has been a captive of the ogre, he is given her hand in marriage. When the man brings a feather to the king, which causes the king to recover from his illness, he is rewarded, and, after he tells the king he is going to be married, his reward is doubled.
The feathered ogre lives in the back of the seventh of seven caves on top of a mountain. One of his feathers has the power to cure the king of his illness, and his feathers are also known to be good luck, but he is known for eating every human being he sees. When he comes home for his dinner, he can smell the man hiding under the bed but cannot find him. After he goes to bed, the girl, his wife, tricks him in order to obtain several of his feathers and get him to answer each of the four questions. After he leaves for work the next morning, the girl flees with the man. When the ogre comes home and finds her missing, he goes off in search of them, with the intention of eating them both. But when he takes a ride across the river on the ferry, the ferry man hops ashore before him, and so he cannot leave the boat and is stuck being the ferry man.
The Two Noblemen
The protagonist encounters the two well-dressed noblemen when he sits down to eat at a fountain on his way to find the ogre. The two noblemen ask if he will bring them back one of the ogre’s feathers and if he will ask the ogre why their fountain, which once spewed silver and gold, has gone dry. When the girl pretends to be dreaming of the predicament of the two noblemen, the ogre explains that the fountain has been stopped up by a snake that is sleeping curled around a ball at the bottom of the fountain. The ogre tells her that the noblemen must crush the head of the snake with the ball in order for the fountain to flow again. When the girl and the man reach the noblemen on their way home, the noblemen take this advice, and their fountain once again spews silver and gold.
Jennifer Smith – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 12, Italo Calvino, Published by Gale Group, 2001.