Remember when Pinocchio kills Jiminy Cricket with a large wooden mallet? How about the scene where he is swallowed by a sickly asthmatic shark? Of course, you must recall the classic scene where Pinocchio is hung and left for dead by two conniving thieves. If these revelations shock you, then you are not familiar with the original text of the classic children’s book by Italian author Carlo Collodi. Like many, I was raised on the Disney film version of the classic story of the mischievous wooden puppet. After reading the original book, I will never look at Pinocchio the same way again.
Although Disney took several liberties with their version, the basic story is still the same. Pinocchio is carved from a living piece of wood by an elderly carpenter named Gepetto who wants a puppet that can perform and make him some money. Here is a quote from the scene where Gepetto decides on a name:
“What shall I call him?” he said to himself. “I think I’ll call him PINOCCHIO. This name will make his fortune. I knew a whole family of Pinocchi once–Pinocchio the father, Pinocchia the mother, and Pinocchi the children– and they were all lucky. The richest of them begged for his living.
There is just as much humor for grownups in Collodi’s text as there are memorable scenes for children. The author attempts to use satire and clever wordplay to convey some serious moral lessons, the strongest being the need for learning. It seems like Collodi placed a lot of emphasis on the importance of being educated. Gepetto sells his only coat in order to buy Pinocchio a spelling book only to have him sell it in order to go see a puppet show in the very next chapter. Pinocchio is constantly tempted away from getting an education by those around him. This culminates in his imprisonment in Funland, where he and his friends transform into jackasses due to their laziness.
Despite his adopted father’s best attempts. Pinocchio would rather have fun than go to school. In fact, the wooden puppet is actual quite annoying and a bit of a brat. He does manage to get into all types of adventures. He is nearly eaten by a fisherman, flies on the back of a pigeon, and gets swallowed by a shark. Pinocchio is actually killed in the middle of the story by two assassins who tried to connive him out of his gold. Imagine if the story had ended there? Well it nearly did, but Collodi was persuaded to continue the adventures.
The second half is just as action packed, but there are some changes. Pinocchio’s journey to becoming a real boy is chronicled here with the help of the blue-haired fairy. She instructs Pinocchio that he cannot achieve his dreams until he straightens up morally. There is some further heartbreak along the way, such as a truly sad scene with his friend Lampwick. Fortunately, we are rewarded with a happy ending for reading about the boy’s struggles.
I enjoyed reading this book because it reminds me of some of the more disturbing tales from the Brothers Grimm. Collodi was clearly inspired by these as several scenes in Pinocchio are very dark and twisted. I can see why Disney had to make the changes they did. There’s plenty of death, maiming, and immoral choices but at the heart of it you can’t help smile at the puppet’s striving to understand what it means to be human.
My version of the book includes a great essay on the history behind the text. It also has the original Italian text on one page with the English translation opposite. The footnotes didn’t add that much to my enjoyment as they mostly focused on why certain words were chosen. I’m selecting this book as my translated classic for the Back to the Classics Challenge.
“Because when children go from bad to good, they have the power of making things take on a bright new look inside within their families too.”
Have you read this book? Please comment below!