Wassup Rockers



Pinocchio.

Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi
Translated by Geoffrey Brock

I’m writing this a couple of months after I read the book. I needed the distance to think carefully about my comments regarding the book, because immediately after I finished it, all I could feel was disappointment.

No, I didn’t care much for Pinocchio as a character, and that ultimately extended to me not liking the story since the entire narrative is about him and all the mistakes he makes along the way. He’s rendered as an unsympathetic figure, someone who openly disobeys others. It would be one thing if he stood as a contrast to abusive authority figures, I would have a kinder view if Pinocchio’s mischief had served to reveal the failures and hypocrisy of society; however, most of the errors are really rooted in his own carelessness and they just made the wooden boy look bad instead of commenting on something outside of the boy. I would have found this more compelling since I don’t have a clear sense of what Italy was like at the time Pinocchio was written.

So time after time, we see Pinocchio make a bad choice, and just when you think that Pinocchio would learn, he gets sidetracked again, thanks to all sorts of distractions. It’s frustrating! The worst part is when Pinocchio is reunited with the Fairy, and she manages to make an honest puppet out of him for a while. He has a stable home that she keeps in order, and he excels in school. But he gets into one fight with a classmate and everything comes tumbling down… didn’t Pinocchio understand how good he had it going?? Hadn’t he learned from his many previous mistakes? It’s hard to feel pity for him. Not only that, it complicates the ending, because we’re led to believe everything ends happily ever after. We close the book with a warm fuzzy feeling, until we think, “Well, there were previous instances when everything seemed okay, and look how bad things turned out…” All I could think was that the story ends, but I don’t trust that Pinocchio truly learned a lesson.

Then again, maybe there was no lesson to learn. I think Collodi didn’t mean this story to be the morality tale that it’s come to represent. In my life, I’ve primarily identified two images with Pinocchio: first, conscience in the form of the cricket, and the second, the nose that grows with every lie that is told. Both of these images take a different form in the story from what we generally think of them, and they have less of a moralistic quality on the page.

I found it comforting that Collodi seemed aware of Pinocchio’s faults and wasn’t enamored with his protagonist. Collodi also gives the audience a hard time, withholding information until the last second, or maybe just making up stuff whenever he needs to come up with an excuse, leaving the readers to try and hold on while the ride shifts in unexpected directions.

Collodi shows a great sense of humor. One of the recurring elements in his story telling was that every few chapters, Pinocchio would meet someone from his past, and he’d recount every stupid thing that had happened to the boy in those few chapters. I’m sure it was just a necessity from serialization, sort of how TV shows say, “Previously on…,” but it tickled me to see what Pinocchio included and conveniently forgot whenever he recounted his side of the story. There’s so much plot that you read Pinocchio recounting everything and you’re like, “Geez, I’d totally forgotten this happened…!”

I don’t think I would have appreciated this story as much as I did if I hadn’t read the critical essay by Rebecca West that followed the story. (I own the NYRB edition.) For example, it illuminates a lot about the Blue-Haired Fairy, who is not entirely benevolent. I thought she’d be passive and that she would forgive and forget every one of Pinocchio’s infractions, but it wasn’t that way at all. Pinocchio’s relationship to the Blue-Haired Fairy is fascinating and the critical commentary goes at length about it, with good reason. She’s the only female character in this story and the role she plays is very complicated. At the end, I feel like Pinocchio is great to read for scholarly purposes, but it’s not exactly a fun book to read.

So after all this talk of the story, why haven’t I mentioned the Disney version of Pinocchio? Because I don’t remember it. Instead, I approached the book with a more general sense of how Pinocchio is viewed in society today, though I am assuming that this perspective is mostly defined by the Disney version anyway. In that sense, I was definitely surprised by how my expectations did not match what I was reading at all.

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  1. Collodi’s Tuscany. « The Hieroglyphic Streets pingbacked on 7 years, 10 months ago

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