4/22/10 - pinocchio

In today's encore excerpt - the original story of Pinocchio, written by Carlo Collodi in 1883 was an outgrowth of the efforts to create an 'Italian' education and literature for children in the newly united nation of Italy, a nation that had never previously had a national literature:

"The celebrated and sugary Disney film adaptation (1940), by which most people outside Italy have come to know Pinocchio's story, announces itself as an example of how, if sincerely desired, even the greatest of wishes can come true: a reassuring message. Nothing could be further from the acid spirit of Collodi's 'Story of a Puppet' [Pinocchio.] ...

"[From a talking pine log], Geppetto will fashion a traveling companion who can 'dance and fence and do flips' so that together the two can earn a 'crust of bread' and a 'cup of wine.' He's thinking of company and economic advantage. But no sooner has Pinocchio been carved from his living log than he is snatching off Geppetto's wig, revealing the reality of his maker's baldness. Taught to walk, he runs off. When Geppetto catches up and starts to give the puppet a fierce shaking, he is arrested for assault and jailed. The artist has lost control of his creation. Raw vitality with no inhibitions, Pinocchio is freed into a world of hot tempers, vanity, ignorance and appetite; a violent tussle is never far off. ...

"Having got Geppetto arrested, Pinocchio rushes home, only to experience a shock like the one he earlier gave the carpenter: a voice speaks from nowhere: 'Cree cree cree.' It is the Talking Cricket (Disney's Jiminy Cricket) who has 'lived in this room for more than a hundred years.' Revealing himself on the wall, the officious insect proceeds to give Pinocchio some hundred-year-old advice: 'Woe to any little boy who rebels against his parents and turns his back on his father's house!' A surprisingly well-informed Pinocchio is having none of it: he's off, he declares, 'because if I hang around the same thing that happens to all the other kids will happen to me, too: I'll be sent to school, and I'll be expected to study whether I like it or not.' ...

"When the cricket warns that this attitude can only lead to disaster, 'Pinocchio jumped up in a rage, grabbed a wooden mallet from the workbench, and flung it at the Talking Cricket.' Far from crooning his way through the puppet's many adventures with blue top hat, red umbrella, and yellow dancing shoes, the creature dies at once, splattered on the wall. It is typical of Collodi that while the rest of the book will show just how right the cricket was, the author nevertheless seems to take as much delight as any child in having this wearisome pedagogue obliterated with such panache. ...

"Whether the cricket is dead or alive, traditional wisdom is evidently defunct, a tedious chirp no one has time for. Who then will harness the mad vitality of this improbably artificial, newly created Italian? Rather than the uplifting account of a noble wish come true, Collodi's tale records the thoughtless exuberance of a character whose only talent lies in trading insults and whose inevitable destiny is to be exploited at every turn. The writer's achievement here was to tap into the zany spirit of Tuscan humor to deliver a Pinocchio who swings alarmingly between lies and candor, generous sentiment and cruel mockery, good intentions and zero staying power. ... Pinocchio does indeed capture a perplexing waywardness that one experiences every day in Italy."


Tim Parks


"Knock on Wood"


The New York Review of Books


April 30, 2009


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