The book “Adventures of Pinocchio” by the Italian author Carlo Collodi (1826-1890) is known as a tale for children and one can usually find it in shortened versions. The main character, a wooden puppet named Pinocchio, has long been identified in our conscience with one of his traits: when he tells a lie, his nose becomes longer. However, when I think of Pinocchio, I don’t care so much about his nose or about the fact that the book is being read by children.
What I care about is why did he want to enter into a piece of wood and most of all why did he want to exit? Was it by his own free will or was it his father’s wish? Did Gepetto, who so strongly desired to be a father, turn Pinocchio into a marionette and later into a human being?
And why was Pinocchio so persistently mean and naughty? Why was he so arrogant? Was it some sort of adolescence? Why did he have to hurt his father so much? Was it because his father tolerated all this? Towards what did Pinocchio react after all?
He experimented with every bad experience possible. He went through fire and water, he put his life in danger in every immaginable way, he got entangled into the worst friendships, he lost his speech and started to bray when he was transformed into a donkey. From the complete ecstasy in the Land of Toys he arrived step by step in Hell like a beast of burden, he reached the absolute humiliation and despair. Finally, a Shark ate him up and inside its body Pinocchio found his father again, whom he had been looking for during the last two years.
In order to exit the Shark’s stomach, Pinocchio took his father on his shoulders (exactly like Aeneas when he was fleeing Troy in flames) and for the first time he took up the duty to save his father and not the other way around. At this point he comes of age, he decides to abandon the fun and the games and prove that he is good. This is a symbolical gesture (because up to then he was always “He swears” like the poem by Cavafy, only to rush again towards sin and fun that never ended well).
For his sacrifice, for the trouble he took in order to carry his father on his shoulders, he is rewarded and his greatest desire comes true: he becomes a boy like the others around him.
It is not my intention to tell you what an important litterary work this is, nor how can one read and re-read it admiring the language and the style of Collodi. It is not my intention to tell you how many wonderful illustrators have worked on it. My intention is to observe the need of the child for adventure and amusement, as well as his (adoptive) father’s endless affection and compassion towards him.
First of all, the log had a soul from the beginning, from the moment Gepetto took the piece of wood from a friend in order to make with it a wonderful marionette that would help him earn money. This was his initial intention and maybe he was punished for the fact that he was dreaming of money. On the other hand he is justified because he was so poor that he didn’t have a crust of bread to eat. The thing is that the marionette wouldn’t obey him as he had imagined.
The Talking Cricket (Grillo parlante), an insect that has a voice, becomes Pinocchio’s conscience. Not that he pays any attention to it. Pinocchio knows only how to curse the Cricket. The first thing that the Cricket says to Pinocchio is: “Woe to boys who refuse to obey their parents and run away from home! They will never be happy in this world, and when they are older they will be very sorry for it.”
The Fairy with Azure Hair who loves Pinocchio and fullfills all his wishes, tells him that in order to become a real person he has to be worthy of it, to be obedient, to love study and work, to always tell the truth, to go gladly to school. He promises to do all this and she promises to become his mother. Pinocchio makes an effort (a reluctant one) to return to school but stumbles upon his classmates who make fun of him because he is a puppet.
The book may not be the cup of tea of those children who followed the right path from the beginning nor of their parents who never had a problem with them. Both will find it didactic and moralistic and will reject it from the very beginning. But the book will talk to the heart of those who fell into mischief either because they had a wooden brain or because they met with no understanding from their parents. It will also talk to the heart of those parents who aren’t rigid but are able to forgive, those parents who give to their children unlimited love even at the most difficult moments.
Pinocchio’s trials as a donkey are very sad and so is his encounter with two con-artists, the Cat and the Fox. The sacrifices and the hardships his father goes through in order to offer his son the best, are also sad in the same way that the struggle of Pinocchio who can’t choose between Good (which he theoretically pursues and desires) and Evil (which he always prefers so easily) is sad. How can one blame him? How much strength can this wooden being have when everyone around him makes fun of him and nobody sees him seriously? After having banged his head on the wall for the thousandth time, after the thousandth fight with his father, after paying no attention to the words of the Cricket and of his beloved Fairy, the thousandth and first time he will rise to the circumstances. According to my interpretation of the story, he will forgive his father who brought him to life without asking him, the father who brought him to the world where he met with so many hardships. He will carry his father on his shoulders and take him out of the prison that is the body of the Shark, and lead him to the shore putting his own life in danger. The superior nature of this gesture erases his fomer mischievous life and renders him capable of altruistic love and forgiveness; this gesture rewards him with an actual human nature.
It would be worth the while to see each chapter separately under an analytical light. The adventure at the Marionette Theater of the Fire Eater is among the most interesting ones having the Commedia dell’Arte as a background. In this adventure Pinocchio proves how much kindness exists in his soul when he asks the fierce impressario not to throw Harlequin on the fire. Another one is the metamorphosis of Pinocchio into a donkey, a procedure as intense and dramatic as the one Kafka wrote about. And finally the one where the child meets his father inside the body of the shark, the father who preferred to go without food in order to give his son something to eat, the father who in the middle of the winter sold his only coat in order to buy his child an A-B-C book for school.
But what was pushing Pinocchio towards this careless life? Perhaps he was trying to escape the sobriety of life. Maybe this was the reason he didn’t want to come out of the wood. He didn’t feel like facing the torments of life. That’s probably why he kicked anyone who came near him.
He always tends to blame others for getting him into harm’s way while at the same time he claims that all goes wrong for him because he doesn’t have a real heart like other children. When he turns into a donkey, he blames his classmate, Lamp-Wick, for his idea to go together to the Land of Toys. (By the way, Lamp-Wick will remain a donkey till the end).
The stomach of the Shark is the place where Pinocchio will stay for a while on his own in order to meditate and go through Catharsis. The illustrator Carlo Chiostri has painted a suggestive picture with Pinocchio walking towards his father who looks biblical, as biblical as the idea of the cetacean stomach. The moment he sees the light of his father from afar is a milestone.
Apart from the happy end that is probably a concession to children readers, all the other stories are characterized by cruelty and violence. Every adventure begins with laughter, continues with humiliation that brings Pinocchio near death from which he escapes always thanks to the intervention of the Fairy, his mother.
And always what is present is the need to become somebody else, a real child at last. The same great need of the tired and the weak-natured to be transformed. Whether by divine intervention or by their own efforts and sacrifices.
The metamorphosis is finally achieved and he lives happily ever after. Through torments and pains, by real altruism and humiliation, with a love that doesn’t demand but offers, that takes a step back in order to make room for the other person, the wooden, superficial, greedy nature is abandoned and a real human being is born. Do I sound didactic? I hope not.
A summary of Pinocchio’s adventures as he himself recounts them to his father when they meet again inside the body of the Shark.
“Are my eyes really telling me the truth?” answered the old man, rubbing his eyes. “Are you really my own dear Pinocchio?”
“Yes, yes, yes! It is I! Look at me! And you have forgiven me, haven’t you? Oh, my dear Father, how good you are! And to think that I–Oh, but if you only knew how many misfortunes have fallen on my head and how many troubles I have had! Just think that on the day you sold your old coat to buy me my A-B-C book so that I could go to school, I ran away to the Marionette Theater and the proprietor caught me and wanted to burn me to cook his roast lamb! He was the one who gave me the five gold pieces for you, but I met the Fox and the Cat, who took me to the Inn of the Red Lobster. There they ate like wolves and I left the Inn alone and I met the Assassins in the wood. I ran and they ran after me, always after me, till they hanged me to the branch of a giant oak tree. Then the Fairy of the Azure Hair sent the coach to rescue me and the doctors, after looking at me, said, ‘If he is not dead, then he is surely alive,’ and then I told a lie and my nose began to grow. It grew and it grew, till I couldn’t get it through the door of the room. And then I went with the Fox and the Cat to the Field of Wonders to bury the gold pieces. The Parrot laughed at me and, instead of two thousand gold pieces, I found none. When the Judge heard I had been robbed, he sent me to jail to make the thieves happy; and when I came away I saw a fine bunch of grapes hanging on a vine. The trap caught me and the Farmer put a collar on me and made me a watchdog. He found out I was innocent when I caught the Weasels and he let me go. The Serpent with the tail that smoked started to laugh and a vein in his chest broke and so I went back to the Fairy’s house. She was dead, and the Pigeon, seeing me crying, said to me, ‘I have seen your father building a boat to look for you in America,’ and I said to him, ‘Oh, if I only had wings!’ and he said to me, ‘Do you want to go to your father?’ and I said, ‘Perhaps, but how?’ and he said, ‘Get on my back. I’ll take you there.’ We flew all night long, and next morning the fishermen were looking toward the sea, crying, ‘There is a poor little man drowning,’ and I knew it was you, because my heart told me so and I waved to you from the shore–“
Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi– Translated from the Italian by Carol Della Chiesa