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Pinnochio the Wicked Puppet
I have been reading Pinnochio by Carlo Collodi with my five year old son. It has been an adventure for both of us, as Collodi's puppet is not the mischievous, but basically good-hearted puppet-child of the Disney film with which both of us are familiar. Jiminy Cricket would have stood no chance with Collodi's creation, but been smashed, as a talking cricket acting very much like an external conscience and adviser was smashed, with a mallet.
The Adventures of Pinnochio was written by Carlo Lorenzini (1826-1890), a children's author and political satirist. It was first published as Storia di un burattino in the first Italian newspaper for children, a weekly called Il Giornale dei bambini . Lorenzini, aka Collodi, died in 1890, before realizing the full fame this story would bring him, or the way in which it be tamed by Disney.
Pinnochio is an awful child, and some have said that this reveals that Collodi himself did not like children. This seems a bit off to me, as the adult world surrounding Pinnochio is no home of virtue. Gepetto is not a kind and gentle soul, for example, but a violent, pugnacious man. The book begins, after all, with a fight between Gepetto and another old gentleman over a speaking piece of wood, the future Pinnochio. In various places in this children's novel, Lorenzini's experience as a satirist and political man appear, as in the passage detailing Pinnochio's arrest and release from jail. Pinnochio, cheated by the fox and cat that also appear in the Disney film, is sent to jail as one guilty of being fleeced, but is released when the newly elected mayor decides to free all scoundrels in thanks for his success. Innocent, he would remain in jail, but, as he declares himself a scoundrel, he is freed.
Pinnochio is a puppet child with all the vices of an adult man: he is cowardly, mendacious, idle, foolish, and without conscience. He is prone to anger, especially when in the wrong, and forgetful of good done for him. His good intentions are defeated by his vagrant nature and dislike of effort. He would like to be good, but without dedicating any real work to the achievement of it. He loves his father, Gepetto, with a love that may be real, but without merit, for his actions undermine that affection. In his first day with the old carpenter, he gets Gepetto arrested, although he does feel bad about it later.
My son and I have not yet finished the book. It takes time to get through a book, even one written for children, at a chapter a night, interrupted by nights when other demands cancel the reading. (This is our book together, so according to my son's will my wife is not allowed to read it with him. It is for us alone, but she can listen.) We are about halfway done now, far enough in for me to have something to say about the experience
Reading Pinnochio is a very different experience from watching the movie. This has been very good for my son, who adores the movie and is enjoying the book. He has learned that the movie and the book are not the same, asking me if The Jungle Book was the same as the movie, or different. (He has also requested The Jungle Book as our next read.) He has learned that one can enjoy both for different reasons, so that liking the movie does not mean he cannot like the book, even though the two productions do not agree. These bits of knowledge about cultural production and our relationship with it are very good to have, and it has done him no harm to learn them young.
The book has much more to say to an adult reading it than the Disney movie does. As with many Disney movies, I like Pinnochio as an adult because I loved it as a child, and rewatching it allows me to contact that bygone innocence and wonder. It is the same with Robin Hood with its foxes, The Jungle Book with its jazzy orangutan, and The Aristocats with Scatman. I watch old Disney cartoons and forget for a little while that I am all grown up now. Collodi's book entertains me in a completely different fashion. Reading it I laugh at the ridiculous aspects of society and our myths about the innocence of ignorance, the corruption of the law and of politics, the duties of parents, the casual nature of our brutality to one another and the expectations we have of our children. Pinnochio, wholly ignorant of the world, is sent out to school, but has not yet, halfway through the book, made it there. Somehow he should know what is good, what is bad, how to behave, and the value of obedience from the first; these qualities are assumed to exist by the very fact that he exists, when, in fact, they are things that must be learned, that we teach our children, consciously and unconsciously, in our speech and in our actions, not all in one day, but over a considerable period of time.
Pinnochio is not a very intelligent boy, but a remarkably intelligent puppet. He does not discover the fox and the cat are his "assassins", the very beasts who chased him through the night and hung him from a tree, even though he bit off the hand of one and it, miraculously, changed into a cat's paw. My son figured that out, and part of his joy in the episode lies in his ability to see more, to figure out more, on his own than Pinnochio was able to do on his own. The child reading Pinnochio knows that he would not be so foolish. This level of stupidity, he thinks, takes a wooden-headed puppet, and the fact that Pinnochio is a puppet, not a real child, makes his flaws, his ignorance, his meanness and his stupidity, in the child's eyes forgivable, objects for analysis, so that the actions of Pinnochio become objects of discussion over which my son is willing to take possession, to express himself regarding the right and wrong of the actions described. He might not be so willing to share in the evils of a real boy, but he is more than willing to talk about how the puppet made mistakes, saw things wrong, or failed to act virtuously. My son has many thoughts on how he could help Pinnochio become a better son and a better boy.
The adult world around Pinnochio is, as I said before, violent, arbitrary, and full of its own ignorance and perfidy. This is healthy too, for nothing appears quite so arbitrary and ridiculous than the world of adults to a child. Every child knows before he is very old that adults are hypocrites, that they demand of children the very things they are unwilling or unable to fulfill themselves--patience, compassion, equanimity, diligence--and things which are very unnatural to a child. My son may not understand why I find the prosecution of Pinnochio for being scammed funny, but he does understand that something very wrong happened in this episode--that Pinnochio was punished for doing nothing wrong, while the fox and the cat went free. As the Justice Department case against Sheriff Arpaio came out, was discussed in front of him, requiring that it be explained to him in terms he could understand, the discussion of Arpaio's injustice was linked by him to the injustice of the judge in Pinnochio. Both failed to do their jobs, and did something else instead.
The Adventures of Pinnochio is not Disney's Pinnochio, but it is fun. Children can take more fictional tragedy than we seem to think they can, for they do not yet invest quite as deeply in a text and its characters as adults do. They identify with characters, yes, but they do so within their capacities, which prevents them from doing so wholeheartedly and without reservation. In my experience, children do not have the difficulty with text that they do with image. What we see is easily believed, and the line between fiction and reality in the consumption of images is sometimes difficult for adults as well as for children. A text, however, is mediated by its form, and, in this case, by the fact that it is read aloud and made a subject for discussion.
Together, we have reached the blue fairy's promise that, if he is good, Pinnochio may become a real boy. My son doubts Collodi's Pinnochio can manage it; together we will find out.