Completed: The Adventures of Pinocchio

Cover: Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, NYRB ed., trans. Geoffrey BrockThe Adventures of Pinocchio
Carlo Collodi
(1881-1883, serialized; published 1883, Italy)
Translated Geoffrey Brock
Introduction by Umberto Eco
Afterward by Rebecca West

After walking half the day, they came to a city called Chumptrap. Entering the city, Pinocchio saw that the streets were full of mangy dogs yawning from hunger, fleeced sheep shivering from cold, hens with no combs or wattles begging for kernels of corn, large butterflies who could no longer fly because there had sold their beautiful wings, tailless peacocks who were ashamed to be seen, and pheasants who toddled quietly about, mourning their glittering gold-and-silver feathers, now lost forever.

From time to time there passed, through that throng of beggars and shamefaced poor, opulent carriages containing Foxes, or thieving Magpies, or nasty Birds of Prey.(Ch. 18)

This sight filled poor Pinocchio with such great and unexpected happiness that he was just a whit away from becoming delirious. He wanted to laugh, he wanted to cry, he wanted to say a mountain of things. But instead he whimpered confusedly and stammered out a few broken and incoherent words. Finally he managed to let loose a shout of joy, and, opening his arms wide and flinging them around the little old man’s neck, he began to yell, “Oh, my dear daddy! I’ve finally found you again!” (Ch. 35)

Had I actually put any thought into it at all, I would have realized that 1) January means snow (= much lengthier driving commutes = less reading time) and 2) I had two crazy-making work deadlines to end January and so I really should have started The Adventures of Pinocchio in December, so that I, the RAL host, wouldn’t be the last one to get a post written. (Eeking it out the last day of January!) Had I had any foresight I would have read The Adventures of Pinocchio last June, mulled it over for a while, and then reread it again for the RAL.

It was, in short, rather nothing like I expected. Different than Disney, yes, that goes without saying, but such a collection of the fantastic and bizarre and wild and religious and didactic and satiric (I think) and the cruel and dark and comic and heartwarming! I do not quite yet begin to know what I think.

Does it help me to know that Collodi originally ended the story at chapter 15, with Pinocchio’s death? Or that children’s literature as separate from adults’ was a relatively new form of writing in a relatively recently unified Italy? In the Afterward by Rebecca West, I learn that Collodi was “basically suspicious of any programs that codified conformity, seeing them as a threat to individuality and personal freedom.” No wonder we can’t make up our minds: is it a didactic book, teaching children obedience, or a subversive one, teaching them that rebellion might have a price but it’s a heck of a lot more fun? Maybe it is not children he is teaching, but rather their parents.

Then the allusions–it seems there are many. Religious, certainly. And West’s afterward points to Pinocchio‘s indebtedness to the great Italian literary tradition: Virgil and Boccaccio and Dante, and so on. I am not convinced I have read a children’s book. But I am not convinced that I haven’t. Maybe it goes over my head because I am not still a child. Maybe Collodi was still writing in an older tradition, one that didn’t separate the children and the adults.

But on the way he felt ill at ease–so ill at ease, in fact, that he took one step backward for every two steps forward. And all the while he was talking to himself: “How can I ever show my face to the good Fairy? What will she say when she sees me? Will she forgive me this second escapade? I bet she won’t forgive me! Oh, she certainly won’t forgive me! And it serves me right! Because I’m a rascal, always making promises to change my ways and never keeping them!” (Ch. 29)

Is Pinocchio fundamentally a religious text, reflecting humanity’s sinful nature in the image of a puppet who wants to do the right thing, who promises to do the right thing, but continually fails? Or is it a story of growing up, a bildungsroman? Is it neither? Amateur Reader (Tom), in his first post, posits that Pinocchio is “murdered” in the end. I am not entirely convinced that the puppet is alive at all in the final chapters of the story, or his friends for that matter. But I am perhaps reading that all wrong. Maybe it goes over my head because I am not still a child. I make it what it is not.

Many thanks to all those who joined me on this journey through The Adventures of Pinocchio. Not only the book, but your posts have given me plenty to think on.