Pinochio Book Cover, New York Review of Books

 

What an absolute joy!

I’d never read the original, which is to say Carlo Collodi’s, version of  Pinocchio before, and though I was looking forward to it I was expecting something completely different. Rather than flowery ‘Olde Thyme-y’ language, I was delighted to be wrapped up completely in Collodi’s clear and playful prose, beautifully translated by Geoffery Brock.*

He’s like the Grampa you’ve always wanted.

I honestly never really liked the Disney movie, even as a kid, because I was more into elephants, as a matter of principle. I remember it, though, with the Jiminy Cricket character and his gentle Yankee ways. And the terrifying (and, as Rebecca West notes, uncomfortably racist) puppet master. And the drunken bubbles scene. Oh wait, that was Dumbo. I really did like elephants. Anyhow.

The Pinocchio that traipses around Collodi’s story is a real brat. Not only does he lie and skip school and take things that aren’t his, but he’s finicky and whiny and a picky eater to boot. He’s basically already a real boy, before some kind of scary fairy makes it so. And it’s not like I was officially rooting for him throughout the story. Well, not for all of it anyway.

The point is that even though he’s a horrible little bugger, there’s something sweet about him, even before he ‘turns good.’ He’s a kid, and he’s gross and sticky and does dumb things, and even if he doesn’t make long term commitments, even if he doesn’t consider love a responsibility to care, when I overhear him thinking about his in the moment love for Geppetto or for the girl with the blue hair,  yeah, I’m rooting for him.

I really liked how cold the blue haired fairy was, and the way that Geppetto was so deeply poor that his character was coarsened by the continual friction of need. The first half of Pinocchio is dark, and in the end of the first book Pinocchio is hanged to death. In the second half he is resuscitated by the girl with the blue hair, and she becomes some strange sort of regulatory sister/mother/lover who simultaneously nurtures and tortures the wooden puppet.

The story was magical in the good way, where the prose was simple and I could choose to either read it flat, like a kid, or read it deep in light of what little I know about the extremely poor living conditions of day to day Tuscany in the 1800s.  Not to get too  off base, but in parts I was reminded of the knobby kneed child villain in Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, which happens, by the by, to be one of my all time faves. There’s something about kids being these Hobbesian creatures, these selfish little savages that rings true to life, or at least true to the way I pleasantly recall my own wild childhood. Collodi’s little wooden puppet is a beautiful example of this wilderness, and in reading the tale also offers both a moral and emotional redemption from the savageness of childhood; even before he is good, he is lovable. And like an adult, Pinocchio comes to understand that to love and be loved is to agree, implicitly and always, to be good.

 

*This sentence was edited from it’s original published form, which did not name Geoffrey Brock as the translator.

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