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A little puppet goes a long way


Tuscan folk tale from 1881 gave the world Pinocchio

By Jeanne Outlaw-Cannavo

The expression “don’t lie or your nose will grow” became a common saying after Walt Disney released the film “Pinocchio” in 1940.

Pinocchio was a popular series written by Carlo Collodi that first appeared on July 7, 1881, in the Italian Giornale dei Bambini (Children’s Magazine). The story was titled “Le avventure di Pinocchio: storia di un burattino” (The Adventures of Pinocchio: The Story of a Puppet). Collodi later published the series as a book in 1883. The author, the son of a cook and a maid, was 55 at the time. He was working as a censor for the theater when gambling losses prompted him to draft a story for the children’s journal.

Pinocchio is a beloved character for children and adults. Like many Tuscan folk tales, his story had important moral lessons for children and remains a timeless classic. Carlo Collodi, born Carlo Lorenzini, spent part of his childhood in the 12th century medieval village of Collodi in Tuscany and changed his pen name to that of the town he remembered so fondly.

Carlo Collodi’s original tale is not so child-friendly as the Disney movie “Pinocchio.”

In the story Pinocchio was carved out of a piece of wood by the old woodcarver Geppetto. Pinocchio longs to be human so a fairy brings him to life but tells him he must prove himself worthy to become a human boy. He behaves like a human child and repeatedly gets into trouble and is often impulsive and mischievous. With him on his adventures is a cricket who acts as his conscience and tries to guide him to choose the right path. When he tells a lie, his nose grows longer, and when he tells the truth, his nose returns to its normal size. The Good Fairy finally grants him his wish to be a little boy after he shows that he cares for his “father” Geppetto.

There are some striking differences between the Disney movie and the original book. The movie is very child friendly with cute characters and several catchy tunes that became hits. The setting for the movie is New York while the book is set in Ireland. There were also more characters in the book than in the movie. In the movie Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket set off for school where the puppet begins to make bad choices with some unwelcome consequences. The book is much darker in tone. Pinocchio is blatantly mischievous – he runs away as soon as he learns to walk and then sells his schoolbooks for a ticket to the theater. He is almost hanged by the fox and cat, and Geppetto is impris-oned for suspected abuse. At the end of the movie Pinocchio and Jiminy Cricket are best friends but, in the book, he kills the cricket who tries to straighten out his friend.

Collidi’s book includes lessons that we can relate to parables found in the Bible. Pinoc-chio is characterized as a lovable sinner who cannot live up to the hopes of a kind and forgiving father. We could also infer that the fairy godmother is like a kind and merciful mother to Pinocchio. Collodi intended to end his story with the death of the puppet in his serial collection, but his editor begged him for more stories. In the end of the serial Pinocchio is rescued from the tree where he is hanging, and his tales continue. The movie was certainly much more appropriate for children, but the original story had its own moral compass for those who read it.

Each year the Tuscan town of Collodi celebrates Pinocchio’s birthday during the last week in May. The 12th century medieval village has an ancient fortress, and its economy benefits from tourism thanks to a park dedicated to the little wooden boy who comes to life in the famous book. The inter-active and family friendly Parco di Pinocchio has monuments to the characters in the story as well as a puppet theater, a butterfly house and other kid-friendly experiences. There is also a museum dedicated to the puppet and a virtual library. In 2017 a wooden statue was erected in the town; at 63 feet high it is the tallest in the world.

The celebration is promoted by the national foundation of Carlo Collodi and includes games and readings of this beloved story as well musical tributes and other fun activities. Of course, the end of the day of celebration includes the traditional cake cutting.

Pinocchio remains immensely popular in Italy and across the world. Collodi’s narrative remains one of the most translated ever with reprints in 240 languages, including in Latin with the name Pinoculus. The book has had a profound impact on world culture with the production of numerous movies, additional books, puppet shows and merchandise. The wooden puppet who just wanted to be a real boy is an icon and one of the most reimag-ined characters in children’s literature.

So, let us wish Pinocchio a very happy birthday. Or as they say in Italy, buon compleanno!

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