Pinocchio: the story carved from a block of wood
Here We Go Again
Just as The Wizard of Oz (discussed here in BfK 125) achieved world-wide currency after Hollywood got hold of it, so Pinocchio after Disney chose it to be the successor to Snow White in 1939. But the circumstances weren’t quite the same.
La Storia di un Burattino began life as a serial in a weekly children’s paper: Il Giornale per i Bambini in 1881. It finished at the point where the puppet is hanged, but an enthusiastic readership demanded to know what happened next, and the second half ran to the beginning of 1883 under the title Le Avventure di Pinocchio which became the title of the book in the same year. Success in Italy was instantaneous and the Avventure soon spread widely in translation. The first English edition appeared in 1892 but (as with The Wizard) the wealth of our native literature seems to have precluded a prominent reputation. In Germany though (where Pinocchio = Pine Kernel = Zapfel-Kern) it quickly became a favourite book, and there, and in the more receptive United States, its popularity led to many abridgments and sequels from other hands. Disney was tapping in to a ready-made public.
The literary purists (especially in the U.S. library profession) did not much care for Disneyfication. Unmoved by the virtuoso handling of the cartoons, they bemoaned, with some justice, the sentimentalization and the de-naturing of Collodi’s hero. For the Avventure are full of violence and irony. It may be a saga of redemption, with the puppet winning through to live boyhood by virtue of his ‘kind heart’ (itself a sentimental and moralized conclusion) but on the way his selfishness and impulsiveness, and the rogueries of those whom he encounters, give the story its energy and its sustained comedy. There’s a lot of ruthlessness, from the murder of the cricket to the humiliation of Candle-Wick, and this is in no wise mitigated by the author’s ironical conversations with his readers.
Carlo Lorenzini was born in Florence in 1826, a man of many parts and much diverse experience. He was involved with, and fought in, the wars of Italian independence. He was both civil servant and the bane of such people, a journalist. He wrote plays and novels, and he came to his masterpiece through an accidental commission to translate Perrault’s fairy tales into Italian. As a token of affection for his mother’s village, where he had spent much of his boyhood, he adopted the pseudonym Carlo Collodi which had overtaken all the fame of Lorenzini before his death, unmarried, in 1890.
The vagaries of its progress as a serial largely account for Pinocchio’s loose and rambling structure. Collodi seems to have written it on the hop from week to week, bringing in incidents on the spur of the moment. What matters though is his handling of such incidents as the stay with the puppet troupe, the attempted hanging, the visit to the Land of Toys, the recurrent meetings with Fox and Cat, over which Collodi exercises firm control. His personality as master of ceremonies persuades us that this wild admixture of having living puppets move through a landscape at once real and fantastic – men and creatures sharing adventures – might really happen.
Collodi’s first illustrator was Enrico Mazzanti, whose work also appeared in the first English translation. Although his commedia dell’arte figure sometimes takes on the appearance of an ageing man rather than a boy his line drawing has a verve lacking in most of his many competitors. These drawings are used in a recent new translation of the book by Ann Lawson Lucas in the ‘World’s Classics’ series (O.U.P. 1996), and this sets new standards for the English text.
Words and Pictures
That first English edition of Pinocchio by Mary Murray was a worthy piece of work. She happily caught the comic/sardonic flavour of the original and the publisher, Fisher Unwin, sensibly used the Italian line drawings by Enrico Mazzanti. Although they sometimes make our hero look like a decrepit bank-clerk, they have plenty of spirit. Among editions aimed squarely at children, the most spectacular was that in Italian art-nouveau style with elaborate colour pictures by Attilio Mussino. More recent abridgments and tarty quartos like the one illustrated by Roberto Innocenti (Cape, 1988) are not successful, being well-outdistanced by Puffin’s longstanding edition: a good translation by E. Harden with vigorous and often funny drawings by Gioia Fiammenghi.
The illustrations are taken from the Oxford ‘World’s Classics’ edition of The Adventures of Pinocchio, 0 19 280150 3, £4.99 pbk.
Brian Alderson is Chair of the Children’s Books History Society and the chief children’s book consultant for The Times.