Firenze — The story of Pinocchio

"There was once a piece of wood"...

Pinocchio" is a classic of children's literature and Italy's second most read book after Manzoni's "The Betrothed." It was written by Tuscan writer Carlo Lorenzini under the pen name of C. Collodi and was first published in Rome in 1881. All the children of the world are familiar with this little hero, the naughty wooden puppet who walks and talks - and whose nose grows longer and longer every time he tells a lie.

Carlo Lorenzini was born in Florence in 1820, of humble parents. He took the pseudonym of Collodi from the village of Collodi (near Pescia, in Tuscany) where his beloved mother was born. He never married and never had children. He studied in a seminar in Colle Val d'Elsa, but did not become a priest. He was a "mazziniano," and believed in, and fought for, the unity of Italy. In 1848 he was a volunteer in the independence wars against the Austrians. Back in Florence, he started the newspaper "Il Lampione," and later he published the periodical "La Scaramuccia."

After writing several plays, Lorenzini wrote the first of his children's books, "Giannettino," published in 1876. The protagonist is a boy with blue eyes and red curls. It is a book in praise of education. Dottor Boccadoro (Golden mouth), Giannettino's teacher says, reflecting Collodi's own philosophy: "For every school that opens, there is a jail cell that closes." The second children's book by Lorenzini is "Minuzzolo" (The tiny one). They both had moderate success.

After the year 1859, Lorenzini started calling himself Collodi and translated the famous fairy tales by French writer Charles Perrault. One day, he wrote, he met in the street an urchin who made a deep impression on him: this boy was to be the inspiration for "Pinocchio." He was a "real" boy, a naughty boy, while his previous characters had been "good" boys.

In 1881, Collodi wrote a story for "Il giornalino dei bambini." He was in urgent need of money, and his "Pinocchio" was born out of inspiration and out of necessity. In sending in the story, Collodi wrote to the editor: "Ti mando questa bambinata, fanne quello che ti pare, ma se me la strappi, pagamela bene, per farmi venire la voglia di seguitarla." (I am sending you this children's piece. Do with it what you see fit. But if you snatch it up, pay it well, so that I will feel like continuing it.) The story was called "Avventure di un burattino," the adventures of a puppet.

Collodi wrote "Pinocchio" in a wonderful Tuscan, dry, immediate and funny. The story was serialized for a year and half before being collected and published. By that time, Collodi had tried in vain to finish off Pinocchio by hanging him on an oak tree, by transforming him into a lame donkey, by frying him in a frying pan, and finally by having him swallowed by a sea monster. But Pinocchio always came back at the request of an affectionate public.

In 1892 "Pinocchio," already a great international success, was translated into English by M. A. Murray - a decent translation that does not have, however, the special quality of the original.

Collodi died in Florence in 1890. By this time Pinocchio had become an enormous international success. The peripeties of "Pinocchio" were compared to the epics of Pulci, Ariosto, and Cervantes. To date, "Pinocchio" has had thirty-five million readers in Italy. It is one of the books in Italian literature that became an involuntary success, such as "Il Cuore" by Edmondo De Amicis, and "L'arte del mangiar bene" di Pellegrino Artusi.

The characters in "Pinocchio" are vivid and remain with us for along time. For instance, "Il grillo parlante" (in English Jiminy Cricket) is the conscience of the puppet. The Blue Fairy is Collodi's mother. Geppetto is self-sacrificing father. "Pinocchio" comprises a web of metaphors about the conditions of man. It also depicts class struggles and comments on social injustice and on the contrast between poor and rich.

"Pinocchio" starts with the usual formula "C'era una volta" followed by an apostrophe to the author's little readers: C'era una volta... - Un re! - diranno subito i miei piccoli lettori. No, ragazzi, avete sbagliato. C'era una volta un pezzo di legno." (Once upon a time there was… A king! My little readers will say. No, children. There was once a piece of wood.)

This piece of wood had inside it the character of Pinocchio, just as Michelangelo's David was contained in a strangely shaped piece of marble every sculptor rejected. Collodi carved Pinocchio out of that piece of wood. Pinocchio is about common people. The old master Mastro Ciliegia (Cherry) is a common carpenter. He lives very poorly. He finds a piece of wood that he wants to carve on a cold night. "This wood was not valuable: it was only a common log like those that are burnt in the winter in the stoves and the fireplaces to make a cheerful blaze and warm the room."

To create warmth and good feeling, that was the aim of the author. Mastro Ciliegia decides the fate of the piece of wood: "It will do to make the leg of a little table." But the piece of wood has a life of his own, and starts speaking. "Do not strike me so hard!" "You are tickling me all over!" And Pinocchio is born.

Since Collodi had originally written "Pinocchio" in installments, the story rambles through a wide field of adventure. But the tale rambles also because such is the nature of the picaresque novel, but also a "bindungsroman," a moral tale meant to educate and to build character.

In 1940, Walt Disney adapted "Pinocchio." It was his second movie, after "Snow White." Although the original plot had to be simplified and pared down, the movie was fairly faithful to the original story. The characters are unforgettable: Geppetto, Jiminy Cricket, a frisky feline named Figaro, a glamorous gold-fish named Cleo, the Blue Fairy, a couple of con artists, J. Worthington Foulfellow and his feline sidekick Gideon. There is also the greedy puppet master Stromboli, who will pay big bucks for the incredible "puppet without strings."

To save Geppetto, Pinocchio and Jiminy dive to the bottom of the sea, where they are also swallowed by Mostro. Finally, the puppet has learned generosity and altruism, and the Blue Fairy keeps her promise -- that if Pinocchio will prove himself worthy, he could become a "real" boy. He does. It is a happy ending for all.

Translations of this famed story have appeared in more than two hundred languages and dialects.

By Laura Stortoni-Hager