14 Julio 2017 08:28
The character created by Carlo Collodi in the late 19th century is far more sordid than the Disney version
In the original Pinocchio, instead of befriending the talking cricket, he smashes it to death with a hammer.
The real Pinocchio is not a cute little marionette with a blue dicky bow and a feather in his cap. He’s not a chubby-cheeked, friendly puppet, forever surrounded by friends and wandering through fantastical landscapes accompanied by the magnificent Jiminy Cricket.
It’s true that Disney’s portrayal of Pinocchio is also as a little wooden boy with a touch of mischief. But like all little boys, his naughtiness is heart-warming and sweet.
He is known for being a liar, also true. But he’s a liar for the same reason that we all were: because we found out just how powerful lies can be, and how we can use them to get what we want more easily.
However, in the original story, Pinocchio is a very different little boy: he’s a poor and starving urchin; a greedy, unscrupulous little sod who, when a talking cricket tries to tell him that maybe he’s not behaving as he should, he smashes him into the wall with a hammer.
‘At these last words, Pinocchio jumped up in a fury, took a hammer from the bench, and threw it with all his strength at the Talking Cricket.. [...] Sad to relate, my dear children, he hit the Cricket, straight on its head. With a last weak "cri-cri-cri" the poor Cricket fell from the wall, dead!’
The first versions of Pinocchio are the work of Italian writer, Carlo Collodi. He wrote them on a weekly basis between 1881 and 1882 for Italy’s first children’s magazine, Il Giornale per Bambini, where they were accompanied by illustrations by Ugo Fleres. Later, these stories were published together under the title The Adventures of Pinocchio, this time with the help of cartoonist, Enrico Mazzanti.
The graphic depiction of Pinocchio was to change with passing years, but it was in 1940 when Disney launched the tale to fame with its version for the big screen. The film maintains some of the original Pinocchio's trademark characteristics, but the story does not comprise the dark world that Collodi concocted for his protagonist.
Right from the outset, the story’s opening is not what you would normally expect for children’s literature, but rather we are plunged into a somewhat ambiguous fairytale land. Although the narrator addresses himself to children, he does so with a derisive edge that reveals a second reading of the tale:
‘Centuries ago there lived...
“A king!” my little readers will say immediately.
No, children, you are mistaken. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood. It was not an expensive piece of wood. Far from it. Just a common block of firewood, one of those thick, solid logs that are put on the fire in winter to make cold rooms cozy and warm.’
Collodi’s stories depict a poor and famine-ridden Italy in the late 19th century, and the moralising function his characters were supposed to perform is not so clear as in other classic tales. Academics have pointed at the story as a defence of education and an attack on laziness, and Pinocchio’s role as a disobedient and deceptive boy is indeed a fundamental part of the plot.
However, the harshness of his portrayal goes way beyond the educational. Pinocchio is not just an ill-mannered boy, a young savage waiting to be civilised. Maybe it would be an exaggeration to say he is an evil character, but there is certainly no hint of the innocence of youth about him. Indeed, he is surrounded by violence and squalor: even when he is the victim, the empathy doesn’t come easy.
Let’s look at a few examples.
In one of the less forgiving scenes, the starving Pinocchio decides to go begging in the streets, at night and in the middle of a storm. However, instead of food, the townsfolk throw a bucket of water over him. In an effort to dry off, he sits down by a stove. Weary and famished, but comforted by the warmth of the fire, he falls into a deep sleep.
When he awakes, Pinocchio finds that his legs have been reduced to ashes.
Just at that moment, Geppetto is trying to get into the house. He doesn’t believe the fibbing puppet when Pinocchio tells him he can’t open the door because he can’t walk. The narrator takes this opportunity to have a little fun, telling his readers how Pinocchio imagines himself dragging himself around for the rest of his life on a pair of charred stumps.
In the end, Geppetto rebuilds his legs, but he leads us to believe that maybe he shouldn’t have. The poor carpenter not only gives up his food so that Pinocchio can eat, but also sets about selling his belongings. The little marionette squanders the old man’s profits and gets himself into more trouble: this is his mortal sin and for which he is put through ordeal after ordeal.
Perhaps the most violent torment of all is when he is chased for hours by thieves until he finally reaches a kind of haunted house, where he seeks refuge. He knocks desperately on the door, but to no avail... until this happens:
‘At the noise, a window opened and a lovely maiden looked out. She had azure hair and a face white as wax. Her eyes were closed and her hands crossed on her breast. With a voice so weak that it hardly could be heard, she whispered:
“No one lives in this house. Everyone is dead.”
“Won’t you, at least, open the door for me?” cried Pinocchio in a beseeching voice.
“I also am dead.”
“Dead? What are you doing at the window, then?”
“I am waiting for the coffin to take me away.”’
Following this bizarre encounter with a dead woman's ghost, the thieves set about stabbing Pinocchio in the back. However, his hard wooden body resists their knives, so they try out something else:
‘“I understand,” said one of them to the other, “there is nothing left to do now but to hang him.”
“To hang him,” repeated the other.
They tied Pinocchio’s hands behind his shoulders and slipped the noose around his neck. Throwing the rope over the high limb of a giant oak tree, they pulled till the poor Marionette hung far up in space.
[...] “Good-by till tomorrow. When we return in the morning, we hope you’ll be polite enough to let us find you dead and gone and with your mouth wide open”’
But it doesn’t end here for the poor wretch.
After his run-in with the thieves, he is thrown into jail. Then, he’s fried in boiling oil in a pan full of fish. Finally, he is turned into a donkey and sold to a circus, where he is forced to dance and leap through hoops.
The worst of all, however, comes when he becomes lame and can no longer perform: he is sold to a man who wants to use his skin for a drumhead.
‘I leave it to you, my dear children, to picture to yourself the great pleasure with which Pinocchio heard that he was to become a drumhead!
As soon as the buyer had paid the four cents, the Donkey changed hands. His new owner took him to a high cliff overlooking the sea, put a stone around his neck, tied a rope to one of his hind feet, gave him a push, and threw him into the water.
Pinocchio sank immediately. And his new master sat on the cliff waiting for him to drown, so as to skin him and make himself a drumhead.’
These are just some of the sordid adventures the original character is put through. We all know that other classics like Little Red Riding Hood or Sleeping Beauty were actually far more gruesome than the ones we were told as children. The case of Pinocchio, however, is particularly shocking, as this is no legend or ancestral archetype that has been reproduced and recast over many years.
Oh no my children. This is a deliberately dark tale, written to reflect the social and moral misery of an era. And what’s more, of all the mediums, Collodi chose children’s literature, pushing the boundaries of fairytales until his comic strip mutates into a catalogue of atrocities, whose horrors can only be justified and cushioned by the fantasyland they’re set in.