Knowing nothing about Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio other than it is a classic children’s story about a puppet and it was made into a Disney movie, I expected a sweet and wholesome adventure with a happy ending. I found instead something more like the bible’s book of revelation: a fast-moving account of glorious creatures and terrifying beasts, delightful rewards and dreadful punishments, woven to inspire hope and scare the reader to repentance. And a happy ending.
Old man Geppetto acquires a laughing, talking block of wood, and carves it into a puppet, whom he names Pinocchio. The puppet is full of mischief and causes trouble from the moment he is created. Poor Geppetto sells his coat to buy Pinocchio a book so he can study at school with the real children, but Pinocchio sells the book so he can see a puppet show. Despite warnings from Geppetto, a talking cricket and a fairy, Pinocchio continues to goof off and take the easy way out instead of working hard and being good to his family. He reaps the harvest of his foolishness: he is swindled, attacked, left for dead, almost cooked and eaten, imprisoned, turned into a donkey, and swallowed by a fish. Through his family’s patient forgiveness, he learns the long lesson of what it means to be a good boy, and finds hope that one day he might become a real boy.
Physically Pinocchio may be wooden, but in nature he is as human as they come—full of good intentions which he continually fails to meet. He would love to work hard to repay Geppetto’s kindness, but being lazy is so much easier; he wants to be disciplined and study, but hedonism and irresponsibility are just too much fun. And with his yielding to temptation come guilt and regret—and a long nose. True and fulfilling happiness is available to Pinocchio, but he must become mature to lay hold of it.
I’ve heard much talk about how tough the older generation was, and how soft and self-centred recent generations have been. The old generation survived a couple of world wars and a depression, while these days people may emotionally disintegrate under the slightest criticism. I now know why the older generation was so tough: it was the stories they heard as children. Kids’ stories today are filled with encouragement, self-acceptance and poo jokes; the old stories, like Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and the Brothers Grimm’s fairytales were different. Those stories let children know death was imminent. Horrifying death. Those stories let kids know that every act of disobedience might result in a hideous witch boiling them, or a giant ogre eating them—wolves, pirates, trolls, wicked stepmothers, deranged queens—there was no end to the grotesque villains and their elaborate execution methods awaiting naughty boys and girls. With that in mind, I recently began telling my five-year-old that if she didn’t brush her teeth every night, an evil monkey named Grunzle would sneak into her room while she slept and set fire to her (some nights I look out the window and tell her I can see Grunzle hiding in the trees). Well, after just three weeks, my little girl is paranoid, insomniac and terrified of the dark—but her teeth have never been cleaner (she’s wearing through two toothbrushes a week). Most importantly, I know when she is older she will be tough as nails.
Pinocchio is an imaginative tale of significant truths, told with charming humour and style. 7/10
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