Just one more Pinocchio post, I think. So many people have been reading the book, saying what I might want to say. Seraillon put up most of that and more a few minutes ago. Simpler Pastimes is collecting other readers.
Once upon a time, there was…
“A king!” my little readers will say right away.
No, children, you are wrong. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood. (Ch. 1, ellipses in original)
One rhetorical side of the novel is summarized perfectly with “No, children, you are wrong.” This is the most directly didactic book I have read in decades.
“My boy,” said the Fairy, “people who talk that way always end up in jail or in the poorhouse… Idleness is a horrible disease, and it has to be cured early, in childhood; otherwise, when we are grown-up, we never get over it.” (Ch. 25)
And there is a lot more like that. Pinocchio at this point in the book is already an ex-con, having already been in jail for a four month stretch, although not because of his idleness but rather the capriciousness and inattention of the gorilla judge. I need someone who knows Italy better than I do to write a piece about the social satire in Pinocchio.
The Fairy, who is a mother figure for Pinocchio and an analogue for the Virgin Mary, Dante’s Beatrice, and who knows what else, enforces her moral teachings by pretending to be dead, to the extent of building a false grave for Pinocchio to weep over (Ch. 23), and threatening Pinocchio with death, going so far as this:
At that very moment the door of the room opened wide and in came four rabbits as black as ink, carrying a small coffin on their shoulders.
“What do you want form me?” cried Pinocchio, sitting up straight in terror.
“We have come to get you,” replied the biggest rabbit. (Ch. 17)
So Pinocchio drinks his medicine. Maybe the weirdest part of the book is the Pinocchio’s constant shifting between wood and flesh depending on Collodi’s immediate needs, a “a curious composite human-puppet, flesh that is at the same time not flesh, object that is at the same time human,” as seraillon says.
The continual shifts in state affects everything in the novel – characters who are alive then dead then alive again, landscapes that shift, transformations into animals:
So Pinocchio, losing all patience, grasped the door knocker angrily, intending to give a bang that would deafen everyone in the building; but the knocker, which was mad of iron, suddenly became a live eel that wriggled out of his hands and disappeared into the small stream of water going down the middle of the street. (Ch. 29)
The entire chapter, which includes puppet nudity, a talking dog, and a maid who is a giant snail, is one of the purest pieces of dream writing in a novel full of dream-stuff. Wonderful chapter.
It is just the nature of fiction, but everything that is interesting in Pinocchio’s world is brought to the front and everything uninteresting (jail, school) is skipped in a couple of words. So all of the ethical movement in the novel supports Pinocchio’s rebellions. Seraillon again: “little of interest may happen in life if one doesn’t transgress from time to time.” Obey and there is no novel, no Pinocchio.
Thanks to Simpler Pastimes for taking my suggestion to feature Pinocchio in her children’s literature event.