My exploration of the theme of animating and animated objects (dolls, toys, puppets and such) and that of surrogate families in LW’s books continues as I consider The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi.
The hero of this book starts off as an ordinary log of wood who avoids becoming a table leg by speaking up and being heard. In my experience, if one is taken for a mere object, exercising one’s voice can come across as being impertinent, insolent or even subversive. So it is with this talking log, who is then passed on to a woodcarver named Geppetto who wishes to make a marionette with which he can earn his daily bread. A father-son relationship between Geppetto and his puppet Pinocchio is not immediately established (as in the Disney movie), but develops over the course of the book. But the theme of a created familial relationship is still there, as is that of animation–a piece of wood comes alive and wants to be real.
I can relate, literally. In a previous post, I mentioned my tree nymph heritage. Studying the versions of Pinocchio available to me here–Did I mention that I’ve found at least four of them on my shelves?–I suspect that Pinocchio may be from another branch of my family of animated trees that descends from my ancestress Daphne, of Greek myth fame, among others. I can’t be 100% sure that Pinocchio is my cousin, but he is my brother in spirit.
But I am here to explain some of LW’s interest in the book, which goes beyond those of animating the inanimate or creating surrogate families (subjects which, admittedly, interest me as well.) The copies of the books she currently owns, which I hope to display in my next post, were chosen primarily for their wonderful illustrations. One of them has little of Collodi’s story; it is more of a riff on the general Pinocchio theme. But it was Collodi’s original story which made the book one of her favorites.
When she was in fourth grade, her teacher, the genteel Mrs. Palmer, set aside time each day to read aloud to her class. If more than one book was read aloud during this time, LW has forgotten them; she remembers only Pinocchio, and she remembers it to this day as one of the best examples of sheer storytelling she has ever heard, right up there with that of Bill Cosby and, oh, maybe Cervantes.
LW believes that Mrs. Palmer’s book had some illustrations, but she cannot recall any, perhaps because she was not able to immerse herself in them as she might have with a book of her own. Rather, it was the book’s driving narrative of close calls and escapes that stayed with her over the years. She particularly loved how each chapter begins with a preview of action to come, such as:
Chapter 6 – “Pinocchio falls asleep with his feet on a foot warmer, and awakens the next day with his feet all burnt off,” and
Chapter 15 – “The Assassins chase Pinocchio, catch him, and hang him to the branch of a tree.” and
Chapter 17 – “Pinocchio eats sugar, but refuses to take medicine. When the undertakers come for him, he drinks the medicine and feels better. Afterwards, he tells a lie and, in punishment, his nose grows longer and longer.”
Furthermore, Mrs. Palmer would close each session by reading the next chapter’s preview, offering just enough information to leave her class hungry for more.
Collodi’s humor, irreverence, and fast pacing were precursors to those of the comics and cartoons of the 20th century and remain surprisingly fresh even now. Much of the appeal of the book to LW (and, no doubt, her classmates) was that Pinocchio’s adventures were very much like those of her favorite cartoon characters. She spent long hours of her youth in the company of Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester the Cat, Wile E. Coyote, and other scamps very much in Pinocchio’s mold, and those rascals survived worse scrapes than the puppet’s. So Pinocchio’s being burned and hanged and nearly digested did not faze her; she assumed Pinocchio could and would bounce back to meet his next challenge.
Also, Pinocchio’s character was like that of actual children, kids (such as herself) who avoided schoolwork and chores, who lost books, took shortcuts, loved sweets and hated medicine, and who could be careless, irresponsible, irreverent, and lured by cheap amusements. Children who stole, cheated, and lied. He was a child whose fate concerned her, for he was one of them. He was real.
Pinocchio fits another favorite category of LW’s, what she calls “on the lam” books, books in which the main character hides out while moving from place to place, usually in a series of close escapes and preferably with lots of money at his or her disposal. (Robert Ludlum novels featuring such types got her through tough times in the late ’70s). Pinocchio had a knack for escape and survival. That, and a growing sense of relationship and responsibility to others, transformed him into a real boy.
There is a picture in one of LW’s Pinocchio books, a particularly beautiful volume illustrated by Roberto Innocenti, of “real boy” Pinocchio standing on one side of a chair and his father Geppetto on the other. Flopped against the chair, devoid of life, is his old wooden puppet body. Looming up behind him on the wall is his shadow–but the shadow has a long sharp nose. LW thinks the picture is interesting. She’s into shadows. I find the picture disturbing myself and would discuss it more, but the computer just told me he needs to sleep.
Please return for my next posts, in which I will share some pictures of our Pinocchio books and hopefully will not have turned into a donkey.