Up until this past week, my knowledge of Pinocchio was limited to a Little Golden Book version of the Disney cartoon, which I received for Christmas when I was in first or second grade. I liked the colors, but beyond that the story never grabbed me.
Well, last week I read Pinocchio, The Adventures of a Little Wooden Boy by Carlo Collodi. I read a twenty-five-year-old paperback that used a translation and illustrations (by Richard Floethe) from a 1946 edition.
I read the book because I wanted some material on Pinocchio for the second A Girl, a Boy, and a.... book, which I'm presently working on. If I need a sentence of material, I spend hours on-line researching. I wanted to do a chapter related to Pinocchio so, of course, I felt it was necessary to read an entire book.
Fortunately, Pinocchio is an extremely interesting read. Some people, I'm sure, would find it very moral, maybe even preachy. Boys who won't go to school and choose to do whatever they want turn into donkeys. And that is bad, very bad. Lazy puppets are chastised. I wondered if there wasn't a biblical thing going on with Pinocchio being a prodigal son who goes his own way, has a great time, and suffers for it until he returns to his father. And just how many cases of a person being swallowed by a whale can you find in western literature? Or any literature at all, for that matter?
What saves the book is Pinocchio. The kid--or puppet--is hopeless. He seems unteachable. He gets into one mess after another. He means to mend his ways, but then another stupid scheme comes his way, and he falls for it. And talk about bending to peer pressure. If there's a bad crowd anywhere in the area, Pinocchio will find and join it.
This guy gets into truly horrific situations. At one point he is strung up in a tree and left for dead. (Being a puppet, he survives but just barely.) After he becomes a donkey, his owner decides to kill him and use his hide to make a drum. How does he plan to do the dirty deed? He ties a rope around donkey Pinocchio's neck and throws him off a cliff into the ocean so he will drown. When he pulls what he thinks will be a dead donkey out of the water, he finds that fish have eaten away the donkey's flesh leaving the puppet boy unscathed.
You don't find adventures like that in just any kids' book.
I'm sure I'm not giving anything away to say that in the end Pinocchio becomes a real boy. But he's rewarded with humanity not because he finally learned to be well-behaved, but because he had a good heart.
I know one mother who would have been happy to read that book with her wild little good-hearted guys.
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