As a puppet Pinocchio was unique and fascinating, as a boy he is a commonplace

Figurine Bob Mollema

He didn’t like the church, he also renounced marriage, he had hardly any friends. He was the eldest of ten children, seven of whom died young. Carlo Lorenzini (1826-1890) lived with her until his mother’s death, after which he moved in with a brother. He wrote under the pseudonym Carlo Collodi Stories of a burattinoin other words Story of a puppetwhich was published in an Italian children’s newspaper Giornale per i bambini. This puppet is called Pinocchio.

Since the publication of that first serial in 1881, Pinocchio has come down to us in countless versions. As is the case with copies, the original was often no more than a starting point. For example, the fact that Pinocchio’s nose grows when he lies is just one of many details in the original book.

Also for whom the recently released movie Pinocchio (2022) by Mexican director Guillermo del Toro (58) it pays to read the source text first. If you have children, you can also please them with the translation by Pietha de Voogd and beautiful drawings by Sjaak Rood, published by Uitgeverij Novecento.

As the Bible begins with the creation of heaven and earth, so it begins Story of a puppet with a resisting piece of wood that comes into the possession of Gepetto, a poor short-tempered man with a yellow wig. Gepetto hopes to scrape together his own food and drink with the help of a homemade marionette, while Del Toro’s film tells the story of a father, a woodcarver by trade, who makes a wooden puppet to replace his son who was killed in a bombing during the Second World War. World War I has died.

There was no room for such sentimentalism in Collodi’s original version. After fifteen episodes of Pinocchio’s adventures have been published in the children’s newspaper, the puppet comes to a rough end. Two murderers, who are consistently called murderers and are addressed by Pinocchio as Gentlemen Murderers, hang the doll from ‘an incredibly tall tree’.

Gentlemen Killers, of course, is great. Lorenzini may have been a moralist, but his sardonic wit makes him immortal.

Hanging is no sinecure. After three hours of dangling, Pinocchio is still alive and then the killers, who, as befits serious killers, have more to do, say, “When we come back tomorrow, we hope you have the decency to be stone dead.”

That’s decency for some people and some puppets: to be stone dead yourself. That was the case in Italy in the 19th century and nothing has changed.

The readers of the serial found the death of Pinocchio unpalatable, they especially wanted to read more adventures about the puppet. The writer met the readers ‘after some pleading’ and in 1882 Collodi made another 21 new episodes. To raise Pinocchio from the dead, he invented a beautiful girl with blue hair who turns out to be a fairy. This fairy fulfills several functions in Pinocchio’s life, she first becomes his sister, later his mother, above all it is her task to save the puppet in a miraculous way.

Pinocchio regularly addresses the fairy as ‘fairy’. Especially when he is in distress: ‘O dear Fairy! Oh sweet fairy! Say it’s you, it’s really you! Don’t make me cry again!’ She saves him again and again and in return she receives love. Perhaps that’s the best summary of any parent-child relationship, until the point comes when the parent can no longer save the child.

The serial – in 1887 it appeared in book form under the title The Adventures of Pinocchio, the Story of a Puppet – ends with the transformation of Pinocchio. After he turns out not to be work-shy, he no longer sees a ‘wooden doll’ in the mirror, but a ‘handsome boy with auburn hair and blue eyes’. It then becomes another idyll between son and father, who seems to have overcome his own hot temper in an enigmatic way. Pinocchio is cured of laziness, playfulness and some vulgar nihilism. Incidentally, he lived in a world where these follies were the rule rather than the exception. Compared to the deeds of the gentleman killers, the puppet’s mischievous pranks should charm even a moral knight. Many an adventure novel, see Don Quixote, ends with the adventurer’s ‘healing’. Which always raises the question of how desirable that healing is.

You can end it Pinocchio easy to read as a lesson, and as life lessons are, not a particularly surprising one. Because he has adapted to the norms of civilization – and that civilization, of course, exists by virtue of advancing insight – Pinocchio receives an entrance ticket to humanity.

This adjustment was enforced with the necessary violence. Humanity tickets are not free, at least not for everyone.

But this lesson also has a downside. It cannot have escaped the attention of the reader (and the viewer): as a puppet Pinocchio was unique and fascinating, as a handsome and intelligent boy he is a commonplace. He looks at the doll his ‘father’ has carved out of wood and thinks: ‘How glad I am to be a careful little boy now!’

That ends the book, the Incarnation is the end of the adventure. There is nothing more to say about the careful little boy named Pinocchio.

Translator De Voogd emphasizes that the adventures of Pinocchio must be understood in the era of the Risorgimento, ‘a democratic movement that strived for the unification of Italy’ that ended in 1870. Like Germany, Italy was late in becoming a nation state, before unification it was a patchwork of kingdoms, duchies, vassal states, dwarf states and the Papal States. Lorenzini was also sensitive to the Risorgimento and volunteered in 1848 for the struggle for independence against Austria. It leads De Voogd to suggest that Pinocchio’s incarnation may contain a political exhortation: ‘Go to school, understand each other’s language, make an effort to unite this deeply divided country.’

To what extent their late unification has made Germany and Italy extra susceptible to fascism remains an open question. At most you can say that fascism is the superlative of unification, every difference must be erased.

Del Toro’s movie Pinocchiocreated by Kevin Toma in de Volkskrant was called an ‘uncompromising, moving and crazy treat’, is set in fascist Italy. Mussolini has a supporting role with the main text: ‘Shoot the puppet.’ I think it would have been more interesting, and more perilous, if Del Toro had set his Pinocchio in Trump’s America.

Del Toro’s fascination for fascism was already evident in his very successful film Pan’s Labyrinth (2006). In that film, Spanish fascism and a girl’s imagination merge into a sultry melange in which fascism itself turns out to be a gruesome fairy tale that accidentally came true. Besides that movie poses Pinocchio a bit disappointed, fascism has become a piece of scenery here, the fascist a somewhat lifeless puppet. Perhaps the latter is reassuring for the anti-fascist, but little more than that.

Every retelling of Collodi’s story confronts us with the question of exactly how we should imagine Pinocchio as a puppet. Doesn’t a puppet presuppose a puppeteer? Is Pinocchio his own puppeteer? A question that De Voogd also asks: how should this be done burattino be translated? Puppet doll? Puppet? Del Toro chose not to work with actors, but to make a stop-motion film starring puppets. Those dolls are currently on display at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York.

The German writer Heinrich von Kleist (1777-1811) wrote a short, mysterious text entitled About the puppet theatre. During a walk through the park, the narrator recognizes a famous dancer who is making waves in the opera world at that time. He addresses him and asks why he enjoys the marionette theater on the market place, where the ‘rabble’ amuses themselves with ‘dramatic burlesques’. The dancer explains that the marionettes have a grace that is often lacking in human dancers. He formulates the requirements of ‘artistic skill’ as follows: ‘Equality, mobility, lightness.’ In addition, he believes that the puppet, unlike humans, never behaves because the soul is ‘in the center of gravity of the movement’.

It is doubtful whether Lorenzini ever read this text, but Pinocchio can be understood as an elaboration of Kleist’s notes. Pinocchio is even (his aversion to school and work accompanies him as long as he is a puppet, until he converts to work at the very end), agile (he is constantly on the move) and light (he refuses to take suffering more seriously than is strictly necessary). ). Eventually he becomes human, making him a poser, at which point Collodi breaks off his story. The story of the posers has been told enough already.

As mentioned, Del Toro’s storyline is a bit affected, but technically the film has reached a perfection that at least partly underlines Kleist’s right. The puppets, filmed frame by frame, are more graceful than the people: those who walk around the MoMa seem to really understand something of the remarkable, great, sometimes fatal love that can arise between man and doll, a love that fascism its appearances are used time and time again.

In the catalog accompanying the exhibition, Del Toro says that two ‘myths’ are essential to him, Frankenstein and Pinocchio.

Both myths, if that’s the word, are about man’s attempts to create life outside the womb, outside of woman. Only in the museum did it dawn on me that neither the book (except for that curious fairy) nor Del Toro’s film actually feature a woman. And in both the film and the book, the relationship between father and son is slightly glorified. When Pinocchio is reunited with his father, the fairy no longer has a function (her character is actually the least successful, precisely because it is so obvious that she is instrumental). Sexuality does not play a role either. Nothing human is strange to Pinocchio, except for horniness. The puppet theater is not alone a man’s worldit is also a sexless world.

Of course, those attempts to create life without a woman can be understood as an escape from mortality. And maybe that’s why the sexuality, which emphasizes mortality, is missing. Del Toro and Collodi both toy with the question: What is the price of immortality? Yes, what is immortality?

In times of artificial intelligence, the story of Pinocchio has only become more compelling. The age of man with its stubborn and great illusions about individuality, freedom and uniqueness is slowly coming to an end.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The future belongs to the puppet. Both Heinrich von Kleist and Carlo Collodi pose this question: who is more puppet, the doll or the human?

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