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by Bamber Gascoigne

Carlo Collodi (1826-1890) - pseudonym for Carlo Lorenzini


Italian author and journalist, best-known as the creator of Pinocchio, the wooden boy puppet who came to life. His nose grew larger when he told a lie and returned to normal size when he told the truth. The story has inspired many film makers, among them Walt Disney, whose animation from 1943 is well known. The Italian philosopher Benedetto Croce remarked that "the wood out of which Pinocchio is carved is humanity itself". Due to poor copyright protection, Collodi himself did not profit much from his creation.

"Lies, my boy, are known in a moment. There are two kinds of lies, lies with short legs and lies with long noses. Yours, just now, happen to have long noses." (from Adventures of Pinocchio, 1883)

Carlo Collodi was born Carlo Lorenzini in Florence, the son of Domenico Lorenzini, a cook, and Angela Orzali, a servant. They both worked for the Marquis Lorenzo Ginori. Collodi was the first of ten children. Only two of his siblings managed to survive childhood. Much of his childhood the young Carlo spent in the hillside village of Collodi outside of Florence. His father was hardly able to support his large family.

After attending primary school in the village, Collodi was sent with the help of the Marquis Ginori to study for the priesthood at the seminary of Val d'Elsa. However, he had no desire to join the clergy. The most important figure in his youth was Father Zipoli, a scholar and eccentric. While living with him, Collodi learnt to play the piano well.

By the time he was sixteen, Collodi entered the College of the Scolopi Fathers, where he studied philosophy and rhetoric,  and then went to work at the Libera Piatti, a leading bookstore in Florence, which also had a small press. Through his job, as he penned reviews for the bookshops's catalogue, Collodi met a number of intellectuals and writers and developed interest in literature.

When the movement for Italian national unification spread, Collodi plunged into politics. He joined the Tuscan army as a volunteer and participated in the unsuccessful battles of Curtatone and Montanara. At the age of 22, he became a journalist to work for Italian independence struggle against the Austrians. To enlighten the people, he founded the satirical journal Il Lampione (The Street Lamp), which was soon suppressed. His next periodical, La Scaramuccia (The Controversy), was more fortunate, and in 1860 he revived Il Lampione again. Collodi also wrote comedies, which did not have much success. In 1860 he published a booklet titled  Il signor Alberi ha ragione! Dialogo apologetico under the name 'Collodi'. This was the first time he used the pseudonym, taken from his mother's hometown in the Pescia region. Mainly he wrote under the name Lorenzini. Several stories were published in Io Fanfulla, Almanacco per il 1876 and Il Novelliere. The first book that came out under the pseudonym C. Collodi was Macchiette (1879, Sketches), which dealt with Florentine life.

During the Second war of Independence, Collodi served in the cavalry. In 1861, when Italy became a united nation under Giuseppe Garibaldi, Collodi gave up journalism. After 1870 he settled down as a theatrical censor and magazine editor. He turned soon to children's fantasy, translating Italian versions of the fairy tales of the French writer Charles Perrault. It was Perrault who reintroduced such half-forgotten tales as 'Little Red Riding Hood', 'Sleeping Beauty', and 'Puss in Boots'. Collodi also began to write his own children's stories, including a series about a character named Giannettino. To keep up with his growing gambling debts, he wrote a series of elementary school textbooks on commission. In 1881 Collodi left public administration with a pension of 2,200 lire per annum. After a life of drinking and gambling, he went to live with his brother's family and their mother, "to be re-educated, in order to go back to that good child he once was and that she had raised," as his nephew, Paolo Lorenzini jr. said. (The Fabulous Journeys of Alice and Pinocchio: Exploring Their Parallel Worlds by Laura Tosi with Peter Hunt, 2018, p. 41)

Collodi himself never had children and he felt that writing for children was not his true calling; he referred to Storia di un burattino (Story of a Puppet) as "childish twaddle". Originally he was asked in 1881 to write a series of stories for a new children's weekly, Il giornale per i bambini. Trying to end the series, he left the puppet hanging on a tree called Big Oak in the November 10 issue, with "finale" printed at the end. Pinocchio's last words, echoing the words of Christ dying, were: "Oh, Father, dear Father! If you were only here!" Following a storm of protests by parents and young readers alike, Collodi was forced to bring his wooden protagonist back to life. Pinocchio is cut down from his cross and rescued by the Fairy. After the publication off the last instalment in January 1883, the pieces were collected in book form and issued under the title Le avventure di Pinocchio (The Adventures of Pinocchio). It was an immediate success, but not everyone was taken with Pinocchio's antiauthoritatian character: some church fathers were afraid that he would encourage rebellion. – Collodi continued to write almost exclusively for children until his sudden death in Florence on October 26, 1890. At the time he was working on a sequel to the Adventures of Pinocchio. Collodi never married.

Pinocchio begins like a traditional Tuscan tale, in which an old man is telling a story to children. The narrator relates how a carpenter, called Master Cherry,  gives a piece of firewood to his neighbor, an old man called Geppetto. The block can cry and laugh. Hoping to make a living as a puppeteer, Geppetto carves the piece into a child-marionette; he is christened Pinocchio.

Alive in the beginning of the story, the puppet has to learn how to be generous through hard lessons. His feet are burned off, he is chained as a watch dog, almost pan fried, and even hanged by assassins after a long pursuit. "...I am a heedless Marionette--heedless and heartless," Pinocchio says. "Oh! If I had only had a bit of heart..." Eventually Pinocchio ceases to be a Marionette and becomes a boy. The lesson is that "Boys who love and take good care of their parents when they are old and sick, deserve praise even though they may not be held up as models of obedience and good behavior." Original illustration was made by Eugenio Mazzanti (1883), who also illustrated the fables of La Fontaine. The story was translated into English in 1892 by M.A. Murray.

"The Adventures of Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi is the perfect book for any age," the American rock songwriter, singer, and poet Patti Smith has said. "It addresses creation, the war between good and evil, redemption, and transfiguration in one beloved tale." (The Guardian, 19 October 2019)

There are a number of screen adaptations of  the story and endless amount of sequels, even a fascist Pinocchio (Avventure e spedizioni punitive di Pinocchio Fascista, written by Giuseppe Petrai, illustrated by Giove Toppi, 1923), in which the wooden puppet fight communism, and a Soviet Pinocchio, renamed as Buratino (Zolotoy kliuchik ili prikliuchenia Buratino by Aleksey Nikolaevich Tolstoy, 1936). Tolstoy's version is not so much of acquiring individuality as becoming a useful member of society. Giulio Antamoro made a silent film version in 1911. Roberto Benigni's Pinocchio (2002) was cut for the American audience.

Luigi Comencini's film version from 1972, starring Gina Lollobrigina, was more faithful to the somber original story than Walt Disney's animated movie, produced in 1940; it eliminated Collodi's anarchic spirit and references to poverty. Moreover, the Cricket, who is squashed by Pinocchio early  in the book, is resurrected as Jiminy Cricket. The movie, which is among the most innovative that the studio had produced, was a flop when it was first released.

Disney's Geppetto is a toymaker (not a poor woodcarver, as in the book). One day he completes a marionette, Pinocchio. His prayer that the puppet might become a real boy is heard and Blue Fairy gives the marionette life. He is told that he can become a real boy only after he has discovered bravery, truth and unselfishness. Jiminy Cricket is Pinocchio's Conscience. After tricks by J. Worthington Foulfellow and Gideon, Pinocchio is imprisoned by evil puppeteer Stromboli. Pinocchio lies about his circumstances and his nose grows long. On his way to home, Pinocchio is taken by Foulfellow to Coachman's Pleasure Island, where boys are transformed into donkeys for sale. Jiminy saves Pinocchio, but not before the marionette has become part-donkey. Reaching home they discover their friends have been swallowed by the whale Monstro. The two rescue them, but Pinocchio is apparently dead. With the Blue Fairy's radiance Pinocchio comes alive and a real boy.

The story  includes a complex web of moral questions. Critics have noted the contrast between wealth and poverty, references to bourgeois mentality, and distaste for the hypocrisy of the judicial system. When a moralizing cricket – his external conscience – gets in his face, it gets squashed. Collodi's Pinocchio is more selfish and aggressive than Disney's toy boy. Eventually Pinocchio grows from an egoistic child, guided by the pleasure principle, into an adult who understands the feelings of other people. The psychological studies of the story include Freudian analysis of the puppet's nose – of course – and a Jungian approach to 'shadow' figures such as Lampwick.

For further reading: The Fabulous Journeys of Alice and Pinocchio: Exploring Their Parallel Worlds by Laura Tosi with Peter Hunt (2018); Pinocchio Goes Postmodern: Perils of a Puppet in the United States by Richard Wunderlich & Thomas J. Morrissey (2014); The Pinocchio Effect: On Making Italians 1860-1920 by Suzanne Stewart-Steinberg (2007);  Pinocchio Goes Postmodern: Perils of a Puppet in the United States by Richard Wunderlich, Thomas J. Morrissey (2002); When Dreams Came True: Classical Fairy Tales and Their Tradition by Jack Zipes (1999); When Toys Come Alive by Lois Rostow Kuznets (1994); The Pinoccio Catalogue by Richard Wunderlich (1989); Pinocchio - From Picaro to Pipsqueak by Douglas Street in Children's Novels and the Movies (1983) - Sequels: Pinocchio's Nose by Jerome Charyn (1983); Pinocchio in Venice by Robert Coover (1991)

Selected works:

  • Gli amici di casa, 1856
  • Un romanzo in vapore. Da Firenze a Livorno. Guida storico-umoristica, 1856
  • I raconti delle fate, 1876 (translator)
  • I misteri di Firenze, 1857
  • Il signor Alberi ha ragione! Dialogo apologetico, 1860 (as C. Collodi)
  • Giannettino, 1877
  • Minuzzolo, 1878
  • Macchiette, 1879
  • Viaggio per l'Italia di Giannettino 1-3, 1880-86
  • La grammatica di Giannettino, 1883
  • Le avventure di Pinocchio, 1883
    - The Story of a Puppet, or The Adventures of Pinoccio (translated by M.A. Murray, 1892) / The Adventures of Pinocchio (translated by Geoffrey Brock, 2008)
    - Pinocchion seikkailut: kertomus marionetista (suom. Maija Halonen, 1906) / Pitkänenän seikkailut: kertomus puunukesta (suom. Elli Sihvo, 1927) / Pinokkio (suom. Annikki Suni, 1989)
    - Walt Disney's animated film Pinocchio (1940), dir. Hamilton Luske, Ben Sharpsteen. Based on The Adventures of Pinocchio. Voice actors: Mel Blanc (Gideon), Walter Catlett (J. Worthington Foulfellow), Franki Darrow (Lampwick), Cliff Edwards (Jiminy Cricket), Dickie Jones (Pinocchio), Charles Judels (Coachman, Stromboli), Christian Rub (Geppetto), Evelyn Venable (Blue Fairy). 88 mins. - Pinocchio and the Emperor of the Night (1987), dir. by Hal Sutherland. - The Legend of Pinocchio / Die legende von Pinocchio (1996), dir. by Steve Barron, featuring Martin Landau and Jonathan Taylor Thomas. Barron's film departs from the visual style of the Disney adaptation and adds several characters and romantic interest for Gepetto. - Pinocchio (2002), dir. by Roberto Benigni.
  • L'abbaco di Giannettino per le scuole elementari, 1885
  • La geografia di Giannettino, 1886
  • La lanterna magica di Giannettino, 1890
  • Tutto Collodi, per i piccoli e per i grandi, 1948
  • Lo scimmiottino color di rosa e altri racconti, 1969
  • Pipì, o, Lo scimmiottino color di rosa: e altri racconti dal "Giornale per i bambini", 1983 (edited by Fernando Tempesti)
  • Un romanzo in vapore: da Firenze a Livorno: guida storico-umoristica, 1987 (edited by Daniela Marcheschi)
  • I misteri di Firenze, 1988 (edited by Fernando Tempesti)
  • I ragazzi grandi, 1989 (edited by Daniela Marcheschi)
  • Gli amici di casa, 1990 (edited by Daniela Marcheschi)
  • Opere, 1995 (edited by Daniela Marcheschi)
  • Minuzzolo, 2000 (edited by Gianna Marrone)
  • Macchiette, 1010 (foreword by Ernesto Ferrero)
  • Il grillo parlante dell’unità d’Italia: Collodi giornalista, 2011 (edited by Simonetta Bartolini)
  • I racconti delle fate; Storie allegre, 2015 (prefazione di Guido Conti)

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