There was once upon a time…
“A king!” my little readers will instantly exclaim.
No, children, you are wrong. There was once upon a time a piece of wood.
The above is from the beginning of the NYRB Classic edition of Carlo Collodi’s Pinochio, an edition I learned about from John Power’s very interesting NPR essay, “Collodi’s Brooding, Subversive ‘Pinochio.’” A tale that has long intrigued me, I’ve a number of beautifully illustrated editions. And it is a tale, as Powers notes, that can surprise as Collodi’s wooden boy is nothing like Disney’s. The title character is accurately described in the NYRB catalog as’”… one of the great subversives of the written page, a madcap genius hurtled along at the pleasure and mercy of his desires, a renegade who in many ways resembles his near contemporary Huck Finn.” They go on to write:
Pinocchio the novel, no less than Pinocchio the character, is one of the great inventions of modern literature. A sublime anomaly, the book merges the traditions of the picaresque, of street theater, and of folk and fairy tales into a work that is at once adventure, satire, and a powerful enchantment that anticipates surrealism and magical realism. Thronged with memorable characters and composed with the fluid but inevitable logic of a dream, Pinocchio is an endlessly fascinating work that is essential equipment for life.
I completely agree with all save the last bit (as I think you can do just fine in life without having read any story); to read it today is to be thrown into a truly bizarre world of story. Originally written as a serial it shows — Pinocchio lurches from one adventure to another. He’s a pretty nasty piece of live wood for much of the book, mean and often quite deserving of the consequences of his bad behavior. He whines and is repeatedly forgiven by some adults (say that fairy and, of course, the poor carpenter) who love him unreservedly — those perfect parents who love their child no matter how he behaves. A completely fascinating work of literature.