Tuesday, June 23, 2009
After 126 years Carlo Collodi's Pinocchio still holds up as a true classic.
"Geppetto, having returned home, began at once to make a puppet, to which he gives the name of Pinocchio."
Every one knows the story of Pinocchio, right? It is one the most cherished classic children books even after being published 126 years ago. So much that it has never been out of print since it was first published in 1883(with the exception of the Bible there are really not that many books that can say that).
But when most people think of Pinocchio they automatically think of the 1940 Disney animated classic. Kind of like when most people think of the Wizard of Oz. They tend to think of the 1939 movie with Judy Garland but not L. Frank Baum's original classic book(which is really a damn shame).
Now don't get me wrong. Disney's version is true classic in animation(as is the 39 Oz though it was flop when it first came out). It stands the test of time as much as Collodi's novel. But sadly, as with most of Disney's adaptations of the classic it is a very watered downed version(and I'm not going to get into that discussion).
That is why it was a real wonder to re-read the original book. And as an added treat with illustrations by Gris Grimly.
Where to start? Well, it starts with "Once upon a time..." or more in fact it starts with a piece of wood. Woodcarver Geppetto brings homes a piece of wood and decides to carve a puppet. And as we know with stories that begin with "Once upon a time..." this puppet comes alive.
At first Geppetto is happy to have a boy, even if it is a puppet as a son. But Pinocchio turns out to be a troublesome boy instead of the well behaved boy Geppetto wishes for. See Pinocchio rather run and play and just have fun than go to school and learn.
As the story progresses he meets up with all sorts of characters, both human and non-human. Both good and bad. There is the Talking Cricket(in the book he never has a name) who tries to set him straight. Tells he should take of his father and behave or face the consequences. Though Pinocchio is having none of that in that he squishes the little critter(how could Disney miss that one?). But it alright, he comes back as a ghost to give more advice whether wanted or not.
As each adventures comes and goes, though he tries to do what is right he is pushed and prodded against his better judgement by those who are only looking out for themselves.
A long the way he meets up with a puppet show, the fox and cat, a blue haired little fairy girl(who grows up to be his fairy godmother), assassins, Death(in the form of 4 black rabbits), becomes a watch dog, finds a city were loafing and begging is not tolerated, a dogfish(not a whale) and other beings who will either help him or try and hurt him.
But for all of the mischief he gets into, Pinocchio really is a kind hearted soul. He does tries try to keep his promises and not to tell lies(it really doesn't happen in the book as near as it does in the movie). But like all of us there is a part of him that wishes to be free to of responsibilities of learning and working. When don't we all at one time or another wish we could just take off with out a care in the world, forget bills, work and just do nothing but play or do nothing at all?
And that is what makes Pinocchio a timeless classic in as much as the original Brother Grimm's tales are.
It is as much a morality play as it is a children's adventures tale. But it is still a much a product of it's time as anything. Why?
It doesn't sugar coat the truth. Or in today's vernacular, it isn't Politically Correct. It shows there are harsh consequences for ones actions especially for children who haven't knowledge or experience to know these things.
What makes Pinocchio so great is that Collodi blends the morals and the adventure side of the book so perfectly. So when your reading it you almost forget there is a moral to the story. You are so invested in Pinocchio's well being you forget there is another meaning underneath the surface.
It's a hard trick for a writer to pull of in any time and Collodi pulls it off like a flawless magic act. Where you are so amazed by the magic you forget it just a trick.
As mentioned above another treat is that this version is gorgeously illustrated by artist Gris Grimly. Gris has done numerous illustration for picture books for other writers as well as his own work. He has done several adaptations of Edger Allen Poe's work in which his style matches Poe's style beautifully.
As he is a perfect match for Poe he is also a perfect match for Pinocchio. Look at the illustration posted here. Pinocchio looks like how a puppet would have been carved in Collodi's time(Disney's version was more in line with the modern version of how puppets look). But it just isn't Pinocchio that looks like a puppet of the time but the illustration as a whole are styled to look like they were done at the time of the books original publication. And thats Grimly's magic, the power to suit his style to the story at hand, enhance the pleasure of the reading but never taking you away from the story.
Between the first and last page the version of Carlo Colldi's Pinocchio is a true treat. If you haven't read this book in years this is the one to pick up. Relive a little bit of your childhood. And if you are only familiar with the Disney's version they you really need to pick this up. See what you missed with Uncle Walt's version. But just don't keep it to yourself, no. Read it your kids, neices, and nephews. It is a perfect gift to add to a kids library at home. One that they will love now as much as they will when the grow up.