Children’s books are meant to be universal. Or are they? It is sometimes said that Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland” doesn’t travel well in Italy and that Carlo Collodi’s “Pinocchio” similarly doesn’t do too well in the UK.
Certainly, the Walt Disney versions of the two immortal stories display greater divergences for Pinocchio than for Alice, making him a less objectionable character than the original, perhaps to satisfy an Anglo-Saxon market. It must also be remembered that in the original Pinocchio version the puppet came to a sticky end by being executed. No blue-haired fairy had entered the story then!
I suspect that the different ways these books are supposedly received in the two countries has more to do with adult attitudes than with the children readers.
Of the two books the moral dimension is rather more emphasised in “Pinocchio”. Three dictums above all, resound: “Children, obey your parents!” “Children – school is good for you!” “Children always tell the truth!” In fact, most of Pinocchio’s misadventures arise from his neglecting these precepts. Alice, on the other hand, can’t stand reading books without conversations or illustrations and most of the characters she meets in Wonderland seem to turn moral judgements on their heads. Alice is forever questioning their principles and actions: why should she have her head chopped off? Why do Tweedledum and Tweedledee have to fight? …and so on?
In short, Alice’s two adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass are a self-realisation, through (very logical – the author was primarily a mathematician) nonsense while Pinocchio’s adventures are a self-realisation through common-sense by an author who was very sensitive to the role young Italians would have to play in the new nation. Thus, Alice is a real-life girl who successfully vanquishes attempts to turn her into a “puppet” at others’ mercy while Pinocchio starts off as being a marionette (puppet with strings on) at the pull-and-push of one and all but who (happily in the final book version) embraces his true identity as a real boy.
Pinocchio has become irremediably embedded in Italian converse. “Don’t be a puppet!” “Your nose has grown!” are two expressions derived from the book which one often meets in everyday conversation. The fact is that Italy had been a nation for less than twenty years when Collodi’s tale was published in 1881 as a serial in Il Giornale per i Bambini, the country’s first children’s newspaper. Emphasis on education was essential for a young Italy to mould itself into a modern state –to create Italians literally speaking the same language (and not their local dialect) for the first time. De Amici’s’ Cuore, published not long after Le Avventure di Pinocchio in 1886, is another classic example of this moralistic-adventurous-nationalist trend in children’s literature in that age.
If the Lake District is marketed as “Wordsworth” country then surely the area around Bagni di Lucca should be “Pinocchio” country. Carlo Collodi’s mother worked as a housekeeper at the palace of Collodi over the Trebbio pass from Bagni, and from which place the author took his pen name (his actual surname was Lorenzini).
The Pinocchio Park in Collodi, often slated for not being an up-to-date theme park, should rather be regarded as a memorial to the author and his most famous character. Bagni di Lucca features in a roundabout way in the book as “il paese dei balocchi” (Toyland or the garden of pleasures) since in Collodi’s time it was the demi-mondaine centre of fun and games, particularly gambling. This allusion was acknowledged in its festival with the same name, earlier this year at Bagni di Lucca and organized by its indefatigable resident journalist, Marco Nicoli .
If Alice and Pinocchio are supposedly to be distinguished by children’s different cultural emphases the real test would be to get children from Italy and the UK to read (or re-read!) these books and then have them discuss them. It would be a most interesting debate!
Incidentally, it was during our first Christmas season here in 2005 our local Teatro Accademico put on a lively Pinocchio musical from which I took these photographs: