The honest truth about Pinocchio

by Loretta N. Di Vita

Tuscany’s most famous liar

Some fictional characters seem to live forever. Take, for instance, Pinocchio—marionette-turned-boy—whose tell-tale extendable nose gives him away every time he tells a lie. Pinocchio was first introduced in the 1800s by Florentine writer Carlo Lorenzini (1826-1890)—better known by the pen name Carlo Collodi—in a series for an Italian children’s journal. Eventually, the writer grew weary of his character and killed him off (Arrivederci, Pinocchio!) By popular demand (and his editor’s nudgings), Collodi was forced to bring the dowel-nosed rascal back to life. The series eventually led to The Adventures of Pinocchio, a novel published in 1883.

The turn of events was a lucky strike; not just for the author and the Tuscan literary community, but for the world, as it has become one of the most translated and widely read books ever. Laura Tosi, English Literature professor and a Pinocchio devotee at the Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, describes the novel as a universal story of transformation about gaining consciousness and conscience. In other words, it’s about growing up. And who can’t relate to that? A literary classic, the story of Pinocchio has been retold and reinterpreted artistically throughout the years. Without a doubt, the most notable and influential adaptation is the 1940 Disney movie, Pinocchio. This whitewashed take on Collodi’s darker spin replaces the lanky, pointy-hatted renegade with a cuddly toddler dressed in lederhosen (Disney’s nod to German Grimms’ fairy tales.)

Tosi, for one, isn’t fazed by the reinvention of the first Pinocchio, as it “underlines the extreme adaptability and portability of this character across space and time.” She is bothered, though, by the fact that outside of Italy, “some people think Pinocchio is a Disney ‘original,’ and have never heard of Collodi!”

And yet, Pinocchio’s ancestral roots run deep, and today he is practically regarded as a national hero in Italy. It’s the Tuscans who are especially proud, since the character was ‘born and bred’ in Florence. In fact, Tuscany is chock-full of tributes – from commonplace, to official – saluting the celebrity puppet.

Throughout the region, tourists will find ubiquitous souvenir shops selling loads of Pinocchio-centric ware. In Lucca, a great oak tree said to have inspired the famous hanging scene from the original story has been designated a national monument. In Collodi’s mother’s native town of Collodi (hence the pen name), fans flock to Pinocchio Park – a sort of Pinocchio Neverland, featuring a fantastical sea creature water installation (an insider reference to the giant dogfish that swallowed Pinocchio).

As testament to how entrenched Collodi’s protagonist is in the Italian consciousness, in 1962, the National Carlo Collodi Foundation was established to protect the Pinocchio brand. According to spokesperson Roberto Vezzani, “Pinocchio is a source of pride for Italians because millions of readers around the world continue to be amused and fascinated by the mischievous puppet.” The iconic character may have sprung from the vibrant imagination of a Tuscan writer, but the legendary tale of good overcoming bad still strikes a chord with readers across the world.