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O Puppet, Where Art Thou?: The Transformations of Pinocchio

From: Children's Literature
Volume 32, 2004
pp. 226-230 | 10.1353/chl.2004.0019

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Children's Literature 32 (2004) 226-230

The Transformations of Pinocchio

Philip Nel

Pinocchio Goes Postmodern: Perils of a Puppet in the United States, by Richard Wunderlich & Thomas J. Morrissey. New York and London: Routledge, 2002.

With the possible exception of chapter seven (more on that later), this book is not about postmodern Pinocchio. Happily, Pinocchio Goes Postmodern offers a richer and broader analysis than its title suggests. Tracking the "Perils of a Puppet in the United States," Wunderlich and Morrissey examine the transformations of Carlo Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) from its first English translation (Mary Alice Murray, 1891) up to the present day. The breadth of research is impressive; in what must have involved reading hundreds of Pinocchios, Wunderlich and Morrissey chart differences across many dramatic adaptations, translations, editions, sequels by other authors, and films from Disney's Pinocchio to Drew Carey's Geppetto. In fact, Pinocchio Goes Postmodern is the definitive study of the American lives of Collodi's puppet-boy.

Analyzing over a century's worth of Pinocchios, the authors read for the ways in which these versions reflect and respond to the ideological and historical conditions under which they were produced. In doing so, Wunderlich and Morrissey find the abridged versions marketed to schools particularly troubling. As they explain, the Ginn edition of Cramp's translation (1904) was more didactic, omitted references to social class, removed criticism of adults and was "skewed towards industrial moralism" (40). This school edition of Pinocchio responds critically to growing labor unrest, "provid[ing] guidance not only for the child's future work role, but also for the way the child's parents are supposed to act towards their own employers" (39). Where that edition helps teach children to be obedient workers, Pinocchio in Africa (1903) reinforces messages about the superiority of white people. The book, a continuation by Eugenio Cherubini (also published by Ginn), made its American appearance in 1911 and was being sold to American elementary schools through 1953—the year before Brown vs. Board of Education, as Wunderlich and Morrissey point out. As "an apologist for the colonial project," Pinocchio in Africa "is a clear example of a reactionary ideology being foisted upon children by adult authorities" (146).

The authors especially dislike versions such as these because they themselves view the original Pinocchio as a fundamentally subversive text. In faithful translations of Collodi's book, Pinocchio wrestles with difficult choices, develops from child to adult, must make his way in the absence of reliable adults, and learns to cope in a corrupt society. For instance, when Pinocchio goes to the Courts of Justice to report the Cat and the Fox for stealing his money, the Gorilla judge sends him—not the Cat and the Fox—to jail. Citing this scene, Wunderlich and Morrissey write, "Collodi's critique of civil authority [...] is scathing and unrelenting. There is not a single competent, compassionate or decent civil authority figure in the novel" (23). The only way for Pinocchio to be released from prison is to lie, claiming that he is a criminal so that he can be included in the Emperor's amnesty for prisoners. So, far from being a tale that preaches against lying, Pinocchio "suggests that lying versus telling the truth is not as straightforward as it might appear" (18). Further, Pinocchio Goes Postmodern suggests, the original story's appeal lies in its willingness to depict difficult realities, and in the agency it gives its "antiauthoritarian hero" (203) to address those realities.

Wunderlich and Morrissey argue that the absence of these qualities in post-1940 translations and retellings has led to a sharp decline in the tale's popularity. The title of chapter four (which, like all of their chapter titles, playfully parodies Collodi's) expresses this thesis most succinctly: "At the Height of Pinocchio's Renown, Change Intrudes, Pretenders Emerge, and Impostors Seize His Identity: 1930-1940." Though by no means the first to seize Pinocchio's identity, Disney popularized some key distortions that dominate the popular perception of Pinocchio to this day: the cricket lives (Collodi's Pinocchio kills the cricket), adults become kind, and Pinocchio does not grow up but...

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