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THE DESECRATION OF PINOCCHIO IN THE UNITED STATES1 Richard Wunderlich and Thomas J. Morrissey What is the cruelest fate a literary classic might suffer? To be neglected, forgotten, or lost? No, crueler still is when it is debased and trivialized and then remembered. Such is the fate of Pinocchio in the United States. The irony here is that everyone knows about Pinocchio, yet what they know is not the original but some adaptation confused with the original. The newer Pinocchio is tolerated as a cute or idle children's tale, and nothing more, because that is just what it has become. Perhaps simple ignorance explains this circumstance. Is the original not available? Hardly! From 1900 to 1980 American publishers have issued at least one or two translations a year, and probably no library is without a copy. Then what explains this circumstance? While young children (in our limited experience) delight in the original, their parents do not. They reject it and deem it unfit. The original Pinocchio is no longer a proper child's story. We find this tragic because Pinocchio has more to say to children than almost anything produced as children's literature over the last half century. In our view the social definition of childhood has changed since 1890, and Pinocchio has been changed to accommodate it. As a sociological study, Pinocchio is unique: it provides an original and a series of dated adaptations marking and dating the transformation of accepted imagery. Collodi's original is rejected by the public because it portrays childhood in an older imagery, an imagery defining children as little adults or adults-in-becoming. Such a definition allows children to have emotions and concerns which contemporary psychology attests they do have. Unfortunately, for a protracted period of time beginning in the earlier part of this century, the more unacceptable psychological realities — hatred, jealousy, unbridled agression, sexual desire, and the like — were relegated to adulthood, having been deemed unsuited to children. This change in the image of childhood, that is the adult view of how children understand themselves and their world, exhibits itself in a wide range of modern children's books. Although psychological realism has returned to children's literature in the works of writers such as Maurice Sendak, Louise Fitzhugh, and Judy Blume, it has been slow to reassert itself in the facile truncations of Collodi's masterpiece. Copyright (C) 1981 by Richard Wunderlich and Thomas J. Morrissey. Our paper, summarizing two years of research, must, of necessity, be concise. In an attempt to understand Pinocchio ' s evolution, we have reviewed scores of translations and adaptations; in addition, we conducted a survey of several hundred college students in an effort to learn how they, as products of American culture, perceive Pinocchio. From these studies, we know that Pinocchio was transformed gradually and systematically, and that this change was a response to an emerging definition of children and what was deemed appropriate for them. It is sometimes contended that Walt Disney's film created the later changes in Pinocchio. We shall, therefore, demonstrate that the transformation began prior to Disney, that the fundamental changes often attributed to him were created independently by others prior to or simultaneously with him, and that most later adaptations do not in fact demonstrate his influence. The adaptive changes throughout, and the Pinocchio of today, are a product of a newer imagery of the child, one that is probably not beneficial to children but which is positively lethal to the literature to which it is exposed· For Collodi the world of children is as complex and challenging as the world of adults; in fact, it is the same world seen from different perspectives . The popularity of the original Pinocchio in Italy and the subsequent success of faithful translations in Britain and North America show that in the 1880' s, and for some time thereafter, the reading public shared Collodi's view of childhood. During the 1920' s , however, a newer concept of childhood began to emerge in America, one in which children are believed to live in Elysian phantasy, insulated from external and internal reality. As a result, Pinocchio changes in three distinct ways. First, childhood terrors...


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pp. 106-118
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