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The Myth of Pinocchio

Sfetcu, Nicolae, “The Myth of Pinocchio”, MultiMedia (April 16, 2023), DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.21314.66247, https://www.telework.ro/en/the-myth-of-pinocchio/



Pinocchio is one of the most mediated characters in children’s literature. His story has been adapted into other books, comics and cartoons, and movies. There is a structural similarity between Pinocchio’s adventures and folk tales about unprepared peasants arriving in the city or even in other countries for a better life.


Keywords: Carlo Collodi, Carlo Lorenzini, The Adventures of Pinocchio, Pinocchio, myth


The Myth of Pinocchio

Nicolae Sfetcu




Pinocchio is one of the most mediated characters in children’s literature. His story has been adapted into other books, comics and cartoons, and movies, especially the 1940 Disney movie Pinocchio. (Ferguson et al. 1940)

Fernando Tempesti, a researcher in literature and one of Pinocchio’s best specialists, states that in nineteenth-century Tuscany, “pinocchio” means “little pine,” which would mean in Collodi’s secret language: “little selfish,” similar to the Harlequin of the Florentine comedy dell’arte named Stenterello. (Collodi and Tempesti 2021) The characteristics of the character can be symbolically synthesized, as Gérard Génot did, as “seed” as “filial, infantile value”, “flesh of wood, germination in hardness”. (Genot 1974) Pinocchina , in the popular Florentine language of the time, meant a hen or a small and somewhat full-bodied, but well-proportioned hen. (Battisti and Alessio 1968) Some commentators refer to some Tuscan place names: in Colle, where Collodi was a student of the local seminary of the episcopal college, there was a spring called Fonte del Pinocchio, and others speak of today’s San Miniato Basso, which was called “Pinocchio”, the same name as the brook that flows through the city center. (Vegni 1976)

In the original story, Pinocchio is fundamentally good, naive, and innocent, but Collodi describes him as a rogue, naughty, impertinent, capricious, shameless person who falls prey to temptation and misbehaves even with his father, Geppetto. Pinocchio’s misbehavior is meant to serve as a warning. Collodi originally intended the story to be a tragedy. The first part of it ended with the execution of the puppet.

Pinocchio is a wooden puppet that moves independently. He underwent transformations during the novel, and is often described as wearing a pointed hat, a jacket, and a pair of knee-length colored pants (called “caprietti“). Pinocchio’s nose is his best-known feature. He grows longer when he tells a lie. However, there is an inconsistency, as his nose grows when he is first sculpted by Geppetto, and the second time when he is frustrated by the optical illusion of the painted vessel, while he is very hungry, without Pinocchio lying in these situations.

Some literary analysts have described Pinocchio as an epic hero. Like many Western literary heroes, such as Odysseus, Pinocchio descends into hell; he also experiences rebirth through metamorphosis, a common motif in fantasy literature. (Encyclopedia.com 2013)

Collodi punishes Pinocchio for his lack of moral principles and persistent rejection of responsibility, and for his exclusive desire for fun.

The structure of the story is similar to that of the folk tales of peasants who venture into the world, but are unprepared for what they find and end up in difficult situations. (Zipes 1996, xiii–xv) Collodi thus alludes to the problems arising from the industrialization of Italy, which led to a massive migration of people from villages to cities, and other countries.

The moral of Pinocchio’s adventures is that you have to work, be good, and study. Fulfilling these imperatives ultimately turns Pinocchio into a real boy(Morrissey and Wunderlich 1983, 64–75)

Italo Calvino considers Pinocchio to be the only true picaro in Italian literature, albeit in a fantastic form. (Calvino 1981)

Literary critic Pietro Pancrazi considers him the symbol of an ordinary Tuscan child in the process of maturing. (Pancrazi 1921, 383–388)

Gian Luca Pierotti sees in the novel, and in the figure of Pinocchio, an analogy with certain apocryphal Gospels that tell the story of a turbulent childhood of Jesus. (Pierotti 1980, 5–7) Giacomo Biffi argues that, beyond the secular nature of the author and his own intentions, it is possible to read the events of the puppet in parallel with the history of salvation according to the Catholic creed: ”Pinocchio is the narrative of the creature’s escape from the Creator (as soon as Pinocchio is built, he flees immediately) and his return”. (Biffi 2003) Carlo Alberto Madrignani urges caution in this interpretation: the symbolism that appears in the text is realist popular, in which the magical and symbolic element is certainly present, but does not affect this basic truth. (Madrignani 1980, 383–388)

An esoteric interpretation is based on the fact that Collodi probably belonged to a Florentine Masonic lodge (Collodi and Tempesti 2021, 9–10) and in the novel several symbolic elements belonging to the ancient magical and underground tradition of Italian literature would appear. (Ronchey 2002) From this point of view, Pinocchio is in fact the story of a Masonic initiation. (Poltronieri and Fazioli 2003)] In this sense, Elémire Zolla considers that “Collodi’s Pinocchio is a literary miracle of an almost intolerable esoteric depth”. (Ronchey 2002)

The Myth

The Adventures of Pinocchio is a classic work of nineteenth-century Italian literature. There is a structural similarity between Pinocchio’s adventures and folk tales about unprepared peasants arriving in the city or even in other countries for a better life. (Zipes 1996, xiii–xv)

Georgia Panteli, in From Puppet to Cyborg: Posthuman and Postmodern Retellings of the Pinocchio Myth, emphasizes the fairytale features of the book, (Panteli 2016) aspects also supported by Rossana Dedola in Pinocchio e Collodi (Dedola 2002) and Jack Zipes, (Zipes 1997, 76) arguing by transcribing the different themes / narrative functions that appear in The Adventures of Pinocchio in the coding system introduced by Propp. (Propp 1968)

Pinocchio is seen by other analysts as an epic hero, mimicking the ”annual cycle of vegetative birth, death, and renascence, and they often serve as paradigms for the frequent symbolic deaths and rebirths encountered in literature. Two such symbolic renderings are most prominent: re-emergence from a journey to hell and rebirth through metamorphosis. Journeys to the underworld are a common feature of Western literary epics […] These two figurative manifestations of the death-rebirth trope are rarely combined; however, Carlo Collodi’s great fantasy-epic, The Adventures of Pinocchio, is a work in which a hero experiences symbolic death and rebirth through both infernal descent and metamorphosis. Pinocchio is truly a fantasy hero of epic proportions […] Beneath the book’s comic-fantasy texture—but not far beneath—lies a symbolic journey to the underworld, from which Pinocchio emerges whole.” (Morrissey and Wunderlich 1983, 64–75)

Other critics see it as a training or picaresque apprenticeship novel, with an emphasis on entertainment. (Eco 2009) However, the childhood described by the author is a time when suffering and misery are omnipresent. A realistic presentation, in which social life is marked by violence, oppression, malice and indifference. It turns out that, far from being a children’s story, the novel can also be considered an allegory of modern society, with magical and fantastic elements. In this spirit, Marco Belpoliti considers Pinocchio a “hero of hunger.” (Belpoliti 2003, 773–85)

There are a multitude of other interpretations of Pinocchio (graphic novels: (Ausonia 2006), (Winshluss 2011), (Jensen 2014); modern adaptations: (Morpurgo 2015); cyberpunk: : (Donà 2015); movies: (Spielberg et al. 2001), (Soo-won 2014), (Ferguson et al. 1940); etc.), also helped by the plasticity of the Pinocchio myth, which allows its adaptation in any other context:

“… Pinocchio’s story is about something significant. His magical transformation from puppet to human boy is the result of his hard work: he desires it so strongly that he manages to make the impossible possible. There is something heroic in the core of this story and this is one reason why it acquires mythic dimensions. The Pinocchio myth is not related to classical mythology either; it is a modern myth, yet rich in symbolism and archetypes that evoke connections to older myths and religious motifs.” (Panteli 2016)

arguing the close relationship between myths and fairy tales through Mircea Eliade’s essay, “Myth and Reality” (Eliade 1964, 195–202) in which ” fairy tales are secularised myths that still portray old initiation rites, but in a more hidden way and with the religious elements smoothed down.” (Panteli 2016)

The myth of Pinocchio is used to condemn the culture of violence and consumerism. Collodi successfully appeals to the metaphorical interactions, bipolarities, and ambiguous miracles we encounter in the great Russian writers.

Symbolism is very important in Collodi’s book. It is no coincidence that the material chosen is wood, because some mythologies evoke the idea that the man of wood explains the creation of man. The choice of cricket is not accidental either, as many cultures consider it a bearer of luck and wisdom. And the Fairy symbolizes the role of the mother for Pinocchio, giving him life and appearing every time he needs her. Pinocchio’s journey from home to school is considered by (Mikael 2017) as a metaphor for the path of life.

As in Stanislav Lem’s book Solaris (Lem 2012) and in the screenplay of this novel by Andrei Tarkovsky (Tarkovsky 1972) in which Hari goes through the same drama of becoming as Pinocchio, the internal rhythm of the images is worth highlighting here. The rhythm is not determined by the length of the sequences, but by the pressure of the time that passes through them. (Sfetcu 2019) In a statement articulating the similarities between the Deleuze model and Foucault’s heterotopic model, Deleuze states:

” The time image has the power to affect the way we think by cutting off the ordered flow of chronological time, the continuity upon which the unity and wholeness of the subject is founded. The time image fuels thought and pushes it to the limit where new concepts take shape, and new forms of subjectivity and ways of being in the world atise” (Deleuze 1985)

Pinocchio, a puppet who possesses the natural language and cognitive abilities of a child, but lacks worldly experience, is the message that Collodi conveys to the Italians, making them aware of the obtuse and mechanical cruelty dominant in the real world.


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