It is always a dicey affair to criticise a popular book: and when it is an acknowledged classic for children, it is even more dangerous. So I agonised a lot over my impressions of Pinocchio
: Is it only a matter of personal taste? Am I missing something? Should I rethink my rating based on learned opinions spanning more than a century? In the end, I decided to go with my original evaluation.
This is one of those stories you read and love in comics format or abridged versions before you come into contact with the original. What usually happens is that, those adaptations modify and trim the original tale to suit the sensibilities of the current generation. I also read Pinocchio
as a comic book and loved it; however, on reading the original, I find that many of the "creepier" elements had been edited out of that version.
I do not love moral fables for children. The type of story where, for example, the disobedient little lamb is gobbled up by the big, bad wolf, crying with his last breath: "Oh! If I had only listened to my mother!" is terrifying to kids (I speak from personal experience). They are equivalent to the posters of hell which some people were fond of hanging in their drawing rooms during my childhood. In the nineteenth century, when Collodi wrote his story, one can easily understand that this must have been an accepted method of keeping children in line: by frightening them out of their wits. I do not think the modern world will look kindly on that method.
It is not that creepiness by itself is bad. Many fairy tales are frightening, with their suggestions of cannibalism, patricide, incest, torture etc. The difference between the fairy tale and the moral fable is that the fairy tale is a live entity, growing, shrinking and changing shape while travelling from mouth to mouth; the messages are subliminal, interacting with the child's subconscious. The moral fable on the other hand, is "purposeful" - there is a message ("if you do this, then this
will happen!") which the author wants to drum into the child's head, usually by using fear as a tool. It is the narrative equivalent of the schoolmaster's swishing cane.
Collodi's story, taken by itself, has many wonderful elements of dark fantasy (the huge Dogfish which swallows ships whole, the snake with a tail which smokes like a chimney, the little white man who converts boys to donkeys and sells them...) and could have made a wonderful fairy tale. However, the moralising on almost every page of what happens to bad boys who do not obey their parents, do not study and tell lies takes all the fun out of it: the voice of the narrator, coming out through various parental figures, becomes sickening. What crowned the whole thing for me was the death of poor Candlewick, Pinocchio's friend, after short life of back-breaking labour as a donkey. Yuck!. I was happy when the story ended.
I would recommend reading it to children with the morality edited out: but why bother? There are better books out there. Or let them read it as a comic book, or watch the Disney movie.