PINOCCHIO: A walk in the Garden of Forking Paths
I am convinced that it sometimes happens to each and every one of us that we deep down inside quite often reflect upon our self-image and realize that it is not quite in harmony with the views of people we have to interact with, or more specifically - it varies. One of the many bosses I have had, once confessed to me: "Jan, sometimes I am surprised of how good and talented I actually may be, but ... then there are times, well, you know ... when nothing is working at all, and ..." She shrugged her shoulders and I was amazed by her candor.
As a teacher, I am daily subjected to critical scrutiny, thus I have become well aware of the fact that I do not measure up. I know and feel that many of my students consider both me and my teaching to be confusing and unstructured, "fuzzy" might be the right word. Where is the target orientation that the National School Administration is demanding from me? “Each student must be assessed in accordance with previously established goals and requirements. It is the teacher's task to clarify these objectives and to regularly inform the students about where they find themselves in relation to the requirements. Accordingly, it is also the teachers´ duty to plan their teaching in accordance with the established criteria.”
However, is it only me who is fuzzy? The Curriculum for the upper secondary school states that "the task of the school is to encourage all students to discover their own uniqueness as individuals", it will "help students to develop an identity that can be related to and encompass not only what is specifically Swedish, but also that which is Nordic, European, and ultimately global." Own uniqueness? Is not our uniqueness our own, and after all, what is really unique? What is “specifically Swedish”? The school “should promote the development and learning of students, and a lifelong desire to learn. Education should impart and establish respect for human rights and the fundamental democratic values on which Swedish society is based. The education should be based on scientific grounds and proven experience." Scientific grounds? Proven experience? Is science an irrefutable concept? Which experiences are not "proven"? In addition, the National School Administration states all “teaching should be adapted to each student’s circumstances and needs”. Does this apply to teachers as well? Does it apply to me? A person who is neither particularly clear-headed, nor focused.
And what about the phrase a "lifelong desire to learn"? How can such a desire be target oriented and proven? To me it is gratifying to try to find my way on my own, the pleasure of getting lost and discover new things. As Picasso stated: "I do not seek, I find." When I write a blog post it is like entering a forest where I constantly run the risk of getting lost, but where I am discovering new things. That is the way I learn.
My third year, upper secondary class has recently been engaged in scrutinizing and interpreting fairy tales. Furthermore they were recently troubled by a national exam dealing with the subject. Biking home from school I took a turn to visit the supermarket to buy some stuff to take with me home. I left with Disney's Pinocchio, which I bought on sale for a few dollars and I have now watched the movie, it was far from being the first time. It had its bright moments, the animation is masterful and the music gets stuck in the mind. However, I do not at all appreciate the cheesy song with its pesky lie:
When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you
It was instead the pleasing tunes Little Wooden Heart and Hi Diddle Dee which stayed with me the entire evening and still linger while I write these lines. While watching the movie I came to think about the correction templates that accompanied the national exams and hinted that The Walt Disney Company has distorted and market adapted the classic fairy tales, whereby an original depth has been smoothed out and multi-faceted aspects have been simplified. Well … I do not quite agree with that opinion. I assume that fairy tales are not carved in stone. Is it not part of the nature of a fairy- or folk tale that it is dynamic and open to all sorts of use and interpretation? To my knowledge, not even the Curriculum for the upper secondary school is eternal and incorruptible.
Nevertheless, Carlo Collodi's novel Pinocchio is indeed something entirely different from Disney's version of his tale. Like all true fairy tales it has mysterious and elusive qualities. At times it is frightening, sometimes charming, from time to time cynical and hard, but occasionally it is also alluring and emotional. Most children and adults who read Pinocchio are attracted by its unpredictability, its wealth of incidents; my appreciation was even further reinforced when I in the early eighties came across Italo Calvino's article, Pinocchio, The Evergreen Centenarian, in the UNESCO Courier, a magazine that now has become a pathetic remnant of what it once was.
Calvino pointed out that when Pinocchio was written it was unique in Italian literature. Among other things, Pinocchio may be characterized as a picaresque, a genre which had been quite rare among Italian writers. Collodi's children’s´ book is written in a spirit similar to the Spanish Don Quixote and Lazarillo de Tormes, which consist of short episodes held together by a traveling vagabond who is being confronted with a large gallery of characters from different social settings. Like the Spanish novels, Pinocchio is mostly set among poor people in seedy taverns, cemeteries and execution grounds.
However, in Pinocchio, contrary to what use to be the case in picaresque novels, supernatural creatures and occurrences interfere with the action; animals talk and behave like humans, intermingling with ghosts, fairies, monstrous snakes and enormous sharks. Not least the protagonist himself is an abnormality; a living wooden doll that is treated both as if he was a person and an object - on different occasions he meet strangers who want to use him as firewood, or even eat him, he is also used and abused as a guard dog and a donkey.
Furthermore, Pinocchio is a rare Italian representative of a Gothic tale, or at least it contains some elements of Gothic horror, similar to such terrors which were summoned by masters like Edgar Allan Poe and E.T. A. Hoffman. Like in stories by those writers, death is never far away in Pinocchio, even the landscape can be threatening. Sometimes the wooden puppet is moving through an inhospitable, wintry landscape where, as in a romantic poem the "pale ghost of night comes haunting the cold earth”. A talking grasshopper, which Pinocchio had killed with a mallet, comes back from the dead, showing up in the middle of the night and warns him about upcoming dangers. It reminds him that "the hour is late", but Pinocchio answers grumpily:
"I´m determined to go on"
"The night is dark"
"I´m determined to on"
"The road is dangerous"
"I´m determined to go"
But then, as on so many other occasions, fear got hold of the reckless Pinocchio. He is tracked down through a bleak, thorny forest by two assassins hidden beneath black coal sacks and with bared knives they pursue him like "ghouls", taking long, silent steps. In the dark, the wooden puppes discerns a white house gleaming through the trees. He rushes over there and desperately knocks on the barred door.
Suddenly the window opened and a beautiful child appeared. She had blue hair and a face as white as a waxen image, her eyes were closed and her hands were crossed on her breast. Without moving her lips she said in a voice that seemed to come from another world. "In this house there is no one. They are all dead."
"Then at least open the door for myself," Pinocchio pleaded.
"I´m dead too."
"Dead? Then what are you doing at the window? "
"I'm waiting for my coffin to come and carry me away."
Having said this, she disappeared, and the window closed noiselessly "
There are several sublime and dreamlike scenes in Pinocchio, when the dead are returning to meet with the puppet boy within a landscape, which as if in the perception of a schizophrenic person, almost imperceptibly might be moving from reality into the realm of a fantasy world. "Butter Man" appears on the box of a stagecoach with wheels bound with rags, whipping his twenty-four crying donkeys, which in fact are transformed little boys whose hooves are covered by white leather boots. Black rabbits appear carrying a funeral casket and persons unknown to him tries to kill Pinocchio by hanging him from a tree, eating him or throwing him into the sea, with a heavy stone tied to his neck.
The tale is written in a language that etches words and scenes into the memory. Collodi seems consciously to have tried to avoid any phrasing that might convey a lifeless, abstract impression. The text is uninterruptedly lively, care-free and brimming with surprising dialogues. And - of course, it is a fairy tale with multilayered meanings, among them an impression that Collodi is describing something which ultimately seems to be some kind of initiation rite; a careless and thoughtless wooden puppet turns into an honest and responsible young man.
Calvino points out that like other great storytellers Collodi himself seems to be absent from his text. We perceive his voice, but the individual Collodi is not there. It appears as if his story already existed somewhere, already conceived it has been hidden, waiting to be discovered. Like the piece of wood that contained the Pinocchio who became liberated through the hands and chisel of the woodcarver Gepetto. Pinocchio was an entity that already existed within the wooden log, but it needed to be endowed a form to become involved with the world of men. Similarly, when Pinocchio had been transformed into a donkey his entire body was enclosed by the animal, when a shoal of fish gobbled up the dead donkey's meat the still living wooden puppet became exposed.
Such transformations make me think of Aristotle´s example of how a piece of bronze is shaped into a statue. Through the transformative action of an artist who has an idea of what he wants to achieve the bronze loses one form, that of a lump, and gains another one, that of a statue. Collodi was maybe aware of the fact that such a process was called hylomorphism in Greek, where hyle means wood and morphe form.
When I read Italo Calvino's article, I found nothing that was new to me, but he managed to clarify much of what I had previously been fascinated by when I read the tale. Calvino was certainly the right man to unearth the hidden treasures of Pinocchio. Like Collodi, Calvino was a collector and narrator of Italian folk tales. Calvino is an author whose work makes the reader think of the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges, also a connoisseur of Pinocchio and like Calvino an enthusiastic devourer of myths and fairy tales, while he also created fairy tales of his own. Borges claimed not to strive after fame as an author. He wanted to create stories that had a life far beyond the person “Borges”. The author could just as well disappear and be forgotten, but his work would still live a life of its own. Calvino called Pinocchio the evergreen centenarian. It is Pinocchio who lives, not Carlo Collodi.
The French writer, Bernard of Morlaix, seems to have had similar ideas when he in the thirteenth century wrote stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus, "the name of the rose of old remains; we possess the naked name." The Italian writer Umberto Eco used Bernard of Morlaix´s rose in the title of his novel The Name of the Rose. In a foreword Eco stated that his novel was based on a manuscript written by a Benedictine monk named Adso from Melk and then tells a tall story about his hunt for the manuscript. Among other things, he writes:
… in 1970, in Buenos Aires, as I was browsing among the shelves of a little antiquarian bookseller on Corrientes, not far from the more illustrious Patio del Tango of that great street, I came upon the Castilian version of a little work by Milo Temesvar, On the Use of Mirrors in the Game of Chess. It was an Italian translation of the original, which, now impossible to find, was in Georgian.
Eco claims that he in Temesvar´s book came across various excerpts from Adso´s lost manuscript. Of course, Eco's entire story about his search for a lost manuscript is an invention of his. However, he has said that he got the idea for his novel in a bookshop in Buenos Aires, namely the Anglo-German bookstore Libreria Pigmalíon. I once walked along Calle Corrientes, looking into several of the bookshops and book antiquarians, which still may be found there, though Librería Pigmalion, like so many other classic bookstores around the world did not exist anymore, it was closed down in 1979, long before I came to Buenos Aires.
Librería Pigmalion had in the early 1940s been founded by a German refugee, Lili Lebach, and was like quite a lot of bookstores placed by Calle Corrientes, which still is the center of Buenos Aires´ intensive bohemian- and night life. Librería Pigmalion had, like many other bookstores at that time, its own publishing house and had soon become a meeting place for Europeans adrift from the War and Argentine intellectuals.
Eco´s cryptic hint about the use of mirrors while playing chess may be an allusion to the fact that Lili Lebach in 1942 published the original edition of Stefan Zweig´s Schachnovelle, "A Chess Story", only a few months after ithe already world-famous writer committed suicide in the city of Petrópolis, not far from Rio de Janeiro .
Die Schachnovelle is a story about Dr. B. who in fear of the Nazis has gone into hiding and is trying to preserve his sanity by sinking deep into a stolen book, which comments upon and explains chess tournaments between great champions. Cut off from society, Dr. B. devotes himself to playing chess with himself, which results in Dr. B. becoming mentally split into two personalities - I (White) and I (Black). This psychological conflict breaks down the hapless Dr. B. and he is forcibly admitted to a mental hospital, where a doctor, by declaring him incurably insane, rescues Dr. B. from once again being interned by the Nazis.
Dr. B. ends up on a ship destined to Buenos Aires, the world champion of chess finds himself on the same ship. It is an arrogant and unpleasant gentleman at the center of a group of inveterate chess players, being constantly humiliated by him, until Dr. B. pops up and thoroughly defeats the bully. The world champion is seeking revenge, but is well aware that he cannot defeat the formidable Dr. B. The chess champion, however, has discovered that since his brilliant opponent plays and thinks with an astonishing speed, this means that he in his thoughts finds himself several moves ahead of his opponent. The world champion therefore intentionally plays extremely slow,causing that Dr. B´s brain is forced to imagine so many possible moves that it results in a mental breakdown. In a fit of madness Dr. B. makes a wrong move and loses the game, but instead of becoming depressed at his loss Dr. B. is cured from his obsession and freed from the fatal delusion that made him regard the entire existence as a gigantic, predictable game.
With Italo Calvino and Borges, Umberto Eco shared a deep respect for both Die Schachnovelle and Pinocchio. In a preface to an English translation of Collodi's book, Eco writes:
It must be said first, that, though written in the nineteenth century, the original Pinocchio remains as readable as if it had been written in the twenty-first, so limpid and simple in its prose–and so musical in its simplicity. Though it’s written in simple language, Pinocchio is not a simple book. … [it] doesn’t limit itself to one simple, basic moral, but rather deals with many.
Ambiguity and variations are apparent everywhere in Pinocchio. Like so many other 19th century novels it was originally published as a magazine serial. The Italian politician and publisher Fernando Martini had in 1881 the idea to publish a newspaper only for children, Giornale per i bambini, and asked his friend Carlo Lorenzo, with the nom de plume Carlo Collodi, to write a serial in the style of the French fairy tales he had recently translated and provided with a moral message that would be helpful in molding Italian children into good citizens. Both Martini and Lorenzo were Italian patriots who had actively participated in the struggle for Italian unification.
Collodi wrote his own, original story to initiate the first issue of Giornale per i bambini and called it Storia di un burattino, "The story of a puppet". The magazine and Collodi´s tale became an instant success and 36 chapters followed. Each instalment was only a few pages long and consisted of a more or less self-contained story, with a cliffhanger at the end to make the little readers eagerly await the next issue of the magazine. This approach is certainly a contributing factor to the story's thrilling dynamics - at the end of each episode neither we nor Pinocchio know what will happen next. Will he make a sensible choice, or will his bad character once more lead him astray? Will he follow the right track towards his predetermined goal - to be united with his father, go to school and become a real boy - or will some unfortunate incident once more put a spoke in the wheel of the wooden puppet´s good intentions?
The story develops in a way similar to what happens when I write my blog. As if I found myself enclosed by in a labyrinth I round a corner only to experience how new ideas emerge. When I write about the surprises inherent in Pinocchio I come to think of a Swedish book I read a few weeks ago – Bärnstenskyssen, “The amber kiss” by Peter Glass, a novel in which the reader can affect the plot by at different places in the text choose between two options. We follow a protagonist who constantly ends up facing difficult choices. Should he choose love or career? Hold on to security, or be adventurous and bold? The story develops into the image of an existence where a variety of opportunities continuously is available to us. A moment of doubt may decide if we in the future will face happiness or misery. Meanwhile, linked to all these decisions and opportunities are crucial choices of other individuals, which eventually will connect their destinies with ours. The result is the emergence of a universe where everything is interconnected, yet unpredictable, something which now brings me back to Buenos Aires.
A few months before Die Schachnovelle was published, a story called El Jardin de Senderos que se bifurcan, “The Garden of Forking Paths”, had attracted attention among Buenos Aires intellectuals. This short story had been written by Jorge Luis Borges, a librarian who also devoted himself to writing small stories and articles in various magazines.
The story is set in England during the First World War where the Chinese Tsun is acting as a spy for the Germans. He has managed to find out that in order to initiate a massive attack on the enemy forces, the British have concentrated a lot of artillery in a small town of northern France. However, a British agent follows closely in the wake of the Chinese, who knows that his mission has been revealed by someone and that he does not have a long time to live. He has lost contact with his German employers, but feels that before he dies he must find a way to pass on his information.
Tsun decides to visit Dr. Stephen Albert, a reclusive sinologist who is an expert on the writings and philosphy of one of Tsun´s ancestors - Ts'ui Pên. Tsun has himself for most of his adult life been struggling with attempts to solve a riddle left behind by Ts'ui Pên and wants to solve it before his own death. Tsun hopes that Dr. Albert will be able to explain to him what Ts'ui Pên´s writings are all about. The ancestor had by the Emperor been commissioned to construct a labyrinth in "which all people would get lost" at the same as he was supposed to write a book to explain the labyrinth´s secrets. The book would then help the emperor to control his subjects.
After thirteen years of intense work Ts'ui Pên died and no signs of any designs for a labyrinth could be found while the book he left behind turned out to be completely incomprehensible. Tsun thought that in spite of this Ts'ui Pên´s maze existed somewhere in China, though over time it had been completely forgotten and been covered by paddy fields, mountains and rivers.
Tsun was kindly received by Dr. Albert with the words: "I suppose you came here to visit my garden." "Your garden?" "Yes, the garden of forking paths." However, instead of bringing his guest to a garden Dr. Albert takes him to his vast library and opens Ts'ui Pên´s comprehensive book for him. Tsun shrugs and says he has given up trying to understand it. To him, the book is nothing more than a confusing hodgepodge of conflicting stories: "in the third chapter the hero dies, in the fourth he lives again, you're going to a house, which in another chapter does not exist; a friend of the past becomes your enemy in the future, and vice versa." Tsun asks Dr. Albert to put the book aside and instead explain to him if there are any viable hints about the existence of a labyrinth.
Dr. Albert explains that the labyrinth and the book are the same. The book is the maze created by Ts'ui Pên. However, the book is much more than that, it is also the manual that the Emperor could use to gain an understanding of how "destiny" functions and thus be able to control his subjects. Unfortunately, Ts'ui Pên died before he could explain how to use his book, though the book was finished and Dr. Albert has found the key to its understanding and is willing to explain its secrets to Tsun. The book is like a “garden of forking paths”, each path leading to a different future. The maze does not exist as a geographical place, but as “time”. The maze describes how time functions. The one who discovers the model outlined in Ts'ui Pên´s book will thus obtain an overview, an understanding, of how the entire Universe works. Dr. Albert tries to explain:
In all fictional works, each time a man is confronted with several alternatives, he chooses one and eliminates the others; in the fiction of Ts'ui Pên, he chooses-- simultaneously--all of them. He creates, in this way, diverse futures, diverse times which themselves also proliferate and fork. Here, then, is the explanation of the novel's contradictions. Fang, let us say, has a secret; a stranger calls at his door; Fang resolves to kill him. Naturally, there are several possible outcomes: Fang can kill the intruder, the intruder can kill Fang, they both can escape, they both can die, and so forth. In the work of Ts'ui Pên, all possible outcomes occur; each one is the point of departure for other forkings. Sometimes, the paths of this labyrinth converge: for example, you arrive at this house, but in one of the possible pasts you are my enemy, in another, my friend.
Dr. Albert´s explanations are becoming increasingly difficult to follow:
This network of times which approached one another, forked, broke off, or were unaware of one another for centuries, embraces all possibilities of time. We do not exist in the majority of these times; in some you exist, and not I; in others I, and not you; in others, both of us. In the present one, which a favorable fate has granted me, you have arrived at my house; in another, while crossing the garden, you found me dead; in still another, I utter these same words, but I am a mistake, a ghost.
Before Dr. Albert is able to covey where and how a key to an understanding of this confusing universe may be found, Tsun throws a quick glance through the window and discovers how Captain Madden, his pursuer, is approaching the house, intending to kill him. Tsun takes up his revolver and shoots Dr. Albert. Smiling Tsun is awaiting Madden, knowing he will kill him. Tsun is happy because he has managed to carry out his mission. He knows that his German employers in the English press soon will read how a man named Tsun had killed a certain Dr. Albert. They would then understand that their Chinese agent had been able to send them their eagerly awaited information - Albert is namely the name of the town in northern France where the English had concentrated their artillery.
As well as Umberto Eco, the then almost completely blind Borges visited Librería Pigmalion, though he used to show up there several times a week. It was in this bookstore he met a teenager named Alberto Manguel, who worked there during weekends and school holidays. Borges was impressed by the young man's knowledge and his quiet, articulate way of expressing himself and wondered if he could set aside a few hours a couple of days each week to read aloud to him, something Manguel eventually did every week between 1964 and 1968.
His friendship with Borges was a contributing factor for Manguel to develop into one of the world's foremost connoisseurs of fantasy literature, or more correctly the kind of writing which in French is termed as fantastique. When he later came to live and work in Milan, he wrote together with Gianni Guadalupi the exciting Dictionary of Imaginary Places, a thick volume with maps, illustrations and detailed descriptions which depict imaginary places described by writers from Homer to the present day.
After a few years in Tahiti, Manguel settled in Toronto, where he wrote an article about Pinocchio that came to my mind while I thought about my role as a teacher and the Curriculum for the upper secondary school, as well as all those annoying and very detailed matrices and guidelines I have been forced to read for to be able to assess and rate my students' essays in accordance with the directives that apply to my teaching position.
In How Pinocchio Learned to Read Manguel writes about his lifelong fascination with Pinocchio. How the tale depicts the ancient paradox of an outsider´s attempt to become part of the society of “normal” people, at the same time as he strives to understand who he really is - not who he appears to be in the eyes of others, but how he considers himself to be in his own eyes. Pinocchio wants to become a "real boy", not any boy, not a submissive version of the ideal type of a bourgeois, but the spontaneous creature he knows himself to be under the painted wood surface. When the story begins, Pinocchio is a piece of wood that can speak and think, but who nonetheless wants to be shaped and nurtured by society, though nevertheless in accordance with his rebellious self.
Manguel considers Pinocchio to be one of world´s literary masterpieces. An educational odyssey where Pinocchio turns into an Odysseus-like figure who constantly is driven off course during his journey towards a beckoning education. Like Odysseus, Pinocchio is subdued both by external circumstances and his own weaknesses, as Odysseus wants to return to his Ithaca, Pinocchio wants to go to school to learn how to become a "real boy". The wooden puppet´s weak character, his love of adventure and weakness for easy money constantly lures him astray. Pinocchio wants to go school to become rich:
“Today at school I´ll learn to read” he said to himself. “Then tomorrow I´ll learn to write and the day after tomorrow to do sums. Then with my skills I´ll make lots of money, and with the first pennies I earn I´ll buy a beautiful cloth coat for my father . But, what am I saying? Cloth! It will be made of gold and silver, with diamond buttons. That poor man really deserves it. He is wearing only his shirt so that he could buy me books and send me to school. And it is so cold! Only a father would make such a sacrifice.”
A typical idea of the wooden puppet is that everything can be done quickly and without any great effort, something that makes him a victim of simple solutions. When a wily fox and an impulsive cat presents him with a scheme to make money grow on trees they at once capture Pinocchio´s interest. On their advice, he buries his four gold coins within a “field of miracles” and waters them:
"Is there anything else to be done?" the puppet asks. "Nothing else,” answered the fox. "We can go away now. You can come in about twenty minutes, and then you´ll find that a bush already growing, with its branches quite loaded with money. Beside himself with joy, Pinocchio thanked the fox and the cat, and promised them a beautiful present. "We wish for no presents," they answered. "It is enough for us to have taught you the way to get rich without hard work. That makes us very happy." Having said this, they said goodbye to Pinocchio wished him a good harvest, and left.
Before he had grown in experience Pinocchio imagined a future of easily acquired wealth, where even knowledge was something that could be gained for nothing and consumed, as if it concerned gobbling up delicacies. He desired a "library" full of "sweets, tarts, plum cakes, macaroons, and biscuits with cream."
The impetuous little, wooden puppet does finally after several mistakes, detours and terrible experiences end up in school where he becomes his teacher's favorite student, but nevertheless remains a wooden doll. He learns to read, he learns to write, and he learns to count, but according to Manguel Pinocchio never reaches the insight and sense of liberation that leads to a "real existence”:
To know, in a deep, imaginative, and practical way, ourselves and the world around us. It is this level of learning that is the most difficult, the most dangerous, and the most powerful – and the one Pinocchio will never reach. Pressures of all sorts – the temptations with which society lures him away from himself, the mockery and jealousy of his fellow students, the aloof guidance of his moral preceptors – create for Pinocchio a series of almost insurmountable obstacles for becoming a reader.
It is only when Pinocchio realizes that the hard life he has experienced has provided him with insights beyond those that the school can offer, that he finally becomes a "real boy". Pinocchio suffered an environment in which he was starving, froze, was beaten and abused. Where he experienced meetings with the unknown, was denied his childhood, while he was constantly admonished to be obedient and find happiness in serving others. However, Pinocchio's unruly nature saved him from being completely subdued, even if he earnestly strove to become a part of what he believed to be human society. The school´s bullies soon enough perceived his desperate quest for education and compliance and began to mock him by stating "puppets never grow, they are born puppets, they live and die as puppets." Education will not help Pinocchio, only exacerbate his alienation. The “mischievous” boys shout at him:
“Because boys who study make those like us, who have no desire to learn, seem worse. And we don´t like it. We have our pride, too!”
Seven of the worst bullies lure Pinocchio into skipping school by telling him that they have seen the monstrous shark that swallowed Gepetto. Once they arrived on the beach and the bullies notice Pinocchio´s anxiety and despair they laugh at him. They form a circle around him and tease him because he is a swot and a teacher's pet:
"You must follow our example and hate school, lessons and the schoolmaster - our three greatest enemies."
"And if I want to continue my studies?"
"In that case we´ll have nothing to do with you, and at the first opportunity, we´ll make you pay for it."
"Really,” said the puppet, shaking his head," you make me want to laugh."
"Careful, Pinocchio!" shouted the biggest of the boys. "We´ll have none of your superior airs. Don´t come here to crow over us. If you´re not scared, we´re not scared of you. Remember that you are one and we are seven."
"Seven, like the seven deadly sins," said Pinocchio with a shout of laughter.
They throw themselves on him, but Pinocchio managed to defend himself. His skull is made of wood, and he has sharp elbows and heavy feet. When the boys cannot come close enough to beat him up they start to throw their school books on the wooden puppet, books are no good anyway, they do serve as neither food, nor entertainment. Someone snatches Pinocchio´s books from him and violently through the heaviest one, the math book, at him. Pinocchio ducks, but another boy is hit in the head by the book and falls unconscious to the ground. The bullies flee, leaving Pinocchio and the unconscious boy behind. Pinocchio is soon arrested by a couple of carabineers, accusing him for having mistreated the unconscious boy since the wooden puppet willingly admits that it was his book that hit him on the skull. Accordingly, Pinocchio´s troubles and torments continue and he is once more hindered from attending school. It appears as if neither education, nor impudence can save him from his constant alienation from the world of humans. Will he ever be able to become a "real boy"?
Collodi's Pinocchio lacks the naive joviality of Disney´s little rascal, Collodí´s story does not contain a sweet little cat, a beautiful goldfish or a sentimental Gepetto. The Italian author describes a cold, impoverished and cruel world and even if Pinocchio can be both tenderhearted and kind he is certainly not some cute, little, round-cheeked prankster.
As soon Gepetto had managed to carve a mouth out of the log, which would soon become Pinocchio it begins to mock and insult him. When the wooden puppet has been completed it snatches the wig from the bald Gepetto, puts it on, kicks his creator in the shins and runs off. When Gepetto got hold of the unruly wooden dummy it accuses him of child abuse and gets him imprisoned by the carabineers.
People and animals die, are killed or being maimed. Pinoccchio bites the paw of a cat, while a coachman bites off the ears of a donkey. People steal, fight and booze. Pinocchio is brought in front of a judge, who in fact is an orangutan. Pinocchio tells him that has been cheated, beaten and deceived, but instead of passing a judgment on the scheming fox and cat, the judge sentences Pinocchio to be thrown into prison with the words: "This poor creature has been robbed of four gold pieces. Arrest him and put him in prison immediately.” Authorities appear to be whimsical and if not outright crazy, doctors are incompetent and the police´s actions incomprehensible. Pinocchio's world is far from being saccharine, something which is clearly revealed by Roberto Innocenti´s skillful illustrations of the tale.
It is thus a completely different Pinocchio and a different world we find in Disney´s movie, that nevertheless is a masterpiece, with a charm and mystery of its own. It is not without reason that it is now considered one of the best animated movies ever made and has been given the very rare rating of “100 percent certified fresh” on the popular movie assessment site Rotten Tomatoes. At the American Film Institute's list of all-time best cartoons, Pinocchio is placed second, after Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, though with the reservation that technically and cinematically considered Pinocchio is superior to its predecessor. Pinocchio was, however, no success with the movie audience at the time and it was claimed that this was because "the atmosphere was considered to be too dark and scary," this despite the fact that the Disney Studio worked hard to mitigate the original story´s raw tone and realistic depictions of poverty and violence.
Walt Disney was intensely engaged in the production and he realized quite early on in the process that the first character proposals for Pinocchio that his team presented him with had to be modified. For example, the artists had taken note of Pinocchio´s, at least initially, rather cheeky look and appearance and been inspired by the, at the time, very popular, but cynical and insolent ventriloquist dummy Charlie McCarthy.
Edgar Bergen, who had created the character Charlie McCarthy received an Oscar in 1937 and Charlie McCarthy has inspired several films, including the 1929 movie The Great Gabbo with Erich von Stroheim and Knock on Wood with Danny Kaye, from 1954. The Great Gabbo is a horror movie where a ventriloquist becomes crazy when he let himself be mastered by the increasingly vicious nature he has bestowed on his dummy. Knock on Wood, which is one of Danny Kaye's funniest movies, plays on the same theme – Danny Kaye´s ventriloquist is a friendly and innocent person, while his dummy is cynical and mischievous. Dolls that come to life and threaten their creators, or owners, are a common motif within the horror genre, from E. T. A. Hoffman's Coppelia, to the murderous doll Chucky, protagonist in a series of horror films.
Disney realized that scary traits could be found in a wooden puppet that comes to life and instructed his artists to be very careful while crafting Pinocchio:
One difficulty with Pinocchio is that people know the story, but they don´t like the main character. This means that we have to mitigate the insolent traits found in Pinocchio and increase the roles played by the Blue Fairy and the cricket.
The original Pinocchio´s suggestive atmosphere is nevertheless preserved in some memorable scenes, even if they are significantly different from those in the book, such as the sequence when Pinocchio has ended up in the puppeteer Stromboli´s wagon, or when the mischievous boys are turned into donkeys on Pleasure Island. A lot of the preserved mystique found in the Disney movie can probably be attributed to the Swedish artist Gustaf Tenggren, who was in charge of the film's appearance. In a newspaper article Tenggren described a number of design problems, such as the scene where Pinocchio in Stromboli´s wagon is trapped in a cage:
It was hard to make Pinocchio convincing and alive, for he has after all a soul of wood. Nevertheless, I managed to make him scared. He is suspended in a bird cage in Stromboli´s wagon and you can see the black shapes of puppets hanging around the cage like figures suspended from gallows.
Disney did as part of his preparations for both Snow White and Pinocchio make a tour through Europe in search of inspiration and artists. He would have liked to hire an artist like the Swede John Bauer, who was famous for his depictions of trolls and dark Nordic forests, but Bauer had died more than ten years earlier and it was when he found Gustaf Tenggren that Disney assumed he had a worthy replacement. Tenggren had in his early illustrations been heavily influenced by Bauer.
Speaking about Swedes, one of the joys of blog writing is everything that pops up during the process of writing them. I found, for example, that the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen's parents were born in villages just a few kilometers from my hometown of Hässleholm. Edgar Bergen was born in Chicago, but when he was four years old he returned to Sweden with his parents and until he was eleven he lived on a small farm just outside of Hässleholm, resulting in him speaking the very peucliar dialect of my part of Sweden.
The temptation when I embarked on one of the paths in Borges Garden with Forked Paths was that I found that there is something behind every corner of the maze. When I published this blog post in Swedish I received an e-mail from my good friend Örjan, who wrote:
In one of my old favorite children's movies both Jiminy Cricket and Edgar Bergen appear! It's called Fun and Fancy Free and is a Disney movie from 1947. Edgar Bergen is projected live in the same frames as the animated Jiminy Cricket and together they present two half-hour films, one being Jack and the Beanstalk with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Goofy. The movie as a whole works quite well, probably due to the idea of framing the two parts in such an innovative manner.
I had seen Jack and the Beanstalk among the Disney movies on sale at the supermarket and I biked back to the store to see if it was still there. It was and I also bought another of my other Disney favorites, Alice in Wonderland. When I got home and watched the movies I found that Alice had a bonus track - One Hour in Wonderland, a TV show presented on Christmas Eve in 1950.
Commercial television was developed in earnest in the United States during the late forties when The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) from its headquarters in Rockefeller Center in New York began broadcasting daily shows. Companies like Coca Cola and Disney realized early on the new medium's great advertising potential and their joint Christmas show was the first major event that was broadcasted across the nation, that is to say that it could be seen by the exclusive TVaudiences in big cities like New York, Chicago and New York .
The opening scene shows how Edgar Bergen tells his ventriloquist dummy Charlie McCarthy that they are invited to a tea party with Walt Disney. The cynical and street-wise Charlie says he has no desire to go to any tea party, but when he hears that the young actress Kathryn Beaumont will be there dressed as Alice, he immediately becomes interested. Charlie McCarthy is actually a boy, but dressed up as a belle epoch bon vivant, a kind of mannish boy in the Muddy Waters sense. In the car on their way to Rockefeller Center Edgar Bergen tells the story of Alice in Wonderland and informs Charlie McCarthy that it will be Disney's next big movie. Once at the party, Edgar and Charlie, together with other guests, are shown clips from various Disney movies, presented by the demon of the mirror in Snow White. The insolent Charlie begins sparring with the mirror demon, whom he calls a "hopped-up television set".
Charlie´squabbling was appreciated at the time, something that made Edgar Bergen and his dummy popular hosts of several TV and radio shows. It is obvious that they were an inspiration to Bergen´s good friend Walt Disney. Their jargon can be recognized in Jiminy Cricket´s manner of speaking and Bergen was constantly joking about the fact that Charlie McCarthy, like Pinocchio, was a boy made of wood. As in a famous dialogue Charlie had with the outspoken Mae West:
Charlie "Not so loud, Mae, not so loud! All my girlfriends are listening."
Mae: "Oh, yeah! You’re all wood and a yard long."
Mae: "You weren’t so nervous and backward when you came up to see me at my apartment. In fact, you didn’t need any encouragement to kiss me."
Charlie: "Did I do that?"
Mae: "Why, you certainly did. I got marks to prove it. An' splinters, too."
It is apparently possible to go on forever with this blog entry, image after image pops up while being inside the Garden with Forking Paths, but now I have to leave, before my blog is becoming far too long and tedious.
I take my leave by stating that learning is obviously not just a matter of being goal oriented, it may also mean getting lost in Borges´ Garden of forking paths where you might encounter Pinocchio, as well as Umberto Eco, Stefan Zweig, Alberto Manguel and Edgar Bergen.
Borges, Jorge Luis (2006) Ficciones. Buenos Aires: Alianza. Calvino, Italo (1982) ”Pinocchio, the Evergreen Centenarian”, in The Unesco Courier: Children of the Imagination, June. Collodi, Carlo and Roberto Innocenti (1998) The Adventures of Pinocchio. London: Jonathan Cape. Dedola, Rossana (2002) Pinocchio e Collodi. Milan: Bruno Mondadori. Eco, Umberto (1983) The Name of the Rose. New York: Harcourt. Eco, Umberto (2008) “Introduction” in Collodi, Carlo Pinocchio. New York: New York Review Books. Manguel, Alberto (2005) “How Pinocchio Learned to Read”, in Script & Print: Bulletin of the Bibliographical Society of Australia & New Zealand, No. 29. Skolverket (2011) Curriculum for the upper secondary school. Stockholm: Skolverket. Zweig, Stefan (2005) Chess Story. New York: New York Review Books.