Pinocchio goes postmodern: perils of a puppet in the United States, Richard Wunderlich and Thomas J. Morrissey, Routledge, 2008

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One single translation of Carlo Collodi's Le avventure di Pinocchio (1881–3) was in print in the USA in 1999 – in Nicholas J. Perella's masterly bilingual edition for an adult, academic readership; none was available for children. But there was a huge number of adaptations, abridgments and spin-offs in various media. This was a point of departure for sociologist Richard Wunderlich and literary scholar Thomas J. Morrissey, whose comprehensive study of the US reception of Pinocchio came out in Routledge's Children's Literature and Culture series in 2002 and, unchanged, in paperback in 2008. They ask whether Collodi's novel had ever been ‘demonstrably popular in the United States’ (which it had until the 1930s), and ‘how and why had it been supplanted by what we and other scholars regarded as less compelling versions of the story’ (xiii). This excellent compilation and analysis of material on American Pinocchios examines the transformations of Collodi's Italian puppet from the first ‘faithful’ (xiv) British English translation by Mary Alice Murray in 1891, through translations, adaptations for various media, and sequels by other authors up to the beginning of the twenty-first century. It shows how the tale underwent dramatic revisions to suit America's idea of children's literature, and how the publishing history of Pinocchio in the USA ‘is a benchmark for measuring social change’ (xviii). The book is the product of a fruitful collaboration on the subject which started with a joint article in the Horn Book Magazine in 1982; the Routledge series editor Jack Zipes encouraged the authors to put the sum of their extensive research into this single volume.

The book is written jointly, nonetheless the eight chapters bear clear marks of individual authorship. Wunderlich, whose chapter headings (Chapters Two to Five) mimic Collodi's (for example, ‘How Pinocchio Came to America Poor and Friendless, was Beset by Rogues and Villains, Yet Persevered Steadfastly, and by Luck and Pluck, Made a Name for Himself: 1892–1919’), situates the publishing history and reception in context. Morrissey provides a good overview with biographical and cultural background and an analysis of the original novel with its generic features and themes in Chapter One, looks at sequels in Chapter Six, and furnishes a (too) lengthy analysis of so-called ‘postmodern’ adult versions in Chapter Seven. This least satisfying of all the chapters gives the volume its nicely alliterative but ultimately misleading title.

The study examines translations and adaptations as social documents and is filled with illuminating connections and astute social analysis. The literary and aesthetic aspects of the translations and adaptations are not always given the same amount of attention. Disney's version, for instance, is considered in terms of the fundamental changes it introduced but nothing is said about its genesis. It originally started out much closer to Collodi's version but, with an episodic structure and unsympathetic protagonist, just wasn't working as a film. Production was halted after half a year, there was a major rethink, and the film was recast, making Pinocchio seem more human and introducing the figure of Jiminy Cricket. Reflections on this process, too, rather than simply on the result, might have shown that the alterations were not only instigated by contemporary social dictates but also had something to do with those of the medium.

Guided by their affection and admiration for Collodi's novel – ‘we […] love Collodi's book’ (197) – the authors want to rescue the original story from obscurity and reintroduce contemporary readers to the power and messages embedded in it. In this they succeed admirably. Five complete translations are available in the USA today. Apart from Perella's (University of California Press) there is a new, acclaimed one by the poet Geoffrey Brock (New York Review Books Classics), a Penguin Classics edition of Mary Alice Murray's version, the engaging and popular British translation by Ann Lawson Lucas (Oxford World Classics), and a version for Kindle by Carol Della Chiesa. This is bound to be a source of pleasure for the enthusiasts Wunderlich and Morrissey.
Original languageEnglish
JournalInternational Research in Children's Literature
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)291-292
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 12.2009