Already a strange tale, the earliest story of Pinocchio turns out to be even more delusional and fantastic than the well-known Disney rendition.
Le avventure di Pinocchio was written by Carlo Collodi, an Italian author who had experience translating French fairy tales into his native language. He was invited to try his hand at original productions and found success with Pinocchio.
Its first publication was in 1881 in a children’s magazine Giornale per i bambini. Children’s literature was a new field in mass publication. Increasing literacy rates helped establish the new art form which was for the first time specifically aimed at young audiences.
By this point, the Grimm brothers had already published over 200 fairy tales. It could be argued that Collodi was influenced by them, given the original turn of events in Pinocchio.
Upon publication it first ran as a serial, featuring regularly in the Giornale over a four-month period. Collodi finished off the adventures of his magical, albeit impetuous, boy when Pinocchio is hanged for his misdeeds.
Though such an abrupt and morbid end would scarcely be allowed in today’s young literature, this turn of events hardly hindered the story’s popularity.
Readers were obsessed and wanted more. Using the omnipotent power of fairy tales, Collodi revives Pinocchio through the magic of the Blue Fairy, and the wooden boy continues onto more mischievous and foolhardy adventures. Revival of the serial brought on twice as many episodes, rounding it all off in an ending comparable to that which Disney fans are familiar with.
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Trouble from the beginning, the Pinocchio in the original Italian fairy tale is set up for failure. Rather than a loving man wishing for a son, Geppetto is the impoverished neighbor of a carpenter who donated a talking hunk of wood to him. Geppetto carves what was meant to be a new leg for the neighbor’s dining table. Perhaps that would have been better time spent. Pinocchio goes from adventure to adventure, gambling away money, being duped repetitively by the same conspiring duo, and failing to be the son Geppetto had always dreamed of.
In fact, the reader first meets a talking cricket who’s lived in the puppeteer’s house for a century when he warns Pinocchio against being a bad boy. Unhappy with his words, Pinocchio throws a hammer at the cricket, killing it. There goes Jiminy’s storyline.
The one detail changed that is potentially creepier and more obscene than the original story is the renaming of Collodi’s Toyland as Pleasure Island. In the original story, Pinocchio runs away with a friend he meets on the way to school to Toyland: a place where you never have to work.
They simply spend the next five months playing every day. In the film, the things the boys get up to are considerably more adult themed, and perhaps a 1940s way of teaching boys that gambling, smoking, and drinking are bad.
The worst element that differs between the book and the film version is arguably the scene when Pinocchio and his friend begin to turn into donkeys because of their careless adventures in Toyland/Pleasure Island. What Disney doesn’t show you is that Collodi had Pinocchio turn fully into a donkey.
As such, he is sold to a man who tries to kill the donkey by drowning him in the sea so that he can be skinned. However, fish eat the flesh of the donkey and Pinocchio escapes from the carcass as well as the evil man. Even if the story was aimed at adults, some might agree that the original Italian tale is not for sensitive audiences.
Despite its dark nature, Le Avventure di Pinocchio has been translated into 300 languages as of 2018. It is the most translated secular book in the whole world.