In Brief: Pinocchio

Our literary quest through the homeschool year ended with a massive flourish as we enjoyed Carlo Lorenzini’s (better known as Collodi, his adopted surname which doubles as the name of his hometown) classic Pinocchio. 

From a schooling perspective, our typical approach with any classic is to read the book, view the most popular version on film, and then write a reflection piece detailing the similarities, differences, and our personal preferences. In the case of Pinocchio, my children and I unanimously preferred the Collodi version.

My daughter preferred the suspense of the 1883 classic. My sons preferred the broader variety in the story and the detail with which Collodi brought the puppet and secondary characters to life. Personally, I preferred the depth of Pinocchio’s transformation which was utterly (and regrettably) absent in the mammoth Disney offering.

The Page vs. The Silver Screen

If there are complaints about the original tale of the beloved puppet, typically they revolve around his biting and nasty character, or the lethal peril which he faces after every increasingly disappointing decision. In all honesty, Pinocchio is as much the villain of the novel as any other. But it is the depth of the marionette’s depravity that makes his repentance all the more glorious.

The movie presents Pinocchio as the whimsical boy whose one bad decision leads to a series of unfortunate events. The viewer is led to sympathize with Pinocchio as a victim. His brokenness is shallow. So, then, is his eventual transformation into a real boy. What was the point of it all? I guess when you wish upon a star, your mild misadventure will end in all your dreams coming true?

Collodi’s Pinocchio makes repeated willfully disobedient decisions, each a slap in the face to those who have loved him most. He abuses the sacrificial gifts of his father who fashioned him from a talking piece of wood. He rejects the redemptive efforts of the blue fairy who repeatedly comes to his aid. At every turn, he laments his situation, pleading for help and half-heartedly feigning sadness. He loves complaining and being the recipient of the world’s pity. It’s easy to dislike Gepetto’s puppet.

Even when he turns completely into an ass (the most egregious omission from the movie), he doesn’t break. Even when he is then sold into the big top to perform tricks, he does not repent. Even when he’s lamed after failing at the tricks and sold to a trader who intends to kill him, skin him, and turn him into a drum, he’s not ready to change.

It’s only when that trader throws him into the sea with a millstone around his neck that the Pinocchio of the page changes. Critics of the book complain that Pinocchio so vividly describes the fifty-minute ordeal under the sea where fish consume his donkey flesh, leaving only the wooden skeleton behind. But it is this death that leads to Pinocchio’s true repentance.

Upon being pulled from the sea by the man (who then realized he wasn’t getting his drum!), Pinocchio repents. He changes. He seeks after his father Gepetto who had been swallowed by a great fish while searching for his son. He cares for the ailing blue fairy, sacrificing every earthly penny to restore her to health.

And it is at the end of this journey that Pinocchio becomes a real boy.

Sometimes the best part of good news is first knowing the bad news. Where Disney, sadly, offers cheap grace and a couple of catchy songs, Collodi walked his main character through the valley of the shadow of death. My children and I both appreciated the depth of Collodi’s story, which only left us wanting more of the film.

The Takeaway

More than a morality tale, Pinocchio tells the story of a living creature who was little more than dust, who was crafted into the image of his maker, destroyed his own conscience (yes, Collodi’s Pinocchio kills the cricket at the first suggestion that his actions were foolish), swallowed the most dastardly lies, and discarded the most valuable treasures, believing that his way would be more fruitful.

The real Pinocchio shows the consequence of foolishness as the main character chases fleeting pleasures and transforms fully into a donkey, just as it was promised he would.

The real Pinocchio shows that a cheap turn will not suffice. Talk is cheap if the heart remains darkened. Only the death of wicked selfishness can lead to the kind of change that would satisfy his heart’s greatest desire.

Pinocchio then shows the power of a transformed life as it radiates with true love, self-sacrifice, generosity, and joy.

Personally, I believe my children preferred Collodi’s story because it echoes the greatest story. Likewise, I think many dislike the original because it provides an all-too-familiar look into the depths of our own souls and makes clear that the road to true transformation comes through death to self.

The cost of becoming what we were created to be is quite severe. More than we would or could pay on our own. Am I allowed to say that Collodi’s Pinocchio made me praise my Savior?

 

 

A Vile Torrent: Gulliver #4

If you are following along in the Summer Read, this post assumes you’ve finished Chapter V of Gulliver’s Travels. If you happen to be reading the kiddos’ version, it would help if you’ve read through pg. 37.

On Pace

Despite the extensive vocabulary and the centuries-wide gap in manners of speech, I’m still enjoying Gulliver. I am excited to serve as family narrator for the summer, reading the nerd version aloud to my wife and the kiddos version to our four young ones. At different points, I’ve caught everyone in the family laughing, even our littlest. All along, everyone has listened intently and stayed on board to at least have an understanding of the story. I hope you’ve found a sense of enjoyment in the book as well.

I’ve also enjoyed reading quite slowly. I’m often one to swallow a book quickly, which can have its benefits. But there is a wonderful delight in chewing on the chapters for awhile in order to let them smack me around a bit. If, as Swift has said, truth convicts, then we must let truth speak no matter where we find it!

On Making Water

Mr. Gulliver is not shy about sharing stories involving bodily functions. In fact, they provide some of the lighter moments in his Travels thus far. As I considered the event of the flames in the royal palace (and the unorthodox effort to extinguish), I was again drawn to consider the incident from multiple perspectives.

With the palace on fire, Gulliver used the only viable resource available. He considered it lucky, in fact, to have such an opportunity. And so naturally he availed himself, though I’m pretty sure it would take a Gulliver-sized bladder on a Lilliputian for the effort to have lasted a full three minutes. In any case, the flames were out, the mission accomplished, and the day sufficiently saved.

Despite the preservation of the palace – with a lingering funk – the people are unsure of the method employed by the Man Mountain. Gulliver himself worries that the Emperor will resent his actions. In the end, though Gulliver receives a pardon for the crime (punishable by death!), the Empress chooses to move across the grounds rather than live near such a vile act. She distances herself from the offensive action rather than see (or smell) the effects. Gulliver’s time on the island has taken a turn for the less comfortable. It would seem as though, on a certain level, the royal family might have preferred their home to burn than to be saved in such a manner. Imagine the horror of the scene through the eyes of one 1/12th the size of the giant!

Perspective.

As the footnotes declare, the palace fire is possibly a reference to Queen Anne’s hesitation to elevate Swift in the Anglican church because of his occasionally crude and impious way of telling stories. (Go figure!) If this is the case, then the goal is to join Swift in his smarmy satire and view the situation through the cynical eyes of the author. Maybe we’re supposed to see the whole situation as ridiculous and cheer as the overconfident Lilliputians get theirs. But there is a strange draw in the story that leaves me sympathetic to the Lilliputians as well. I am curious, this time around in reading the book, if I’m drawn to the inhabitants of the other lands as much as I am this first bunch.

Taking the Lilliputian perspective, then, I can’t help but think of sovereignty and blood.

Really, Bob?

Really.

I cannot count the number of times in my life I’ve heard or been asked, why would a good God _________? The question is posed as a response to doubt and pain. If I may toy with the notion of our current chapter, though, I would propose that often times providence feels like the vile torrent of Swift’s Chapter V. Caught within the circumstance, with a perspective far too small and marred by sin, it might appear that we are being defiled in the hands of a irrational God. As a result, we respond in a manner not unlike the Empress… disgust and distance. We stay away from the pain, away from the damage, away from the redeeming quality, because to face the damage is to possibly face the uncomfortable means by which we received care.

Could it be that God might work through pain – not only by passively allowing it, but also by actively ordaining it as his agent in this cursed world – in order to bring the greatest redemption? To be quite honest, sometimes our palaces need a little “made water” in order to let go of them as a means of ultimate security. The irony of Swift’s beef with the Queen is that in what seems like taking out his frustration through a tale of filthy firefighting, he was illustrating the point he may have failed to believe… that sometimes the vile torrent is a means of grace. Setback and pain are warning signs that something is amiss, and a clear signal that our eyes may be fixed on the wrong mighty fortress.

I think of biblical redemption and what is often considered the vile torrent that brings peace – blood. And this all in the name of supreme love? For those who cannot bring themselves to find comfort in the bloody reality of salvation, typified in animal sacrifice and fulfilled in the cross of Christ, they too respond with disgust and distance. Yet it is the disgusting and vile blood that saves. At the risk of sounding irreverent in the face of a story such as the palace fire, there is something very real to consider… God’s ordained means of saving have rarely if ever resembled the expected. And to be quite honest, if we’re not willing to embrace mystery in humility, his means are often downright difficult.

I don’t want to press to far in aligning Gulliver with God in the story. I don’t believe that to be the point. But I can’t help but see the parallels when the so-small-yet-so-puffed-up race encounter the giant beyond their comprehension. I don’t see God in Gulliver as much as I see myself in the Lilliputians.

 

“… For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2Corinthians 1:8b-9 ESV)

“So to keep me from being too elated by the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” (2Corinthians 12:7-9 ESV)