The Modern Fairy Tale Unmasked

In popular children’s culture, Pinocchio is, without a doubt, one of the most popular and fabled characters. The timeless and popular Walt Disney film helped make Pinocchio a household name. The rustic appeal of the film established Pinocchio as one of the pillars of the modern fairy tale, at least where the big screen is involved. The film related the story of a wooden puppet who yearned to become a “real boy”.

Unbeknownst to most, the popular film was actually derived from an Italian novella which was published in the late 19th century.  Written by Carlo Collodi, The Adventures of Pinocchio relates the story of a wooden marionette who would later on be immortalized in the big screen by Walt Disney. In the published text, the story of Pinocchio begun in Tuscany where an Italian carpenter named Master Antonio found a block of log he planned to use as a leg for his table.

To Master Antonio’s utter surprise, the log shouted out when he started to carve it. The talking log inspired fear within the seasoned carpenter so he gave the log to his neighbor, Geppetto, a destitute who planned to make a living as a puppeteer. Geppetto then transforms the log into a boy he named Pinocchio. As soon as he could walk, Pinocchio started to display mischievousness which landed Geppetto in jail. What ensues is the story of a naive toy-child who tries to navigate the vast and complex labyrinth of humanity on his own.

“Let me tell you that every man, whether he is born rich or poor, is obliged to do something in this world—to occupy himself, to work. Woe to those who lead slothful lives. Sloth is a dreadful illness and must be cured at once, in childhood. If not, when we are old it can never be cured.” ~ Carlo Collodi, The Adventures of Pinocchio

Telling children’s stories, even those that border morbidity, is a common denominator in many cultures across the globe. These stories are often hyperboles, extending beyond the absurd, mixing the quotidian with various elements of fantasy. Rife with morals, these stories were crafted with the full intent of pacifying rowdy children or instilling discipline to the ones that misbehave. The same can be said when Carlo Collodi took the pen and started writing a series of stories which would later on be collectively printed as The Adventures of Pinocchio.

The impact of this children’s story packaged as a fairy tale still reverberates in the contemporary. References to the children’s story and its various elements can be observed in day-to-day activities. Describing children, or basically individuals, who are dishonest as Pinocchio is a fine example of how the story has been woven into our daily conversations. We often hear parents use Pinocchio to admonish their children, scaring them by saying that their noses will grow long if they lie.

But Pinocchio is more than just the story of a boy whose nose grows long every time it lies. It is the story of transformation and growth, of the journey of a once naive and mischievous marionette who dreams of becoming a real boy turns into and becomes a “real boy”. The road to becoming a real boy, however, is not a paved one. The world out there is dangerous, fraught with challenges, temptations, and crossroads which one must learn to navigate and overcome using one’s own resources and knowledge.

On the road to fulfilling his dream, reuniting with his creator is an imperative for Pinocchio. While on this adventure, he learns several important morals which are going to be critical in the judgement on whether he becomes a real boy. Essentially lacking a stern moral fiber, Pinocchio must fulfill the classical definition of a good boy – kind, hard-working, industrious and studious. “Boys who refuse to study, and turn their backs upon books, schools, and masters, to pass their time in play and amusements, sooner or later come to a bad end,” went one line. Another line said: “Laziness is a serious illness and one must cure it immediately; yes, even from early childhood. If not, it will kill you in the end.”

“In the Land of Toys, every day, except Sunday, is a Saturday. Vacation begins on the first of January and ends on the last day of December. That is the place for me! All countries should be like it! How happy we should all be!” ~ Carlo Collodi, The Adventures of Pinocchio

The story is rife with allegories. The biggest allegorical reference is the repeated deference to what defines or makes up a good boy, or a real boy. Uncovering these definitions and learning lessons are no easy tasks, especially for a what is basically a slab of wood. Guiding Pinocchio in making the correct decisions is a talking cricket and a fairy, allegories for what was bereft in the inanimate marionette – conscience and wisdom.

Whilst this popularity can can be credited to the Disney film, the impact of the printed form is also With over 300 translations, Pinocchio is the world’s most translated book, which is, with the exception of religious books, is the most translated literary work. Pinocchio is a universal icon that is the epitome of comedy. He escaped largely unscathed although at times, he had to endure moderate calamities such as being stuck inside a whale’s cavernous stomach, being turned into a donkey, and being swindled by a sly pair of a cat and a fox. Collodi grounds Pinocchio, constantly reminding him repeatedly, through his mentors, that disaster remains a possibility.

Rather than adapting an overall bright demeanor, Pinocchio’s adventure is rife with disquieting situations. The story possesses a sepulchral atmosphere, eerie even. The Adventures of Pinocchio maybe a children’s fiction but it is one that is grounded on reality. The more morbid elements of life – death, injury, pain – were not explicitly depicted in the narrative. Their presence, however, can still be felt on the surface. Despite the absence of direct references, they were presented through metaphors, more allegories.

For its time, Pinocchio is an innovative and creative tale ahead of its time. The story draws weight on the heavily graphic storytelling. Collodi painted vivid images through his prose. The text of The Adventures of Pinocchio sublimely creates and draws pictures through text. Despite the bleak atmosphere that hovered above the story, it has an upbeat pace which easily created and projected vivid and colorful images. The storytelling’s graphic nature made it an effective device in imparting important lessons.

“Lies, my dear boy, can easily be recognized. There are two kind of them: those with short legs, and those with long noses. Your kind have long noses.” ~ Carlo Collodi, The Adventures of Pinocchio

The cultural and social impact of the story is awe-inspiring for its influences are still evident in the contemporary. Although the movie adaptation has beautified some bleak elements of the original text, it nonetheless remained faithful to the story’s central motifs of metamorphosis and rebirth. The Adventures of Pinocchio is indeed a universal icon and a literary phenomenon that defies the ages. Its influences and morals will continue to reverberate on both children and adult alike.



Characters (30%) – 26%
Plot (30%) – 27%
Writing (25%) – 21%
Overall Impact (15%) – 13%

I can’t remember if I have watched Pinocchio in its entirety but I have always been cognizant of its popularity. Its hopeful story made me think that the published text that inspired it carried they same bright disposition. It did, to some extent. There were so many sinister events that permeated all throughout the story that made me reevaluate the definition of a children’s story. Apparently, the story has undergone the Disney treatment, the way Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid and Daisy Fisher’s The Glass Slippers (Cinderella) were altered to present more child-friendly stories. All their grim elements were toned down. I am inclined to think that these are adult tales and not children’s stories.

Book Specs

Author: Carlo Collodi
Translator: Geoffrey Brock
Publisher: New York Review of Books
Publishing Date: 2009
Number of Pages: 160
Genre: Fantasy, Children’s Literature


Though one of the best-known books in the world, Pinocchio at the same time remains unknown – linked in many minds to the Walt Disney movie that bears little relation to Carlo Collodi’s splendid original. That story is of course about a puppet who after many trials, succeeds in becoming a “real boy.” Yet it is hardly a sentimental or morally improving tale. To the contrary, Pinocchio is one of the great subversives of the written page, a madcap genius hurtled along at the pleasure and mercy of his desires, a renegade who in many ways resembles his near contemporary Huck Finn.

Pinocchio the novel, no less than Pinocchio the character, is one of the great inventions of modern literature. A sublime anomaly, the book merges the traditions of the picaresque, of street theater, and of folk and fairy tales into a work that is at once adventure, satire, and a powerful enchantment that anticipates surrealism and magical realism. Thronged with memorable characters and composed with the fluid but inevitable logic of a dream, Pinocchio is an endlessly fascinating work that is essential equipment for life.

About the Author

Carlo Lorenzini, better known by the pen name Carlo Collodi, was born on November 24, 1826 in Florence, Grand Duchy of Tuscany. 

The oldest child, Lorenzini was raised by his maternal grandmother in the town of Collodi, his mother’s birthplace. After attending primary school, he was sent to study at a theological seminary called Colle Val d’Elsa. Not wanting to be a priest, he pursued his education at the College of the Scolopi Fathers in Florence, In 1884, he started working at Libreria Piatti, a Florentine bookstore. At the bookstore, he assisted Guiseppi Aiazzi, a prominent Italian manuscript specialist.

Because of his political involvement, Lorenzini’s earlier works were influenced by poolitics. His first literary works were published in the periodicals he founded – the satirical newspaper Il Lampione he founded in 1853; and Lo scaramuccia (The Controversy) he published a year later. His first notable work, Il signor Alberi ha ragione! (Mr. Alberi Is Right!), was published in 1860. In this work, he started using the pseudonym Collodi.

When Lorenzini became disenchanted with Italian politics, he turned to children’s literature. He begun with translating French fairy tales into Italian. He started writing his most popular work, Storia di un burattino (Story of a Marionette), also called Le avventure di Pinocchio, in 1880. It was published weekly in Il Giornale per i Bambini, the first Italian newspaper for children.

Lorenzini passed away on October 26, 1890 and lies buried in Cimitero Monumentale Delle Porte Sante, Firenze, Toscana, Italy.