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Branching Out: Guillermo del Toro’s Transformation of an Evergreen Tale

Branching Out: Guillermo del Toro’s Transformation of an Evergreen Tale

Through the ages, some tales have spread their seeds like trees, creating forests of imagination. Fairy tales often have that quality. But I doubt that Carlo Collodi, the author of the 1883 novel Pinocchio, would like his story to be called a fairy tale. He wrote it with clear intentions: to support his dream of another Italy, freed from Austrian rule and governed by democracy, which was only possible with children who went to school instead of working in the fields, thereby liberating themselves from the poverty of their parents through education.

Carlo Lorenzini—or Collodi, as he called himself later on, after the home village of his mother—was the son of a seamstress and a cook. Carlo witnessed six of his ten siblings die before they reached the age of seven. Some believe that Pinocchio’s blue-haired fairy, who saves the protagonist after he is hung from a tree, was inspired by Marianna Seconda, a sister Carlo lost when she was only six years old. Or was it Giovanna, the daughter of the gardener at a summer house that the writer’s brother rented, as she was also around six years old and must have brought back memories of Marianna? Whoever the muse was, she instilled the theme of loss into the fabric of Pinocchio.

The marquise whom Carlo’s parents served offered to send him to school, but the boy didn’t want to become a priest, as his patron suggested—doesn’t that sound familiar? Instead, he worked at a bookstore and became a writer. Collodi had a rebellious mind, and he was willing to fight for his beliefs, another trait he would give to his wooden hero. Collodi became a soldier twice to help make his dream of a united Italy come true. It did, but as a kingdom instead of a democracy. Disillusioned, he turned to words in order to fight for his ideas. He worked as a journalist and published satirical magazines, and one day he began to write for a children’s newspaper, where Pinocchio made his first appearance.

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