LIT 4334: The Golden Age of Children's Literature

The Princess and the Goblin and Christianity

Irene’s grandmother is perhaps the most interesting character of George Macdonald’s The Princess and the Goblin. For most of the story the reader believes that the only one who knows of her existence is Irene. She is characterized as omniscient/godlike, as a sort of shape-shifter (she appears as an old woman, a young woman, and a bird). She is beautiful…but old… but timeless. She also has magical healing powers, spins a thread that leads Irene out of danger, and knows how people are going to act and react to things. It is very easy to look at the grandmother as a representation of a Christian god (or god-like figure, maybe the feminine goddess Sophia?) especially when you consider Macdonald’s own religious history.


With the interpretation of Irene’s grandmother as God (or another Christian figure), it is interesting to look at the other women in this story. Curdie’s mom is of a lower class (she is the wife of a miner—Scottish folklore always glorified the humble working class) and is characterized as domestic and a loving mother. She is also responsible, trusting, honest, wise, and full of common sense. Her opinions and beliefs have weight among even the men of the family. When Curdie tells his mom the stories Irene has told him about her grandmother, she scolds him for not believing Irene and tells her own story of when she was rescued in the woods by a bright light that guided her home. She emphasizes that if he does not have an explanation for something, he cannot know that what someone else believes is false. Lootie, on the other hand, is of a higher class (she is the nurse of the princess Irene) and is also characterized as domestic and a loving mother-figure. Lootie is, however, a sort of foil to Curdie’s mom in every other way: she is irresponsible (getting lost in the woods and sometimes losing track of Irene), nervous, skeptical, proud and a bit foolish. She is a people-pleaser and is always worried about losing her job. She scolds Irene for “telling stories” about her grandmother and when the Irene asks her grandmother about Lootie she says that Lootie will not believe in her.

It is very easy to imagine these two women characters as representative of the believer and the non-believer of God and of Christian morals.

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Character Analysis of Pinocchio

It is easy to say that, although Pinocchio is not a real boy until the end of the story, he definitely resembles one inside and, for the most part, out as well. As we discussed in class, although Collodi never had children of his own, he writes Pinocchio almost with expertise in the field of boys’ behavior, as if having years of experience. What distinguishes the puppet to a real boy, besides obvious physical characteristics, is his naughtiness and foolishness. Like 99.9% of young children, Pinocchio was born (he, an enchanted wood) not knowing any manners, virtues, or morals. The entirety of the story centers on Pinocchio’s adventures throughout the many surrounding lands, and how he progressively develops good conduct and moral principles. At first we see Pinocchio as this selfish puppet character who kicks his creator Geppetto’s nose after his feet are carved, squishes a cricket who is out to help him, and sells his primer that his father bought him for school with the money he got from selling his own old coat. Much later on, after many lessons are learned from numerous fun and/or cruel adventures, we see Pinocchio’s will and determination as strong as the very wood that composes his body: such that when Pinocchio and his father, Geppetto, enter the cricket’s cottage after escaping the stomach of the shark. Here, we see a caring and compassionate Pinocchio making “a good bed of straw for old Geppetto,” and then asking the talking cricket, “‘Tell me, cricket, where can I get a cup of milk for my poor father?'” Then, not soon after, Pinocchio is working hard turning Giangio’s windlass, “Pinocchio started at once, but before he could draw the hundred buckets of water he was perspiring from head to foot. He had never worked like that before.” This was in fact true, as earlier on we see him in Busy Bee town (after being told of it by the dolphin) where he was “terribly hungry” for not having eaten “more than twenty-four hours.” Here, we see just how money and food is earned by hard work, as Pinocchio begs to many passers-by who offer him double, triple, and even quintuple the penny he is asking for, but only if he is willing to aid them in carrying their merchandise. Of course, Pinocchio refuses for he is very lazy, and ultimately agrees to a kind little woman who offers him copious amounts of food. It is evident that the Pinocchio who would turn down even five pennies–as opposed to just one–despite how hungry he is, is not even recognizable as the same Pinocchio who later cares for his father, “From that day, for over five months, he got up before dawn every morning to turn the windlass, so as to earn the cup of milk for his father,” and, “Learned how to weave baskets of reeds,” which he sold.


Besides developing into a more determined, selfless puppet with moral values–and then ultimately turning into a real boy, Pinocchio also learns a lot about reality and its evil truths. Not only does Pinocchio experience the hardships associated with the lessons that make him into a real, good boy, but he also experiences firsthand what evils and dangers the world has to offer. His first encounter with the nastiness of people is when Pinocchio is seen, very early in the story, begging an old man who is peeping out from his window. The old man who promises Pinocchio some bread reappears with “a great kettle of water” that he pours on poor Pinocchio. Not only does Pinocchio witness lying and deceit, but also experiences harassment. His next experience with life’s evil truths occurs when Pinocchio encounters the Great Puppet Show and sees his puppet brothers and sisters. Unfortunately, it comes with a price when the Showman, Fire-eater, punishes Pinocchio for disturbing his theater by threatening to throw him into his fire–a horrible death for a little boy, wouldn’t you say? Luckily he shows pity, combined with contradicting, immediate will for manslaughter (or in this case, dealing with live puppets), then threatens to burn one of Pinocchio’s brothers, Harlequin, with the same fate–luckily exerting pity once again. Here, the young Pinocchio faces his very death in a gruesome and terrifying way, getting caught in a predicament that would surely leave a scar and an imprint upon a child’s mind for most of his or her life. Next (and most certainly not the last), Pinocchio is tricked by the fox and the cat in following them to a field where money supposedly grows into a money-bearing tree. The young and naive Pinocchio has not yet developed the ability to judge or analyze lies and deceit, so he follows through with their plan, ultimately getting mauled by the duo, which luckily has little effect on Pinocchio since he is made of wood, “Then the smaller assassin drew a horrid knife, and tried to force it between his lips, like a chisel, but Pinocchio, quick as lightning, bit off his hand and spat it out.” Such series of events would be horrific upon a human child. A knife would sure rupture the child’s lips and possibly lead to death. When the assassins catch Pinocchio once again, they hang him on a branch of a big oak tree, which would surely kill a human child almost instantly. It is with this that Pinocchio develops understanding of life’s true and vivid evils that exist within the world. He learns, at least in part, to arise suspicions as to prevent such a similar situation from happening again. Near the end of the book, we see Pinocchio encountering the fox and the cat yet again, only this time he sees right through them,

“‘Oh, Pinocchio,’ sobbed the fox, ‘give something to two poor invalids.’

‘Invalids,’ repeated the cat.

‘Good-bye, scoundrels!’ answered the puppet. ‘You cheated me once, but you never will again.'”


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Pinocchio: Lost in Translation?

In this week’s class, the reading of Pinocchio brought up a discussion of translations of literature, and of the problems that arise therein. I think that this issue is an incredibly important and complex one, and that so some degree, it is under-considered – especially in the Children’s Lit canon. While there are some obvious issues that present themselves  (for example, the shark or whale debate in Pinocchio), other, less tangible meanings are “lost in translation.”



One of the things that I think is the most important to talk about in this discussion and one of the most difficult to quantify is the subtle connotations and cultural affixations of words that, necessarily, are lost when a work is translated. Even for bilingual individuals, who have an intricate understanding of both languages, conveying the meaning of a word from one language to the next is often difficult or even impossible. By extension, even a translator fluent in both the language of the original text and the language of the translation will have to make some linguistic sacrifices.

Another translational issue that often arises in literature is the loss of word play and other poetic devices. If, for example, an author has used alliteration, it is likely very difficult for that alliteration to be replicated post-translation. Puns are similarly difficult to translate, because homonyms and spelling differ, of course, from language to language. While these discrepancies do not generally alter the story or plot, they do change the tone of the text – and often the perceived intention of the author as well.

In Pinocchio, many of these translation problems are revealed and implemented. Although I am not fluent in Italian, I am certain that a person who was would read the original text and the English translation as somewhat discrepant from one another. While it is likely that these issues are not tremendously problematic for the overall story, as literature scholars we must consider them with the gravity that they deserve.Image

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Pinocchio as a Comedy and a Tragedy: Is it Appropriate for Children Today?

Ann Lawson Lucas, the translator and author of the introduction and notes in The Adventures of Pinocchio, described the essence of the novel perfectly when she aptly stated, “In Pinocchio, the emphasis is on comedy, yet tragedy is present to a significant degree.  These adventures entail danger, fear, loss and grief, and there is a great deal of death in the book.  …Pinocchio is about growing up.” (Pgs. xli-xlii)  I whole heartedly agree with this assertion and this summation of the story Carlo Collodi weaved about the misadventures and life lessons of this little wooden boy, Pinocchio deals with very adult issues that are not sugar-coated nor masked, though they are occasionally softened by the silliness of talking animals or growing noses.  When attempting to discern the appropriate age this text should be recommended for it is extremely difficult because even though the problems the novel addresses and the plot twists it takes can very justly be considered ‘adult’, they are also arguably a fundamental part of growing up and learning how to, through literature, deal with problems and plot twists of life – something that I believe is essential for young readers.

     Pinocchio kills a talking cricket who comes to haunt him as a ghost, he finds a fellow child when he is lost in the woods who claims she is dead, he suffers starvation, imprisonment, and being hung, he discovers the tombstone of his closest friend, he is blamed for the murder of a fellow school mate, Pinocchio is almost eaten, he witnesses his father’s drowning, sees his best friend-turned-donkey labored to death, and he has to work extremely hard to financially support his ill father as well as the gravely ill fairy/mother figure he has come to love.  This is more than one person should or could even bear in a lifetime yet Pinocchio endures all of this in just a few short years.  As we follow and suffer with him the many misfortunes and tragedies Pinocchio experiences there are times that even I thought, this is too much, too far, and not for kids, but yet, simultaneously I understood the lessons Collodi was trying to impart upon the intended readers and I also acknowledge how very valuable it is to learn, through our little wooden puppet, how to deal with life and death, to learn that lying leads to trouble, and “those children who rebel against their parents…will never do well in this world, and sooner or later they will bitterly regret what they did.” (Pg. 12)

Ann Lawson Lucas helped to bridge the gap that history has made between the reading of this book by children in 1883 and today, and the different life experiences that shaped and influenced the novel Collodi has written.  She says,

“A century ago death was a commonplace of every day life, Collodi had ample experience of it himself, especially among his siblings and through the early death of his father.  Perhaps the deaths and griefs in Pinocchio were a way of confronting children’s worst fears.  Although shocking and unpalatable to modern taste, they have an important function in the balance of the narrative: the joy is more joyous because of the survival through the experience of sorrow, and conversely the story is constantly pulled back from frivolity by the depth of serious emotion evoked.” (Pg. xlii)     I agree, though the story is fantastical and fraught with silliness and surprising circumstances, it addresses very real issues, issues that may not be as present in the life of children today, but regardless, everyone in their lifetime will experience death, every child will be tempted by their own version of the “Land of Toys”, every child will tell a lie or misbehave, and they will witness or endure poverty.  Though the delivery of these life lessons and experiences by Collodi may not be as softened, or palatable, as readers might expect or be accustomed to today, many of the themes and teachings in The Adventures of Pinocchio still endure in contemporary culture.  The website GoodReads, a place for book sharing, reviewing, and recommending, rated Pinnochio for those ages five and up and though I can’t see many parent wanting their five year old to read, “They strung him up to dangle from the branch of a big tree…He had no breath left to say anything else.  He closed his eyes, opened his mouth, straightened his legs and, giving a great shudder, hung there as if frozen stiff, “ right before bed I still would agree with this rating. (Pg. 48)  Pinocchio is unapologetically a story that is both comedy and tragedy, it is, as Glauco Cambon described it in Pinocchio and the Problem of Children’s Literature, a book that “has to do with the education of a child, both through the traditional humanist instrument of classroom and books and through the school of hard knocks.” (Cambon, Pg. 54)

In short, Pinocchio is about growing up, which all children have to do one day.


Pinocchio’s Existential Crisis

When the class was informed that Carlo Collodi’s original ending to his classic children’s tale involved the death of Pinocchio, sans resurrection, I believe I heard a subtle, yet collective gasp under the breath of everyone present. We had all grown up on the somewhat scarring Disney version of the children’s tale, but upon reading Collodi’s version, were faced with many inconsistencies that threw us off the image we could all conjure by memory. Pinocchio dying and never having the chance to be reincarnated as a fleshy human child–it’s absurd to think that Italian children everywhere were almost subjected to such an unsettling idea.

Pinocchio’s sardonic wit and dark humor is already hard enough for children to swallow, but the thought of introducing a main character that dies (and isn’t transformed into something religiously or morally symbolic). Pinocchio’s death would’ve been the ultimate sucker punch to the Italian children. It may have had a greater impact influencing children to obey their parents and resist running away from home, but undoubtedly there would be an epidemic of juvenile anxiety disorders.

Collodi, rather, focused on the satire and the farce within the story, avoided the sentimentality that Disney painted over the story with. It seems, then, that Glauco Cambon’s essay on Pinocchio holds true to the fact the Collodi’s tale may not be as appropriate for children as we like to think it is. Pinocchio is an unscrupulous renegade, ready to chase after his most visceral desires–at any cost. He is both at the command and mercy of his pleasures. Cambon recognizes that beneath the surface of Pinocchio, Collodi inserted political and philosophical satire. Perhaps originally, Pinocchio was so overwhelmed with nihilistic angst and existential grief, that Collodi had no other choice but to have him die (again, not to “kid friendly,” in my opinion).

Since the ending was changed, and Pinocchio survives and becomes a real boy, I guess we’ll never know.


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Correct Collodi?

We have all been introduced to the Victorian children’s novel and how the authors used morals to lead children in the direction of obedience. But when reading Pinocchio by Carl Collodi we see his extreme views of what is expected of children. His main character Pinocchio represents the rotten little boy who misbehaves and only thinks of himself. Collodi view most children, especially boys as these outrageous little monsters. Then there is the opposing view of children during the time; the thought that children were little angels corrupted by their parents and the surrounding world. Many critics believe that he had a rather skewed outlook on children and how they should behave. But did he really?

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Yes, some punishments that Pinocchio received were extremely harsh; for example he being thrown in jail on account of he let the burglar rob him. I personally was horrified at that and felt bad for his character. Being that he was a mere child was not means to lock him in prison. But he did deserve to be punished for the wrong things he did. Collodi was correct in his belief that children need to be properly punished for what they did wrong; he wanted to call out the parents of the rotten children and show them that by treating their children like little, innocent cherubs that they could turn out just like Pinocchio. But how should children be treated? When I become a parent, I do not know if I would let my child read this novel. Even though there are great lessons to be learned, some of the tales could frighten young children. We learned that Collodi changed the vulgar ending of Pinocchio being hung for his crimes of being a bad child, and that was a smart move. We should not be preaching to children that if they mess up that they will suffer the most severe of consequences like Collodi believed. But we should allow them to make mistakes and guide them in the right direction to help them not falter again.

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Pinocchio: Collodi’s Guide to a Unified Italy

The author of The Adventures of Pinocchio, Carlo Collodi, was an Italian soldier who fought in the War for Unification for 1870. After Italy was established as a singular political nation, Collodi strived to connect the people culturally, too. The Adventures of Pinocchio provides examples of how Collodi instructs his readers on how to unify the country. Some key aspects of bringing together a people are education and hard work. Each of these ideas plays a central role in the novel and provides a background on how Collodi wants to consolidate the Italian people.


The importance of education is present throughout Pinocchio. At the time when the book was written, only privileged Italian children attended schooling. However, when the War was ended, public education was established. Collodi fought for this right and believed that education for all was necessary to unify the nation. In the novel, the importance of going to school is very prevalent. Pinocchio, like many children, does not want to study; he would rather eat and play all day. Each of Pinocchio’s parental figures, the cricket, Geppetto, and the fairy, stress the need for children to receive an education. Finally, after many trials and tribulations, Pinocchio learns to read and write on his own and eventually becomes a good little boy. In my opinion, the continuous appearance of education is Collodi’s way of guiding Italy towards unification.


Another idea that is discussed throughout the book is the notion of hard work and success. The fairy warns Pinocchio, “Remember that every man, rich or poor, must find something to do in this world; everybody must work. Woe to those who lead idle lives! Idleness is a dreadful disease.” (p. 148) If a nation is to be successful, its citizens must be willing to work hard and make a living. Collodi understands that Italy cannot prosper unless people earn money and bolster the economy. Throughout the course of the story, Pinocchio repeatedly refuses to do work. In each instance, he remains hungry and weak. After finally seeing the light, Pinocchio devotes his life to physical labor in order to provide the basic needs to Geppetto and himself. As a result of his hard work, he is greatly rewarded. Like public education, Collodi uses the notion of hard work to show the Italian people how to become a successful nation.

This site also discusses the importance of education to Collodi and its presence in his novel.

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The Princess and the Puppet: Contrasts in Presentation


In both The Princess and the Goblin and The Adventure of Pinocchio, the authors present the audience with moral lessons and values. These lessons, sometimes subtle and sometimes not, and are designed to instruct and develop children into responsible and respectable adults. While both MacDonald and Collodi present these lessons, one big difference in these stories is the method of delivery; the polite and courageous Irene and Curdie stand in stark contrast to the frustratingly mischievous Pinocchio in providing examples to children. MacDonald presents the reader with Curdie and Irene, both excellent examples of nobility, honor, courage and humility to stress these values and to teach the audience his moral lessons. Collodi on the other hand gives the audience Pinocchio, the character who teaches us everything not to do while stumbling from bad decision to bad decision. While the development is more evident when the character starts with a lack of virtue – as Pinocchio clearly did – both strategies can yield the desired effect of teaching kids how to be good. Both authors tie in the lessons to their stories and both stories have a relatively clear moral imperative that is rather accessible and clear. The dueling delivery styles are not mutually exclusive however, as The Princess and the Goblin showed with characters like Harelip and the Goblin Queen and as The Adventures of Pinocchio demonstrated with the blue-haired fairy. These characters served to create dynamic contrast between the characters; whether to highlight the virtuous Princess Irene and Curdie or to emphasize the failings of Pinocchio, these supporting roles were important in developing stronger protagonists and helped refine and guide them on their quests. In the end, both stories deliver potent lessons important in the development of children into adults; whether learned from the strong examples set by the characters in The Princess and the Goblin or acquired in the trials and tribulations that Collodi puts his characters through in The Adventures of Pinocchio.

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The Ultimate Puppet

Within Carlo Collodi’s The Adventures of Pinocchio we encounter a wooden marionette, which has been carved to resemble that of a young boy.  This puppet goes by the name Pinocchio and was carved by Gepetto out of magical wood.  Since Gepetto is who gives Pinocchio a “body” which allows him to become animated and he can move and speak all by himself now.  Thus, it is established that Gepetto is now Pinocchio’s father.  Pinocchio is not the marionette that Gepetto had originally hoped to create but instead becomes more like a naughty little boy.  Therefore, his hopes for a source of income quickly become something he is financially dependent for.

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There are many takes on what the purpose of Pinocchio is.  Most of the time it is believed to be a cautionary tale to warn children, especially boys, what can happen when one is naughty.  The fact that there are no girls or women within the text, except for the Blue Fairy who holds a very different role.  This coupled with other elements within the story have given some psychoanalysts the idea that this novel is very Freudian and we see the Oedipus Complex portrayed through Pinocchio.  Some critics believe that the lack of girls/women, and the “phallic” nose directly reference the underlying homosexuality within the text.  Contrary to this idea is that many of the Italian critics seemed very anti-Freudian and they decidedly ignore the “phallic nose” and instead focus on the idea of “the innocence of childhood and by the immaculacy of the Virgin Madonna-Fairy-Godmother” (Stone, Pinocchio and Pinocchiology).

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I, however, am more apt to agree with the psychologist view of the story of Pinocchio and his father, which states that, “and see the real good boy as the puppet” (Stone, Pinocchio and Pinocchiology).  Pinocchio while a marionette is his own person.  He makes mistakes and tries to do what he is told.  However, to be changed into a real life, flesh, breathing young boy he must obey all that he is instructed to do.   He must conform to all of the instructions he is given by Gepetto, the Blue Fairy, and the other adults he encounters. Thus, by achieving his wish to be a real boy he sacrifices all his abilities for free thinking actions.


Source: STONE, JENNIFER, Pinocchio and Pinocchiology, American Imago, 51:3 (1994:Fall) pages 329-331

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Parental Love in “Pinocchio”

Pinocchio misbehaves in every way conceivable for a nineteenth century Italian child: he runs away constantly, lies, and disobeys every command. Yet despite his persistent naughtiness and forgotten repentances, Pinocchio somehow manages to retain the unconditional love of both of his parental figures. Geppetto and the Blue Fairy save and forgive him for every misdeed, despite his repeated disobedience. Their perfect parental love strains belief, even for a fairy-tale-like story.

"I'm going to give up my whole life for you!"

“I’m going to give up my whole life for you!”

The Blue Fairy’s magical powers and angelic resurrection seem to explain her capacity for ceaseless love, but Geppetto is a poor, common man. Geppetto’s sacrificial love continues to strain belief especially after the reader considers the timeline of the tale. Geppetto carves Pinocchio, who immediately runs away and Geppetto is taken to jail. Geppetto returns the next day, forgetting his initial anger when he sees Pinocchio’s burned feet, and giving Pinocchio his pears. In what seems to be the same day, Geppetto sells his coat to buy Pinocchio a primer. The next day – two days after Pinocchio’s creation – Pinocchio runs off and begins his adventure that keeps him from Geppetto for two years.

"We hung out once two years ago - boo hoo hoo".

“We hung out one time two years ago – boo hoo hoo”.

Even disregarding Pinocchio’s odd genesis, Geppetto displays a remarkable amount of self-sacrifice for a creature he has only briefly known. He gives up his food and his coat, but also seems to have given up his temper. Geppetto gets in a scuffle in the second chapter, and is jailed in the third because the policeman believes Geppetto is “a perfect tyrant with children” and believes Geppetto will “tear [Pinocchio] to pieces” if left alone with him (17-18).

Fatherhood has transformed Geppetto. Here, Collodi represents parental love as totally innate – all that is required is the appearance of a child. Geppetto needs no experience, nor a wife, to immediately know what is best for Pinocchio.

Parenting is easy!

Parenting is easy!

Geppetto lovingly names him Pinocchio to “bring him good luck,” but the puppet begins abusing him before his body is even fully formed: “You are not even finished and you already disobey your father!” (13, 14). Nevertheless, he continues to care for Pinocchio, even later “patient[ly]” peeling the pears to teach Pinocchio a lesson about valuing food (33). Geppetto continues to maintain love of this caliber, formed over two days, for over two years of hardship and abandonment. Such a short time period, especially one full of abuse, does not seem enough to cultivate such longstanding affection. Collodi is therefore representing parental love as not only innate, but immediate: Geppetto’s love is fully formed upon Pinocchio’s creation, and requires no reinforcement from his child. Pinocchio may choose to please his father, but parental love will withstand the greatest abuse.

However, since Pinocchio was carved into being, Geppetto directly created him. In this sense, carving the puppet is closer to the construction of the child in the womb than the usual male involvement, making Geppetto’s parental role more maternal than paternal. The Blue Fairy claims Pinocchio as her own, but she has no real involvement in his creation. Geppetto’s journey throughout the book also seems more traditionally feminine – he is self-sacrificial, then abandoned, then suffers alone, but is finally rescued and cared for.