ONCE UPON A TIME THERE WAS A PIECE OF WOOD
By Salvatore Di Vita
Carlo Lorenzini was born of humble parents in Florence, Italy in 1826. His father was a cook and his mother a servant. He was the first of ten children. He studied in the seminary to become a priest, but after finishing his education, he began to write for a news paper. He wrote under the pen name of Collodi, taking the name of the town where his mother was born. Carlo Collodi took an interest in politics and like a true patriot, in 1848 he defended Tuscany in a revolt against its Hapsburg rulers and in 1859 fought again in the war between Italy and Austria. He later took an active role in aiding Garibaldi’s men in their struggle toward the unification of Italy. His passion, however, was to be a writer.
He wrote several stories, but success seemed to elude him until he came across an old discarded piece of wood and thought of its significance. As he contemplated the wood, an old legend came to mind. It was a legend which dated back to the Renaissance and told of an oddly-shaped slab of marble so long and narrow that it was thought to be unsuitable for sculpting. It was actually considered to be a piece of junk which was rejected by every sculptor who saw it, except one, Michelangelo. Michelangelo stared at it for a long time, and then smiled as if recognizing an old friend. He then eagerly accepted the marble and began chipping away, eventually releasing his “David” from within.
As Carlo Collodi thought of the legend, he knew that he was no Michelangelo, but as he stared at the wood, he murmured the words, “C’era una volta un pezzo di legno” (Once upon a time there was a piece of wood), not realizing that he had uttered the first words of what was to become a literary classic. In a manner similar to Michelangelo, Carlo Collodi created, from his imagination, a piece of wood, then with a stroke of his pen created an old carpenter who carved the wood to release his “Pinocchio” from within. It was to be a story meant for children though it would be read and enjoyed by children and adults alike. It is a story in which the old wood carver, after finding that his creation could walk and talk, adopts him as his own son, loving the boy unconditionally even though the boy is selfish and ungrateful. It is a story which weighs not only moral values but the qualities of one’s soul which define humanity.
In the original story, Pinocchio is not the innocent, cute little naïve character that Walt Disney makes him out to be. In the original story he is irresponsible by choice. He is lazy, refuses to go to school and is always ready to take the easy way out. The size of his nose reveals that he is a liar. He even kills his conscience the cricket by smashing him with a hammer. But the old wood carver loves Pinocchio so much that he gives up everything to go in search of him. Then, through one misadventure after another, Pinocchio comes to realize what it means to be human. Humanity, he learns, is not bestowed through a mere physical makeup of flesh and blood. To be truly human, one must have compassion, humility, selflessness and love and he realizes that anyone lacking these qualities would be nothing more than a discarded piece of wood.
Through the years, the lessons taught by this story have been discussed by many scholars and philosophers. Pinocchio has been published throughout the world and translated into more than eighty languages. After sending in the final installment to his publisher in 1883, Carlo Collodi wrote other stories, but never achieved the perfection he had attained in Pinocchio.
Quite often, the study of literature reveals some hidden secrets of its author. Although he may never have confided in anyone, there seems to emerge a strange truth revealing a profound loneliness with which he lived, for he never married and never had children. Carlo Collodi died in Florence in 1890.
When analyzing the story of Pinocchio and its author, one cannot help but suggest that the lonely old wood carver he wrote about was a literary depiction of himself and Pinocchio the imaginary boy to whom he gave his unconditional love.