The Adventures of Pinocchio first appeared in 1881 as a serial in an Italian magazine for children. The story ends with the murder by hanging of the puppet Pinocchio:
“Oh, dear father!... if only you were here!”
And he had no breath to say anything else. He closed his eyes, opened his mouth, stretched out his legs, and, after giving a great shudder, he remained there as though frozen stiff.
THE END (ellipses in original)
Pinocchio must be among the most cruel books I have ever read. I did not remember it as so cruel, but it must be close to forty years since I last read it. I still have that book. The anonymous translator has “gave a long shudder, and hung stiff and insensible,” which is not much softer.
What is softer, though, is the presence of the next page, and of the rest of the book, and the absence of “THE END.” Young readers, after appointments with their child psychiatrists, demanded that Carlo Collodi continue Pinocchio’s adventures, resurrecting him (and in the process two other dead characters) for a time, so that now the above passage is merely the end of Chapter 15. Although he suffers at least two more symbolic deaths, Pinocchio is not murdered for good until twenty-two chapters later, at the end of the novel as we know it.
“There he is over there,” answered Gepetto; and he pointed to a large puppet propped against a chair, its head turned to one side, its arms dangling, and its legs crossed and folded in the middle so that it was a wonder that it stood up at all.
Pinocchio turned and looked at it; and after he had looked at it for a while, he said to himself with a great deal of satisfaction:
“How funny I was when I was a puppet! And how glad I am now that I’ve become a proper boy!”
Collodi was not responsible for Enrico Mazzanti’s illustration, which in this case – in most cases – amplifies the disquiet of the scene.
In fictional terms, Pinocchio was, as a puppet, alive. His vitality, the odd sense of existence Collodi creates for him, this is why Pinocchio survives. The dancing, badly behaved puppet, the corpse propped against that chair, was real. I have just spent two hundred pages watching him dance around. That soulless, satisfied creature sneering at the puppet is, fictionally, a total fake.
Ethically, the case is the same. The puppet behaved like a real boy, lying and having fun and making mistakes, unlike the proper boy, an imaginary creation of didactic fiction.
I read and am quoting the Nicolas J. Perella critical edition from 1986, which has facing-page Italian, the original illustrations, a book-length introduction, and some disconcertingly technical footnotes – “This gli, etymologically related to the fully stressed egli, which is used in the same way, is an enclitic subject pronoun (neuter-masculine, third person singular)…” (p. 475) – in other words, the perfect edition.