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A Mysterious, Esoteric Fairy Tale

The origin, interpretations, and secret meanings of Pinocchio 

By Jessica Herbst

If you have watched the classic Disney film “Pinocchio,” you likely think of it as a children’s story that warns against the consequences of lying. The animated movie portrays a lifelike puppet who learns the importance of truthfulness and bravery. The puppet’s trademark feature is that his nose gets longer every time he tells a lie. Disney, however, has a knack for taking dark or gruesome tales and reforming them into feel-good stories with happy endings. 

The figure of Pinocchio has a pervasive presence in pop culture and now sports a wide collection of filmic adaptations. However, the original story of Pinocchio isn’t as kid-friendly as some of its later versions. So, what is the true origin of Italy’s beloved animated puppet?

The original story was first written by Carlo Lorenzini and published in a magazine in 1881 under his pen name, Carlo Collodi. The magazine series was widely received, and two years later Collodi released his story as a book titled “The Adventures of Pinocchio.” 

Born in Florence in 1826, Collodi was known to be active in politics and was a contributor to multiple cultural periodicals. He often expressed his political views through the use of satire. As a harsh critic of Italy’s leaders, his most common complaint was his country’s indifference to the poor and socially disadvantaged. 

Collodi’s story is about an animated marionette, Pinocchio, who is left under the care of his maker Geppetto, an elderly woodcarver. Pinocchio is described as being mischievous and stubborn. From the beginning of the story, he refuses to go to school or take on any sort of responsibility for his troublesome actions. Pinocchio experiences numerous misadventures, many of which are surprisingly dark and violent. 

Some of Pinocchio’s less pleasant experiences include him turning into a donkey, only to be left to drown at sea; being swallowed by a whale; laboring to earn food and water; being hanged from a tree by a Fox and a Cat; and accidentally murdering his small companion, the Talking Cricket (more commonly known as Jiminy Cricket from the Disney version).

While children may simply enjoy this story as a collection of escapades, Pinocchio’s experiences can be interpreted as something much deeper. Collodi’s series of seemingly arbitrary misfortunes can be directly linked to his involvement in the Freemasons. 

The site of the lodge Hochma 182 by the Masons themselves goes over the symbolism of Collodi’s Masonic allegory, noting that the esoteric contents of “The Adventures of Pinocchio” are numerous for those able to interpret them. For example, Pinocchio being swallowed by a whale is a classic trope for spiritual initiation. The dark belly of the whale represents a Reflection Chamber from which the naive puppet can be reborn. Similarly, Pinocchio’s survival after being hanged from a tree by the Fox and the Cat represents another step of transformation.

Pinocchio’s mission to become a real child is the story’s most prominent connection to Masonry. Like in the Freemasons, one must take an initiatory path by overcoming temptations and obstacles in order to become an enlightened man. In Pinocchio’s case, once he learns to resist his hedonistic lifestyle, he symbolically transforms into a real boy. 

The sequence about Pinocchio’s nose growing whenever he tells a lie only plays a small part in the original story. Rather, the moral of Collodi’s tale is that young boys and children need to be able to experience the full consequences of their actions in order to become mature, fully-fledged adults later in life. 

A 2015 article by the New Yorker posits that Pinocchio’s lies and misbehaviors are just that of an ordinary boy, and his tendency to lie is a learned action from the adults in his life. While Collodi is an advocate for truth, his story also conveys that he understands the subtleties of pretense and disguise that exist in communication. 

Another interpretation of the story by a 2019 essay in the New York Times suggests that education is its driving force. Pinocchio is destined to be a puppet forever until he learns from his mistakes, or in other words, until he is educated. Therefore, Collodi’s story suggests that education is what sets one free from a life of toil and labor. 

Overall, many argue that “The Adventures of Pinocchio” demonstrates Collodi’s veiled criticism and complaints about Italy in the late 19th century. Pinocchio’s world is not a fairytale filled with princesses, knights or dragons. Instead, it’s an imaginative story that demonstrates the environment of the rural poor and the Masonic path to enlightenment. 

Collodi’s “The Adventures of Pinocchio” is rooted in a historical political climate, yet Pinocchio has become a classic tale that still holds significance today. It lives through the voices of adults and in the imaginations of children, and it has been subject to various retellings through multiple mediums. It comes as no surprise that the story of Pinocchio is one of the most translated stories to date. 

Want to learn more about Collodi’s Pinocchio? Visit the Museum of Pinocchio and Dante in Florence! Located on Via Ricasoli inside the Gerini Palace, the Pinocchio exhibit offers its visitors a full immersion into the classic story. 

Go to museopinocchioedante.com to learn more.