Pinocchio

Pinocchio is a classic children’s tale, first written by by Italian writer Carlo Collodi in 1883. It is a story of puppet’s journey to become a “real boy” and is commonly counted among the most popular children’s tales of all time.

Indeed, the Disney adaptation in 1940 cemented its place in the hearts and minds of children across the world. However, like many fairy tales, myths and legends, the original story is remarkably dark and even sinister in parts. Moreover, many of the motifs and elements of the story hark back to deep and resonant mythical themes.

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The story begins in Tuscany Italy, where a poor and childless woodcarver Geppetto, is given a piece of wood that talks and weeps. He carves it into a marionette and calls the puppet  Pinocchio. Immediately the puppet shows willful ungratefulness to his “father” Geppetto, kicking him and running away.

Geppetto searches for Pinochio but ends up getting thrown into jail. The hungry puppet returns home and falls asleep in front of the fire. When he awakes and Geppetto returns from jail, they find that his feet have been burned off in the fire.

Ever loving Geppetto repairs Pinocchio’s feet and sells his jacket to purchase the puppet a book to attend school. However, the marionette’s mischief does not end here. On the way to school Pinocchio is diverted by a Marionette Theatre Company and sells his school book to attend. Here he gains five gold coins but instead of returning to poor Geppetto, the puppet is lured by a wicked Cat and Fox who try to extort him of his money and leave him hanging for dead.

Cat and Fox

Rescued by a fairy with Blue Hair, Pinocchio lies to her about his gold coins and famously his nose grows long. She urges him to be a good boy and sends him on his way.

The Cat and Fox return and succeed in stealing gullible Pinocchio’s gold and in his attempt to complain to the courts, he is thrown in jail. Further adventures have Pinocchio labouring for a farmer, shipwrecked at sea, captured by the Circus and turned into a Donkey.

All this time poor Geppetto has been searching for Pinocchio and himself ended up in the belly of a giant fish. Here, in the belly of the fish,  Pinocchio himself shipwrecked, finds his father and together they escape.

Blue Hair Fairy

Finally, humbled and repentant, Pinocchio works diligently, saves money and cares for his father. Visited by the fairy with the Blue Hair in a dream, Pinocchio finds that he has indeed become a “real boy.”

The story of an inanimate object’s metamorphosis into a being of consciousness and its consequent relationship with its maker is recurrent in mythical literature. From the Torah’s account of Adam and Eve in Genesis, to  Ovid’s Pygmalion, to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and to more modern iterations is sci-fi and fantasy Blade Runner each explore the nuances of the relationship between creation and creator in different ways.

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  • Can a maker imbue his or her creation with consciousness and life, simply by loving it enough?
  • What does true freedom and love between parent and child, between creator and creation really look like?
  • What is the consequence to a creator of a creation who is given life and yet is unloved?
  • What is the consequence to a creation of rejecting the creator and seeking its own path?

In many ways, the story of Pinocchio follows the classic tropes of a “hero journey”: the leaving of the familiar, the meeting with supernatural aids or mentors, the encounters with trials and enemies, the ordeal resulting in death and the final resurrection and return.

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Pinnochio’s story, like the story of Adam and Eve, begins with rebellion. Awake and consciousness, the first choices of this new being are ones of curiosity, independence, freedom and necessary rejection of the advice of both conscience [the cricket] and the father. However, this journey leads to strife, suffering, loss, imprisonment and even death.

Adam and Eve

His turning point is his encounter with his father Geppetto in the belly of the giant fish. Here Pinocchio, descends as though into death and rescues the father, returning him to life. Rising from the ashes of this death experience, Pinocchio is a different person – loving, humble, respectful and caring for his father. It is here that receives his ultimate wish from the fairy, his wish to become a “real boy.”

The classic mythological story, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, shapes a similar motif when Luke Skywalker encounters his father, the Sith Lord, Darth Vader. Luke knows he will never become a true Jedi until he faces his father. When Luke faces Darth Vader and he resists the pressure to turn to the dark side,  he redeems his father, much like Pinocchio, redeems Geppetto from the belly of the giant fish.

This narrative trope is starkly paralleled in the Star Wars: The Force Awakens, in which acolyte to the dark side Kylo Ren faces his father Han Solo, and in an act which will make him worthy of the dark side, kills his father. With this initiation rite, he sets himself free from the tradition his father represents and graduates to the place of true dark lord.

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Pinocchio differs from darker tales such as Frankenstein and Blade Runner, which reflect on the despair and murderous ends sought by a creation spurned and unloved by its creator/ father. Pinocchio is loved by Geppetto and what holds him back from becoming a “real boy” is his own rejection of this love. His transformation comes through sacrificial reconciliation of himself to his father.

And so the biblical account of Christ, who is described as a second Adam, tells the story of a son who descends into death, to be sacrificially reconciled to the father. He reverses the alienation created by the first Adam, and leads humanity forward to ultimate metamorphosis into “true sonship” ….

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…from puppet to “real child”.

 

 

 

The Sorrows of Young Werther

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was only 24 years of age when he wrote and published the autobiographical and highly emotive work, The Sorrows of Young Werther [1774]. He wrote the work in just 6 weeks and its instant success made him an international celebrity.

The novel recounts the love of sentimental young Werther who dresses in a characteristic  blue coat with a yellow vest. He loves nature and is enchanted by the peasants of a rural township in Germany where he falls in love with Charlotte [Lotte]. She is a beautiful young woman who must look after her younger siblings after her parents death.

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Werther’s love is thwarted however, for Lotte is betrothed to a much older man Albert. The Sorrows of Young Werther are recounted in a series of letters to his friend Wilhelm and the melancholy depths the young man reaches, affected Goethe’s readership profoundly.

So significant was the novel that it stimulated a flood of Werther merchandise including a perfume called “Eau-de-Werther”, a craze for yellow waist-coats, and at least one copy-cat suicide.

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Characteristic of the Sturm und Drang movement of the late 1700s, it gained popularity for being a direct reaction against the rationalism of the Enlightenment. Roughly translated as “Storm and Stress” the movement was characterised by emotional turbulence, individuality and sentimentality.

Goethe had experienced terrible pain in love with a young woman Charlotte Buff two years earlier, who was engaged to a friend Albert Kestner. The writing of this novel was therapeutic because he admitted years later that he,

shot his hero to save himself..

…a reference to his own near-suicidal obsession over Charlotte. Moreover, an acquaintance of Goethe’s named Jerusalem who was similarly infatuated with a married woman, shot himself.

Goethe combined Jerusalum’s sufferings to his own experiences, and wrote the novel, Werther.

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Goethe treated the writing of the short novel as a cathartic exercise, hoping to exorcise some of his intense feeling.

Rather than releasing him, however Goethe’s novel was to have an significant impact disproportionate to its size. It not only helped to create Romanticism, but also articulated adolescent turmoil in a manner which has continued in popular format, to this day.

There would be no Catcher in the Rye and no Rebel Without a Cause without Werther.

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Napoleon Bonaparte considered it one of the great works of European literature and carried Werther with him on his campaigning to Egypt. The work influenced the later Romantic period particularly Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Frankenstein’s monster finds the book in a leather portmanteau, along with two greats — Plutarch and Milton. Shelley equated Werther’s case to the monster, of one rejected by those he loved.

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Goethe described the powerful impact the success of the book had on him, writing that even if Werther had been a brother of his whom he had killed, he could not have been more haunted by his vengeful ghost.

Yet he also acknowledged the great personal and emotional impact that The Sorrows of Young Werther exerted on forlorn young lovers who discovered it. As he commented to his secretary in 1821,

It must be bad, if not everybody was to have a time in his life, when he felt as though Werther had been written exclusively for him.

What was he hoped, closure for him, opened a wound in Europe’s collective consciousness and effectively haunted him the rest of his days.

 

 

 

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

It surprises me occasionally to hear the comment, “I don’t read much fiction. Real life is more interesting.” or “Fiction is entertaining but I prefer spending my time on something informative.”  It’s clear that temperament types prefer different genres, but the way we frame art and narrative is definitely culturally constrained. Is art simply entertainment and distraction?

Frued and Jung based the science of their psychoanalysis on mythical archetypes. To this day an Oedipal complex or narcissistic personality are terms and types drawn directly from ancient narratives.  Narrative and art are deeply informative about culture, identity and being and carry important conversations about justice, courage and truth. A much maligned genre is fantasy and science fiction. Written off as kiddy or nerdy or pop culture, fantasy and science fiction are the modern version of myths, legends and faery which were the highest form of narrative in millenia past.

Science fiction films, comics, graphic novels and the like are a treasure trove of philosophical, theological and psychological thought. One celebrated and iconic film is a favourity of mine – Blade Runner.

Set in a futuristic Los Angeles, “Blade Runner”, the 1980s film by Ridley Scott, explores the world of artificial intelligence. The film is based on a Phillip K. Dick novel, “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” and features a cop, Rick Deckard and his asignment to hunt down artificially created humans called replicants.

Replicants, are highly sophisticated creations of the Tyrell corporation, originally built to be indistinguishable from humans but have become banned on earth due to faults. Replicants have escaped from astro-colonies where they function as servants and soldiers, and have returned to earth to extend their life span. Replicants are genetically engineered, have implanted memories. However, Replicants have been commiting crimes, indicating a mutation in their programming and Rick Deckard [Harrison Ford] has been hired to hunt them down.

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The story, not unlinke Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, explores the internal reality of a creature, their consciousness of being and in turn reflects on what it is to be a human being. Decker falls in love with Rachael, a replicant in denial of her identity, convinced her memories and family photos prove her to be human. One by one, Deckard chases and exterminates the remaining replicants, sparing Rachael due to his intimate connection to her.

The plot denoument comes when replicant Roy, breaks into the Tyrell corporation to face his creator, demanding more life. Tyrell dismisses the request upon which Roy embraces his maker and then kills him. Deckard’s final show down with Roy on the roof tops of the city shortly follows. Roy is mortally wounded and when Deckard slips and hangs from the roof top, Roy saves his life and then shares his last minuetes of life with Deckard,  recounting his memories of existence and awareness of his own death.

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The story artfully explores the elements of human existence. We are because we love, we are because we remember, we are because we desire life, we are because we desire justice, we are because we show mercy. Deckard is haunted throughout the narrative by dreams of a unicorn and famously, the film closes with a henchman of the Tyrell corporation leaving an orgiami unicorn in Deckards office. As the closing credits roll, the audience and Deckard are left asking, “is he a replicant?” and all of ask “are we a replicant?”

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What if our memories are implanted? what is our frame of reference for existence? what gives us a common bond – our love for life? our shared experiences?

Not unlike the “Wizzard of Oz”, Blade Runner features an encounter with the Maker and the Maker comes up inadequate. Representative of the mega-corporatation ruling the world with an iron fist, the Maker is not capable of extending life and so has created something he cannot care for. Thus Roy commits patricide. Maybe Blade Runner captures the 20th and 21st century disappointment with our philosophical thinking – with religion, with God, with capitalism, with scientific rationalism.

I know another story, when humanity encounters God in flesh, their overwhelming desire was to kill the God out of rage for the existence dealt them. However, in killing God, life is reborn.

But that’s another story.