Excerpt: 'Pinocchio'

Pinocchio
By Carlo Collodi
Translated by Geoffrey Brock
Introduction by Umberto Eco, Afterword by Rebecca West
Paperback, 208 pages
New York Review Books Classics
List price: $14

Chapter 1

How it happened that Master Cherry, a carpenter, found a piece of wood that cried and laughed like a little boy.

Once upon a time there was . . .

"A king!" my little readers will say at once.

No, children, you're wrong. Once upon a time there was a piece of wood.

It wasn't a fancy piece of wood, just a regular woodpile log, the kind you might put in your stove or fireplace to stoke a fire and heat your room.

I don't know how it happened, but the fact is that one fine day this piece of wood turned up in the workshop of an old carpenter, Master Antonio by name, though everyone called him Master Cherry, on account of the tip of his nose, which was always shiny and purple, like a ripe cherry.

As soon as Master Cherry saw that piece of wood, he cheered right up. He rubbed his hands together with satisfaction and mumbled in a soft voice, "This log has turned up at a good moment. I think I'll use it to make me a table leg."

Wasting no time, he picked up his sharp hatchet to start removing the log's bark and trimming it down, but just as he was about to strike the first blow, his arm froze in midair, because he heard a little high-pitched voice pleading, "Don't hit me too hard!"

Just imagine dear old Master Cherry's reaction!

His bewildered eyes roamed the room to see where on earth that little voice had come from, but he didn't see anyone! He looked under his workbench — nobody there. He looked inside a cabinet he always kept shut — nobody there. He looked in his basket of wood shavings and sawdust — nobody there. He even opened his workshop door to take a look in the street — nobody there. So what was going on?

"I see," he said then, laughing and scratching his wig. "Clearly I must have imagined that little voice myself. Now let's get back to work."

And picking the hatchet back up, he dealt the piece of wood a heavy blow.

"Ouch! You hurt me!" cried the same little voice, bitterly.

This time Master Cherry was struck dumb: his eyes bugged out of his head in fright, his mouth gaped, his tongue dangled down to his chin, like those grotesque faces carved on fountains. When he regained the use of speech, he said, trembling and stammering with fear, "That little voice that said ouch, where could it have come from? Because there's not a living soul in this place. Could this piece of wood have somehow learned to cry and complain like a little boy? I can't believe that. Look at this log — it's a piece of firewood, like any other. If I threw it on the fire I could bring a pot of beans to a boil. So what's going on? Could someone be hidden inside it? If anyone's hiding in there, tough luck for him. I'll show him what's what!"

And as he spoke he grabbed that poor piece of wood with both hands and began whacking it mercilessly against the walls of the room.

Then he listened, to see if he could hear a little voice complaining. He waited two minutes, and no voice; five minutes, and no voice; ten minutes, and no voice!

"I see," he said then, forcing a laugh and ruffling his wig. "Clearly I must have imagined it myself, that little voice that said ouch. Now let's get back to work."

And because by this point he was really quite afraid, he began humming to himself to screw up his courage.

Meanwhile, leaving the hatchet aside, he picked up his plane, intending to scrape that piece of wood and make it smooth, but as he was planing back and forth, he heard the same little voice, which laughed and said, "Stop it! You're tickling by tummy!"

This time poor Master Cherry fell down as if struck by lightning. When he opened his eyes again, he found himself sitting on the floor.

His face seemed misshapen, and even the tip of his noise, which was nearly always purple, had turned bright blue with fright.

Excerpted from Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi, translated by Geoffrey Brock. Copyright © 2008. Excerpted by permission of New York Review Books. All rights reserved.

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