I realized the other day the two most famous noses in literature were created at roughly the same time. There's Cyrano's, of course, first shadowed on the garden wall in 1897 when Edmond Rostand wrote his wonderful play. But before Cyrano, there was the equally legendary nose belonging to Pinocchio, first created in serial form by Carlo Collodi in 1881.
The world's two most famous noses belong to entirely opposite characters: one is a boy, the other a man; one is a puppet, the other a hero. Like everyone else, I first met Pinocchio in the wonderful Disney cartoon, which has just be re-released on the occasion of its 75th birthday. He was my favorite cartoon character, and the cartoon is wonderful partly because at times it was really scary and because I too was sometimes a liar. But Disney's Pinocchio is a much sweetened version of the original. Collodi seems to have alternately loved and very much disliked the puppet who made his heavy drinming womanizing author famour. Collodi's Pinocchio is often generous and good hearted, but he is just as likely to be a selfish little jerk--in the original he actually kills the talking cricket. Fed up with getting so much good advice, he hurls a hammer at his guardian angel and squashes him on the wall. Pinocchio is one of the least heroic characters in fiction, and one of the most susceptible to petty temptation. Cyrano dines on a single grape, Pincocchio is caught stealing bunches in a farmyard. Cyrano's nose, as he himself says, is "an index of a great soul--affable, kind,endowed/With with and liberality and courage ..." His nose matches his outsized, larger than life personality. It's a mark of his uncompromising dedication to principle and truth. Pinocchio's is the nose of a liar, a perpetual liar, and a habitual shirker of duty and responsibility--it's a nose designed, as Collodi says, for policemen to grab ahold of. It is a badge of shame. Yet Pinocchio is the character with a happy future--despite his many flaws he has a good heart, and eventually he gets to become a real boy. Cyrano, precisely because of his many virtues, gives up his greatest passion and dies a tragi-comic death. Though of course Cyrano also wins out in the end because, as he says, his panache lives on, waving its white plume into eternity.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could run these two fabulous late nineteenth noses in repertory? First a night of Pinocchio, then of Cyrano, both played by the same actor (the wonderful Khris Lewin), one night a puppet boy, the next a romantic hero, both wearing exactly the same nose. No, two noses: Cyrano's is the bigger, Pinocchio's is the longer; the boy's nose can change; the man is stuck with his, from birth to death.
Truly a theatre of dreams.