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'The Wooden Prince' Revives Pinocchio, Now With Twice The Magic

Author John Claude Bemis.
Jen Bauldree

Author John Claude Bemis may live in Hillsborough, but he spends much of his time in an imaginary world where myths and legends come alive. 

Bemis created the Clockwork Dark Trilogy, which weaves American folklore with the fantasy genre.  In his new book, "The Wooden Prince" Bemis has completely overhauled the classic story of Pinocchio, and introduces us to a magical place called Abaton.  

The Wooden Prince keeps many of the elements of Pinocchio: A little wooden hero, Gepetto, a talking cricket. Except here, Pinocchio is a robot-like servant who's morphing into a human. And he's devoted to Gepetto, who's an alchemist on the run from the law. That talking cricket is a lauded composer and conductor named Meistro, who's from the magical island of Abaton.

The cover of The Wooden Prince.

Bemis is a self-professed "fantasy geek," and says it was fun to create a new world.

"Before I even decided that this was gonna be  a Pinocchio story, I have been starting to imagine this world. This magical island of Abaton would be a rival kingdom, in a way, to the Venetian empire. Marco Polo, in this world, has discovered Abaton and opened it up to the human lands as they're called. So to begin to thing about What would happen in say Renaissance Italy if all-of-a-sudden magic was introduced."

One new, major character is the benevolent and mysterious Prester John, the immortal king of Abaton. Bemis says he had been fascinated with the Medieval legend of Prester John, which inspired explorers of the age.

"One of the things that I enjoy is that play between the fantastical and things that can feel real, that can feel possible... and familiar."

Bemis was an elementary school teacher for 13 years, and says he was inspired to write children's books after seeing the way his own students connected with characters during story time.

Folks in the Hillsborough area can connect with Bemis at the Eno River Farmers Market Saturday, April 9 at 3 p.m. Bemis will be reading from "The Wooden Prince," and young actors will perform scenes from the book. The Bucket Brothers band will also play at the book release.

Eric Hodge hosts WUNC’s broadcast of Morning Edition, and files reports for the North Carolina news segments of the broadcast. He started at the station in 2004 doing fill-in work on weekends and All Things Considered.
Rebecca Martinez produces podcasts at WUNC. She’s been at the station since 2013, when she produced Morning Edition and reported for newscasts and radio features. Rebecca also serves on WUNC’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Accountability (IDEA) Committee.
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