Dolls have been a common feature of Supernatural Fiction for over 200 years. There are two main features. On the passive side is doll Magic, a branch of sympathetic magic; many tales featuring Voodoo, Witchcraft, obeah and African magic include doll magic; examples are "The Hag Seleen" (1942) by Theodore Sturgeon, "Death in Peru" (1954) by Joseph Payne Brennan, "Miss Esperson" (1962) by August Derleth and "Dolls" (1976) by Ramsey Campbell.
The more active use of the motif is where the doll comes alive. Quite commonly in Children's Fantasy the doll is friendly; this particular subgenre may trace its origins back to the staid and moralistic The Adventures of a Pincushion (?1780) by Mary Ann Kilner; more enterprising were Memoirs of a London Doll (1846) by Richard Henry Horne (1803-1884) and The Enchanted Doll (1849) by Mark Lemon (1809-1870). Perhaps the best-known doll – or Puppet – story from the Victorian age is Pinocchio (1883) by Carlo Collodi. Toys, dolls, puppets and teddy-bears are standard characters in stories for very young children – Enid Blyton's Noddy is perhaps the most famous example. It is in books for older children that the theme is best used in fantasy. The most complete writer of doll stories was Rumer Godden (1907-1998), who produced six children's books starting with The Doll's House (1947), Impunity Jane (1954) being the most entertaining. Pauline Clarke has also contributed extensively, firstly with her Five Dolls series, written as Helen Clare, and then with The Twelve and the Genii (1962; vt The Return of the Twelves 1963 US), which brings back to life the original toy soldiers owned by Charlotte Brontë and her siblings.
The exploration of the relationship between dolls and adult humans is usually done with more sinister intent. This concept in fiction goes back at least as far as The Fairy Doll (1744) by Jean Galli de Bibiena (?1710-?1780), where a doll becomes animated by an air Elemental and agrees to help a young priest in his amorous adventures. The sexual connotations of animated dolls as well as their physical perfection has not been overlooked by generations of writers (> Sex). It was the same thinking that inspired E T A Hoffmann to include in "The Sandman" (1816) Olimpia, a beautiful girl who is in fact a clockwork Automaton. Hoffmann returned to the theme in his Kunstmärchen "The Nutcracker and the Mouseking" (1816), where the nutcracker is a young man under a spell, and leads a band of toy soldiers into battle. Hans Christian Andersen translated this into his own fairytales in "The Steadfast Tin Soldier" (1838). The Tin Woodman, created by L Frank Baum in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900), is a continuation of this same image.
Dolls can be as equally used for Evil, which is the route that Fitz-James O'Brien (1828-1862) took in "The Wondersmith" (1859), where mannikins armed with poisoned swords are animated by entrapped Souls. This is a far more powerful and lasting vision, and has been used by many writers since, including: A Merritt, whose Burn, Witch, Burn! (1932 Argosy; 1933), filmed as The Devil-Doll (1936), has a very similar plotline to "The Wondersmith", featuring a witch who captures souls to animate murderous dolls; Fredric Brown, whose dolls in "The Geezenstacks" (1943) somehow preordain events; Algernon Blackwood, who uses tribal magic to animate a child's doll for revenge in "The Doll" (1946); Sarban, in the title story of The Doll Maker, and Other Tales of the Uncanny (coll 1953), where a landowner has created his own miniature world through magic and peoples it with dolls who are in fact the dead or ensorcelled re-animated; Thomas Ligotti in "Dr Voke and Mr Veech" (1983); and Robert Westall in "The Doll" (1989), about an antique doll which retains a residuum of the spirit of its original owner.
Haunted dolls and doll houses have tempted several writers, not least M R James, who tells of a doll house modelled on a real one which replicates the scene of a murder in "The Haunted Dolls' House" (1923). Jack Snow has the spirits of two recently deceased children live on in their favourite doll house in "'Let's Play House'" (1947), while in "The Doll's Ghost" (1911) F Marion Crawford tells of a doll doctor who is visited by the Ghost of a doll to warn him his daughter is in danger.
A favourite doll theme is that of the ventriloquist's dummy (> Ventriloquism), where the relationship between the ventriloquist and his doll can lead to schizophrenia and Identity Exchange. Also linked to the doll theme, often using similar aspects of Possession, is that of the UK's bonfire-night guy. The guy, though, is less a doll than something more pagan, to which we may link corn dolls and the wicker man (> Green Man).
An anthology of doll stories is The Haunted Dolls (anth 1980) ed Seon Manley (1921- ) and Gogo Lewis. Further titles of relevance are Rachel Field's Hitty, Her First Hundred Years (1929) and Jane Louise Curry's Mindy's Mysterious Miniature (1970). [MA]