Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Puppets

A particular subset of Dolls which, controlled by inserted hands (glove puppets) or supporting strings or rods (marionettes), have been used for theatrical performances since antiquity. The classic UK puppet play is Punch and Judy, whose Antihero is derived from the Commedia dell'Arte's Pulcinella – adopted for English puppet plays circa 1662 and soon anglicized as Punchinello, then Punch. In this comic Grand-Guignol story the brutal Trickster Punch gleefully kills off his infant child, his wife Judy and various other characters, including the Devil. The Punch and Judy showman in John Masefield's The Box of Delights (1935) proves to be a disguised Wizard; Neil Gaiman's and Dave McKean's The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr Punch (graph 1994) knowingly exploits the show's sinister aspects.

Puppets in fantasy are likely, like Statues, to come alive; their Bondage is particularly oppressive since they are made to enact Stories devised by others. Malign ventriloquist's dummies are notorious (> Ventriloquism). Carlo Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883), adapted by Disney as Pinocchio (1940), sees wooden Pinocchio finally escape the bondage of puppethood to become a Real Boy. G K Chesterton's play The Surprise (1952) contains an inset marionette-play which goes haywire when the puppets come alive, presenting an Allegory of God the Author's dismay at human misuse of free will. The situation is partly reversed in Diana Wynne Jones's The Magicians of Caprona (1980), where two children are magically shrunk to puppet-size (>>> Great and Small) and compelled to play the parts of Punch and Judy. Severian's Dream of fighting as a puppet in Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun (1980-1983) not only prefigures a later duel with a Giant but hints at his life's manipulation by higher beings. The Stress of Her Regard (1989) by Tim Powers has a grisly scene in which Percy Bysshe Shelley is compelled to use his dead daughter's body as a marionette. To become a puppet – as in popular metaphor – is generally Debasement. [DRL]

see also: Jim Henson; The Muppet Show; Jan Švankmajer.

This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.