Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)

Children's toys are potent stimulators of fantasy; the juvenile imagination animates them, and actual "coming alive" seems a natural extension (> Animate/Inanimate). Sinister aspects of this awakening tend to involve Dolls, which perhaps seem already too disturbingly human, although the rag doll in The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) is, by contrast, a conscience. Animated toy soldiers are ever-popular, from H G Wells's "The Magic Shop" (in Twelve Stories and a Dream coll 1903) to Diana Wynne Jones's Charmed Life (1977); Saki's nonfantastic "The Toys of Peace" (1914) satirically introduces worthy models of ballot boxes and politicians, which children rapidly adapt for bloodstained battle-scenes. In A A Milne's Winnie-the-Pooh stories and John Masefield's The Midnight Folk (1927) stuffed toys become full-fledged Companions, having equal status with children and Talking Animals. Masefield's story interestingly breaks the tacit rule that such toys, being presumably animated by a child's belief, cannot interact with the adult world (>>> Invisible Companion). In Tom Thumb (1958) the fact that Tom is an infant, even though he has a maturely adult (albeit miniature) body, is conveyed by the fact that only he can see his toys come alive. The toy status of the eponymous clockwork figures in Russell Hoban's The Mouse and His Child (1967) is far more restricting, amounting to Bondage: their range of actions is limited and their machinery must be repeatedly rewound. The heroine of Neil Gaiman's A Game of You (graph coll 1993) comes to an important Recognition that animal companions in "her" Fantasyland are fleshed-out memories of childhood toys. In the Animated Movie Toy Story (1995), the toy spaceman Buzz Lightyear must learn to accept his toyhood and the impossibility of becoming a Real Boy. This movie makes play with the easily imagined rivalry between toys competing for their owner's favours; Gene Wolfe takes this further in "The War Beneath the Tree" (1979), whose toys face a Last Battle with the new intake supplanting them at Christmas.

Some toys are more than they seem. Eilonwy's glowing "bauble" in the Chronicles of Prydain sequence by Lloyd Alexander holds potent Magic, and a brass walnut hidden among other playthings in Michael Swanwick's The Iron Dragon's Daughter (1993) proves to be an important Technofantasy component. Randall Garrett's Too Many Magicians (1966) features a magic educational toy whose built-in Spell slowly fades unless unconsciously replenished by the child's developing Talent. [DRL]

see also: Children's Fantasy; Shop.


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.