Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Ventriloquism

This art has been an entertainment since the 15th century. It is likely that priests and prophetesses used it as a means of presenting the voices of the Gods at Oracles, and even more so that various mediums performed the same trick at Séances. Ventriloquism was introduced into Gothic Fantasy by Charles Brockden Brown in Wieland, or The Transformation (1798) in order to rationalize the apparent supernatural events (> Rationalized Fantasy), a Plot Device he explored further in the unfinished sequel Memoirs of Carwin, the Biloquist (written 1798; fragment 1803).

More recent Horror fiction has moved away from the practice of ventriloquism to explore the relationship between the ventriloquist and his dummy (> Dolls), with its potential for split personalities and Identity Exchange. The best of these stories leave it uncertain as to whether the dummy's growing existence is supernatural or merely in the Perception of the ventriloquist, which makes them a subset of the Ghost Story (>>> Doppelgängers). Probably the best-known story on this theme is Magic (1976) by William Goldman – filmed as Magic (1978) – but equally effective are "The Extraordinarily Horrible Dummy" (in Penguin Parade #6 anth 1939) by Gerald Kersh and "Farewell Performance" (in The Clock Strikes Twelve col 1939) by H Russell Wakefield, while John Collier lampoons the theme in "Spring Fever" (in Fancies and Goodnights coll 1951), where the dummy falls in love. [MA]

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.