I hate puppets. Uncanny, scary, they are too much like us, especially when they have a life of their own. Dolls are just as bad. Ventriloquist dummies give me the creeps. Basically, any homunculus or simulacrum of the human unsettles and delights the soul.
Perhaps that’s a strange thing to admit, given that my new novel The Motion of Puppets is, in part, about a strange troupe of puppets that come to life every evening in the back of toy shop in Quebec. When I was a young boy, I saw an old “Merrie Melodies” cartoon that showed how the toys would have a party after midnight and return to their places before the next dawn. That cartoon was one of those fantasias that left a lifelong impression on me.
Puppet shows are also weird and eerie. I grew up on the Muppets and the other creatures from Jim Henson’s imagination, and lately enjoyed the work of the Bread and Puppet Theatre, Basil Twist, and the Old Trout Puppet Company—among others—that take the stuff of childhood and torque them into adult puppet shows that breathe and hum and tug at the psyche. Two wonderfully strange books about the history and culture of puppets are Victoria Nelson’s The Secret Life of Puppets and Kevin Gross’s Puppet: An Essay on Uncanny Life.
Living dolls and puppets are the subject of a number of novels and stories, some of which came into play when I concocted my story that takes the Orpheus and Eurydice myth and sets the underworld in puppetland. The puppet characters kind of grew on me, to the point where I love them as well. They pulled my strings, so to speak. So it is a love-hate kind of thing on my part. I have no idea how they feel about me.
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