The Magic Toyshop
- This book should not be confused with Edmund Crispin's novel The Moving Toyshop.
|The Magic Toyshop|
Cover of The Magic Toyshop
|Media type||Print (hardback)|
|Pages||vi, 200 pp|
The novel starts with Melanie stealing her mother's wedding dress and venturing out in the night into her family's property. However, on her way home, she realises she forgot the door key and is forced to climb up a tree to get back into her room, destroying the dress in the process. The next morning, Melanie learns of the unexpected deaths of her parents in a plane crash over the Grand Canyon, and she and her two siblings – Victoria and Jonathon – are moved to South London, to the care of her tyrannical uncle Philip, a bullish and eccentric maker of life-sized puppets and fantastical old fashioned toys. There, she meets her mute aunt Margaret, who is mistreated by and terrified of her husband and only converses through notes. She also meets Margaret's younger brothers Francie, a fiddler, and the rakish Finn. At first, Uncle Philip ignores Melanie and her siblings as they are introduced to his bizarre puppet shows and she is made to work selling toys in the toyshop. Meanwhile, Finn and Melanie grow closer until he takes her to a park, the remnants of the National Exhibition of 1852. There, after seeing a worn, fallen statue of Queen Victoria and walking across a chess board (only on the white squares), Finn kisses Melanie. She feels intruded by the gesture, imagining it only romantic as an observer from far away. This kiss, however, ignites Melanie's conflicted feelings of attraction towards Finn.
After the kiss, at another puppet show, Finn fails to control his puppet perfectly and is thrown to the floor by Uncle Philip, who obviously despises him. Satisfied that Finn shall never be adept at working the puppets, Uncle Philip devises a new plan, drafting Melanie to perform with the puppets. Philip assigns Finn to assist Melanie in honing her acting skills for the future show. During this time, Melanie notices a difference in Finn's behaviour. Whereas before he had been subtly rebellious, he now seems depleted of all resistance and resigned to Philip's control. Finn also becomes incredibly physically dirty. However, Finn's opposition returns when he refuses to make love to Melanie, as he considers this to be a fulfilment of Philip's machinations.
Soon the day of the long awaited puppet show arrives. Melanie arrives on stage in a white dress. Philip has arranged for Melanie to play Leda being raped by Jove in the guise of a monstrous swan. The play, however, is not successful, as Melanie struggles to beat off the swan. As she scrambles to escape the swan, Finn calls for the end of the show. Philip comes to Melanie and slaps her, not satisfied with her performance.
After the show, Uncle Philip travels with Jonathon, leaving the rest of the family alone at the house. Finn decides to destroy Philip's puppet swan, burying it in the park next to the fallen Queen Victoria. He returns home and crawls into bed with Melanie. She comforts him and arrives at the realisation that they will someday marry and have children, leading a poor, constrained life together. Finn reaches a sort of epiphany when he decides to wash and not to tolerate Uncle Philip's hegemony any more, a coup which is exemplified when Finn sits in Uncle Philip's seat at the dinner table. After a somewhat drunken evening, Melanie learns that Margaret and Francie have been having an incestuous relationship.
Suddenly Uncle Philip returns, discovering the infidelity of his wife and the rebellion of his household. In a tremendous rage, he sets the house on fire. Margaret finally speaks as she urges Finn and Melanie to escape. They do so just in time, to land at the outside of the house and watch the floors of the house collapse in fire. They realise now that their old world is destroyed and, for better or worse, all they have left is each other.
The novel was filmed in 1987. It was produced by Steve Morrison and directed by David Wheatley. It was adapted for the screen by the author, Angela Carter, and starred Tom Bell, Caroline Milmoe, Killian McKenna, Patricia Kerrigan, and Lorcan Cranitch. Her collection, The Curious Room: Plays, Film Scripts and an Opera, contains Carter's script for the adaptation. The script and the film are discussed in Charlotte Crofts' book, Anagrams of Desire, drawing on an interview with director, David Wheatley.
- Charlotte Crofts (2003), Anagrams of Desire: Angela Carter's Writing for Radio, Film and Television (Manchester University Press)
- Tuck, Donald H. (1974). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy. Chicago: Advent. p. 94. ISBN 0-911682-20-1.
- AQA English Literature Exam (2010)