When Toys Come Alive


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Narratives of Animation, Metamorphosis, and Development

Lois Rostow Kuznets

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Since the eighteenth century, toys have had an important place in European and American stories written for children and adults, often taking on a secret, sensual, even carnivalesque life of their own. In this groundbreaking work, Lois Rostow Kuznets studies the role of toy characters in works ranging from older classics like Pinocchio, Winnie the Pooh, and The Velveteen Rabbit, through modern texts like The Mouse and His Child and the popular comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, to the latest science fiction featuring robots and cyborgs.

Using a variety of intertextual critical approaches, including feminist theory, neo-Freudian Winnicott play analysis, structuralism, and neo-Marxism, Kuznets focuses on how toy characters, like children's play, can be associated with deep human needs, desires, and fears. Anxiety about being "real"—an autonomous subject rather than an object—permeates many of the texts Kuznets analyzes. Toy fantasies also raise existential issues of power: what it means either to dominate or to be dominated by more powerful beings, and what dangers might lie in the transformation of a toy into a living being—an act of human creativity that represents a challenge to divine creation. Kuznets concludes that although many of these texts subvert conformity on an individual level, they also tend to evoke a romantic nostalgia that supports the underlying values and hierarchies of a patriarchal society.

Lois Rostow Kuznets is professor of English and Comparative Literature at San Diego State University.

"A remarkable and insightful study of the role that different types of toys play in literature for children and adults. Elegantly written, it is a pioneer work in the field."—Jack Zipes, University of Minnesota

"[Kuznets] succeeds admirably in forcing readers to examine the disturbing assumptions underlying texts that previously seemed innocent."—Choice

Winner of the 1997 Mythopoeic Scholarship Award in Myth and Fantasy Studies given by the Mythopoeic Society

Winner of the 1994 Book Award given by the Children’s Literature Association
ISBN: 9780300056457
Publication Date: June 22, 1994
272 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4