(urth) Short Story 31: The Toy Theater

Antonin Scriabin kierkegaurdian at gmail.com
Wed Jun 6 12:54:56 PDT 2012

One thing I remember about this story is that it was the first time I saw
the word "craquelure".  Great word, great story, and great write-up [?]

On Wed, Jun 6, 2012 at 3:45 PM, Marc Aramini <marcaramini at yahoo.com> wrote:

> Toy Theater******
> This first appeared in Orbit in 1971. Like many of the stories in “The
> Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories”, there has been
> a ton of discussion on this story already.  I will try to summarize
> briefly the different positions and I would also like to talk about the
> sociological conditions of the planet Sarg.****
> SUMMARY: A marionette master goes to the planet Sarg with his doll Charity
> to visit the established master, Stromboli.  There, he witness Stromboli
> with his three dolls Julia, Lucinda, and Columbine perform Rosine’s song
> from The Barber of Seville.  Stromboli discusses how he learned to do
> female voices by leaving his wife Maria behind.  ****
> The narrator leaves without his second best pair of shoes, and on the way
> Lili, supposedly a mistress of Stromboli, attempts to seduce him.  He
> makes up an excuse and on the way to his ship the butler Zanni brings his
> shoes, and implores the narrator to keep faith and certain facts “under the
> rose”.  He sees Stromboli in the crowd with the puppet controls and then
> enters his ship, to return to his own box.****
> ** **
> COMMENTARY:  What is the difference between the imitation of life and
> life itself?  Many interpretations make full use of the last line, “Then
> I took my second best pair of shoes, and went out to the ship, and climbed
> into my own little box” to give credence to an interpretation of the
> narrator as just another puppet.  The first line of the story has already
> told us about his “stateroom”: “Eight hours before we were due to land on
> Sarg they dropped a pamphlet into the receiving tray of the two-by-four
> plastic closet that was my ‘stateroom’ for the trip.” We already know his
> stateroom is extremely cramped and small, at 2 X 4.****
> Before I discuss the two primary wolfe-wiki interpretations in synopses, I
> wanted to mention the state of the planet Sarg – there is no industry there
> at all, and there were no native life forms, so it is fully colonized with
> sub-industrial technology like the horse and buggy – but the puppets seem
> to be of a quite higher level of technology than simple marionettes.  ****
> The description of Zanni as a chummy swag bellied elephant, with flippers
> and weird nose, does seem to match up with the real life creations of Tony
> Sarg, thus invoking Antonio as possibly a “man behind the man” kind of
> mastermind.****
> The first Wolfe wiki analysis offers the following breakdowns of whether
> the following characters can be puppets or puppet masters:****
> ’Little Maria (Madame Stromboli) ****
> A commenter on this page suggests that "Madame Stromboli" is a puppet. She
> is repeatedly called "Little Maria," and Stromboli says "They were all
> little people once, you know...". Perhaps his real wife got tired of
> waiting for him on his long journey for his art, and left him. Now he only
> has a puppet replacement ("But my husband and I, we are lonely together.
> That is better.").****
> Stromboli ****
> The house itself is small, like a toy theater. "Stromboli" himself could
> be a puppet, and if so there is a clear candidate for his puppeteer (see
> below). He shows the narrator how to keep five figures in motion at once,
> and says it is not impossible to do six. If he is a puppet, then the real
> puppeteer is showing off.****
> Antonio ****
> There is good evidence that he is the real puppeteer. He is the "man of
> all work" (doing all the real work). He discusses puppetry with
> considerable knowledge on the way in. Most significant of all is his name,
> Antonio. The planet is named Sarg, and Tony Sarg is a famous puppeteer.***
> *
> Lili ****
> Of course she is a puppet. The cracks in her cheeks make this obvious. But
> why the sexual offer? I suggest that Antonio is very lonely with only
> puppets for company. He wants to prolong the visit with some surrogate sex
> with his guest. He gets "indisposed" and out of the way so he can offer his
> friend some privacy. (It's also possible that he expects the advances to be
> rejected, but he wants a way to open the subject of the temptations of
> puppets as love objects to his friend).****
> Zanni ****
> Zanni's final words can be read as a warning to the young man not to fall
> in love with his puppet, Charity. Antonio fell in love with Lili, and now
> he is sad and alone. "The master begs leave to remind you that he was once
> a young man very like yourself, sir. He expresses the hope that you know
> with whom you are keeping faith. He further expresses the hope that he
> himself does not know." In other words, "Don't ruin your life as I did, in
> love with my puppets and my art and losing the love of a real woman." The
> narrator was on track to do this; we can tell by his thoughts about
> "...Charity's cheeks, as blossoming as peaches."’ [end wolfe-wiki quote]**
> **
> The second analysis in brief posits that the narrator is indeed a puppet
> controlled by a woman, for Stromboli makes much of how difficult a time he
> had controlling a woman’s voice when young, and how his wife did it for him
> (which gives her experience).  In addition, the narrator shuns the chance
> to have Stromboli’s mistress Lili, and says that he would be happy to learn
> to just control three well.  If Maria Stromboli is controlling the
> narrator and Charity, she already has two puppets under his control.  ****
> So we either have the narrator as someone independent, as a puppet of Miss
> Stromboli, or a strange,  disguised love triangle involving Lili and
> Antonio, perhaps that would most closely echo the conflict in the Barber of
> Seville.****
> AMBIGUOUS STATEMENTS: The one that seems to have the most import in the
> story is the rather ambiguous statement of Zanni: “He expresses the hope
> that you know with whom you are keeping faith.  He further expresses the
> hope that he himself does not know.”  If we read this pessimistically as
> a Charity that the narrator cannot fully trust or control, then Stromboli
> probably does know her, somehow.  Is puppet love real love?****
> I would like to offer an alternative explanation to that one final
> analysis of Stromboli’s hopes.  Stromboli hopes that the narrator KNOWS
> who he is keeping faith with, but Stromboli believes that they are
> faithless and hopes that he is wrong about it for the sake of the narrator.
> In other words, Stromboli believes he knows the situation better than the
> narrator, but hopes otherwise. (Stromboli believes the thing or person to
> which the narrator is true is faithless)****
> ALLUSIONS:  Minimal religious ones, but a ton to puppets and puppeteers.  The
> wolfe wiki has done a good job with the name allusions, which I shall
> reproduce here in part:****
> ‘The planet's name, Sarg, could reference both puppeteer Tony Sarg and
> botanist Charles "Sarg." Sargent. [Tony Sarg seems the right reference
> here, for sure]****
> "The Planet of the Roses" -- Margot and Rufus Rose are also famous
> marionettists, known for bringing to life the well-known Howdy Doody.****
> "Under the rose," or sub rosa means confidential. The rose is a symbol of
> the Egyptian god Horus. He was a sky, sun, and savior god, but the Greeks
> and Romans used him as the god of silence, under the name Harpocrates. The
> symbol has come into Christianity also; roses are often carved on
> confessionals as a sign that everything said there will be under the seal
> of confidentiality.****
> The three singing puppets are Julia, Lucinda, and Columbine. Columbine is
> a famous character used in puppet shows, usually paired with Harlequin. The
> name Lucinda was coined by Cervantes for Don Quixote -- she is an
> unfaithful wife. The Julia reference is less certain -- the most prominent
> theatrical use of that name is Shakespeare's Two Gentlemen of Verona. ****
> Zanni is the name for an archetypal comic servant in Italian Commedia
> dell'arte. The name is the origin of the English word "zany." Harlequin is
> a zanni-type character.’ [end wolfewiki quote]****
> The allusions to puppetry have already been mentioned, but the plot of
> Barber of Seville seems to be only tangentially related, except that we
> have a suitor in disguise who wants to win the love of a woman on his own
> merits rather than on the merit of his wealth.    Is a similar test of
> merit/love at work here?  And if so, who is being tested?  Our narrator?  Charity,
> Lili, or Stromboli?****
> RESONANCE WITH OTHER WORKS: The line between imitation and the real is a
> theme that runs throughout decades of Wolfe’s work, from  “Changeling” to
> “The HORARS of War” to Fifth Head and Short Sun – and sometimes there is
> qualitatively no difference in the final analysis between that which
> imitates and that which is imitated.****
> MY FAVORITE INTERPRETATION: I do think that the narrator is a human, but a
> puppet to forces that he doesn’t understand in a big masquerade, where it
> is conceivable that Antonio or someone besides Stromboli is pulling the
> strings.  So he is not free and does not understand what power pulls on
> his strings, though it is most likely a faithless love.****
> Next up is Three Million Square Miles in Castle of Days.****
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