The Toy Theater

Cover of Planet of the and dog....

If you spend enough time trapped in your head you eventually become nostalgic even if you’re young. My guess is even a ten year old recalls her first stuffed dog with fondness. As a child in Helsinki I had a toy monkey which I hid in a little cupboard and together we had our own private toy theater. I also had a wooden top that sang while spinning. My first playthings. One can say nostalgia “is” a puppet theater with figures moving in and out of shadows, vivid for a moment then less so.

G. K Chesterton was perhaps the greatest connoisseur of the toy theater. As Gary Wills puts it: “he was led to wonder what thing, however slight and trivial, was not fathomless by reason of its existential act.” Chesterton wrote: “If living dolls were so dull and dead, why in the world were dead dolls so very much alive? And if being a puppet is so depressing, how is it that the puppet of a puppet can be so enthralling?”

In Chesterton’s view existence reduced to its bare minimum is a mystical excitement and all we should ever need. I view nostalgia as the unbidden, quiet reminder of this.


Camus got it right. “Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being.”


Long ago when I was young enough to think about style for the first time I thought suede shoes were excellent—not the Chet Atkins variety but the “Hush Puppy” kind, the beige ones. I was 13 and those were some good shoes. The shoes of nostalgia will fuck you up.

Of the Hush Puppies I recall after wearing them for a day or two they tended to stink. Then my father said: “Your shoes smell like dead rats.” “How do you know what dead rats smell like?” I asked. “I was in WWII,” he said.

BTW I could never get my father to talk about the war. He fought in the Pacific. There were lots of rats.

What I’m getting at is not all memory items are properly Chestertonian. Toy monkey, yes. Beige Hush Puppy no.

Author: skuusisto

Poet, Essayist, Blogger, Journalist, Memoirist, Disability Rights Advocate, Public Speaker, Professor, Syracuse University

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