Book Review: The Puppets of Spelhorst by Kate DiCamillo

“That must be the point of it, the purpose. We must contain stories upon stories, stories without end . . .  Stories without end — watching them unfold, being a part of their unfolding — what a blessing that would be.”

Kate Di Camillo’s The Puppets of Spelhorst is her latest release and the first offering from her Norendy Tales trilogy. Like all everlasting stories, this is a fairy tale. It’s not about mermaids, magicians, kings, or animals, but about puppets, all five of them.

If you spend your days under a rock and aren’t already familiar with the magic of DiCamillo, then you’re in luck! Let The Puppets of Spelhorst, or the popular—Tales of Desperaux, introduce you to the spell-binding and evocative worlds of this lovely storyteller.

Spelhorst is a retired old sea captain, with no one to call his own. He has lived in a crypt of solitude and silence all his life, possesses no distinguishable characteristics, and expresses no outward emotion. A lot of this changed when he chanced upon the puppet of a girl. It was a dainty marionette, glistening under the fluorescence of store light, hanging aloof against the glass door, overwhelming Spelhorst with a sensation that awoke something deep within. Compelled to inquire after her, he enters the toy-shop and offers to make a purchase. But here was the tricky part. She wasn’t sold separately. To take the girl puppet, Spelhorst would also have to take the four who stood beside her– the king, the wolf, the boy, and the owl—for they were all part of the same story.

And so, with all five in hand, he marched into the darkness of the night.

What happens next is the stuff of all brilliant fairy tales. The puppets, alive by their own design, and animated by distinct personalities, slowly begin to talk to each other and learn of each other’s lives. Possessed of the wonderfully human faculties of imagination and desire, they dream. And they dream beyond themselves. Entertaining aspirations that exceed the scope of their lives and yet are so natural to their identities. The wise owl is impatient to fly, the wolf fantasises about running wild in the woods, the boy seeks adventure, the king searches for a reign, and the girl, Spelhorst’s beloved, longs to see the world and sing aloud.

DeCamillo’s story is both a song and a journey. Her genius weaves the human into the object, blurring the lines between the animate and inanimate, critically examining the dynamic parts of us that we have, in the pursuit of practical realism, forced into cold dormancy. Slowly fleshing out the rich landscapes, ardent desires, and secret dreams that colour the inner souls of all human beings, she employs puppets to remind us of our repressed essence and identities. The story also contains several adults, all of whom, in a sense, are the real Puppets of Camillo.

The Puppets of Spelhorst never lets its readers forget that they are engaged in the ‘act’ of reading. The narrative frequently reminds us that the puppets are in a ‘story’ together. With each turning page, the author is keen on pointing out the artifice of the story, and thus the object of the narrative. Set in lands far away, populated by characters that are all too fictional, fairytales are always presented as fables with a purpose. This book is an ode to reading, the intent of storytelling, and the value of listening. A seemingly simple plot, its beautiful intricacies allow for the complex nature of its characters and their dealings.

This is a children’s story that is best appreciated by adults. This is the kind of book that people will, in a few years, appreciate as a classic. It is rare, as rare as a talking puppet, as rare as an excellent book, and will make you believe in the power of tales. An excellent bedtime story for kids of all ages, best shared aloud, it is a gift that needs to be read to the ones we love.

Speaking to the power of storytelling and dreaming, it will make you laugh, cry, sing, and ultimately heal. You will remember this one forever, and when you’re done, you will want more.

Pick up Kate Di Camillo’s The Puppets of Spelhorst from any Kunzum store or WhatsApp +91.8800200280 to order. Buy the book(s) and the coffee’s on us.

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