By the Book - Literary Life Lessons

By the Book #20 – The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale

Do you ever feel like there's a part of you that really wants to be a child again, and to believe in magic? Then read this post about The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale!

Every child believes in magic. I did too, for quite a long time. Actually, I was desperate for it. I don’t remember the exact moment I realised there was no such thing as magic, but I do know that my world turned just a bit darker after that. However, reading about magic can always bring back that wonderful feeling that everything is possible. The Toy Makers by Robert Dinsdale is a testament to those who feel nostalgic about their childhoods. Want to know what it’s about? Read on!

The Toy Makers takes place in London before, during, and after the First World War. It is about a pregnant girl, Cathy Wray, who is kicked out of her house and stumbles upon a toy shop called Papa Jack’s Emporium, which opens with the first snow, and closes when spring has begun. She is allowed to stay there, help out in the store, and become acquainted with the owners of the place: Papa Jack and his sons Kaspar and Emil. A love triangle unfolds, as well as the First World War, and the Emporium and its inhabitants will never be the same again.

The best part of The Toy Makers is the opening chapter. Instead of being introduced to the characters, it is the Emporium itself that is presented here, and in a uniquely captivating way. The first chapter is written in a second-person singular perspective, which made me think of Shel Silverstein’s lovely little poem Invitation. This chapter felt like an alluring incantation from another world, an enchantment that turned me into a child again, desperate to believe in magic. It described how ‘you’ would hear a sound, see a building, walk into it, and see all sorts of toys that would make you forget all your troubles for a while. I was mesmerised and never wanted to leave this place ever again. I wanted to live there, like the ‘you’ character seeing it all for the first time. Until this chapter ended, and the real story began.

Unfortunately, the story itself is not the best part of the book. In fact, I am not sure what The Toy Makers is about – and I am quite sure that’s not a good thing. There’s simply too many possible themes, and that makes this novel a bit chaotic. It could be about the love between Cathy and Kaspar. It could be about the sibling rivalry between Kaspar and Emil. It could also be about the love these brothers feel for their father. Furthermore, it could be about people’s need for hope in wartime. It could be about magic, about love, about parenthood,or the devastating effects of the War on those in it. It could be all of these, but there’s one theme, I think, that really stood out to me.

Like a child that always returns to their favourite toy even though they have an entire room full of them, I will focus on the one theme I love best: the process of growing up. The juxtaposition of childhood versus adulthood is reflected in the safety within the Emporium and the terrible danger of the world outside of it, where the First World War rages. Kaspar, the oldest brother, is a soldier and returns home a grown man, marked by the horrors he has witnessed, whereas Emil, the younger brother, fails to understand the effects of the War on people. This is how the two boys eventually grow apart, strengthened by Emil’s jealousy at his brother for being the more talented one.

It is striking that only those who have grown up are able to create the truly magical toys. While Emil made the most popular toys, Kaspar made them come alive. I think that says a lot about Dinsdale’s view on childhood and magic; while everyone believes in magic when they’re young, real magic lies in one’s ability to remember a childhood that is now gone, and to transfer that feeling into something else.

When I was a young girl, I never wanted to grow up. I loved pretending I could be everything I wanted, and that magic was real. I was so excited about being transported back to that time when I started reading The Toymakers. Unfortunately, it didn’t feel as magical to me as it might have done to others. I think that’s because Dinsdale was trying too hard; he wanted the Emporium to be perfect, which he accomplished through the lavish descriptions of all the toys inside of it. However, while making sure the atmosphere was there, he appeared to have forgotten that a novel needs a credible plot, and, above all else, realistic characters. Instead, they feel like an afterthought; it’s like watching a child set up his imaginary toy world, adding a tree here, a dragon there, making sure everything looks just right, and then realising that he doesn’t know what will happen as soon as he’s built his imaginary world. It feels like the the plot of The Toymakers was playing with its author, instead of the other way around.

The older you are, the harder it is to really believe in magic. The Toymakers was close, but didn’t quite take me all the way to that part of me I am looking for. I think I love reading so much because I in search of a childhood I have lost, and there’s parts of that childhood in every book I read. If I just keep reading, I believe I will find the perfect book. And if I believe in it strongly enough, it’s bound to happen. Isn’t it?

What did you think of The Toymakers? Which books take you back to your childhood? Let me know in the comments! Also, don’t forget to follow me for more book musings!

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