A Book of Marionettes

by Helen Haimon Joseph. New York: B. W. Huebsch. 1920. Sq. 8vo, 241 pp. Illustrated. Brice $5.00.
MODESTLY disclaiming any attempt to write an ambitious work on the marionette, the author has written, nevertheless, what is probably the best kind of book for American readers. For hers is the first book in English to give an adequate survey of the history of the puppet in ancient and modern times, in the Orient and in the West. She has freely used the works of Magnin, Maindron, Reber, and Pischel, as anyone writing of puppets must; but she has supplemented this information with much other drawn from more modern sources, and has added some chapters, which are quite fresh, on marionettes in America, toy theatres, the mechanics of the marionette, and the construction of a puppet stage.
It is the book of one who has fallen under the spell of what is surely the most fascinating toy ever invented by man. Turning the pages and studying the excellent plates, one soon learns why the puppet has always been the plaything of men of genius, and why men of genius have always felt for it a humorous tenderness curiously mingled with veneration; for the history of the puppet is almost as old as that of man himself; its action, unlike that of the human actor, is pure “character,”divested of all complicating intrusions of personality; and its origins have invariably been religious.
The sweep of history, from the appearance of puppets in ancient Egypt and India to the present, the author has recorded entertainingly and accurately, with incidental notice of notable experiments and experimenters. The general reader, however, will perhaps be most interested in the closing chapters, particularly that concerning the marionette in America. Here is given an account of the Serpent Drama of the Hopi Indians; some curious information about little-known puppeteers, Italian and native; and a detailed description of the ventures of Mrs. Maurice Browne, Mr. Raymond O’Neill, and, especially, Mr. Tony Sarg. Nor should the following chapter on toy theatres for children be overlooked, with its commentary on Stevenson’s ’Penny Plain and Twopence Coloured’; and the chapter on how marionettes are made; and Mr. O’Neill’s chapter (with diagrams) on the construction of a marionette stage.
’One must be quite unsophisticated to enjoy the marionettes,’says the author, ‘or quite sophisticated. Plain people, children, and artists seem to take pleasure in them. One must have something childlike, or artistic, in one’s nature, perhaps a little imagination in an unspoiled, vigorous condition.’ And she goes on to suggest, that here in America they might well serve as ‘an antidote for the overdose of moving pictures from which an overwhelming number of us are unconsciously suffering atrophy of the imagination ’ — a consideration which leads her to the excellent suggestion that there should be a marionette theatre in every school. Unlike the moving picture, the puppet-play fosters the growth of imagination. R. M. G.