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Department of English, NTNU


This article looks into altered views of children and the very idea of childhood in our time by discussing the intersection of the increasingly prominent themes of evil dolls and “bad children” in contemporary Gothic literary and cinematic narratives. To elaborate on this subject, the film The Boy (2016) by William Brent Bell and the short story “The Doll-Master” (2016) by Joyce Carol Oates are closely investigated, but a few other literary works and movies addressing related issues are discussed as well. The portrayal of both children and dolls, as well as the intricate bond between them, as being wicked in these works is disquieting, for this child-doll bond may be seen as mirroring a deepening co-dependence between persons and things, makers and made objects in our time, one which could tend to blur the boundary between the living and the inanimate, the self and the Not-Me. To probe more deeply into the uncanny child-doll relationship in these contemporary Gothic tales, we will look at it from various angles—including ancient ritualistic effigies, puppet theater, figurine artifacts for household display, children’s dolls, the concomitant development of the modern toy industry and youth subcultures, and the “possessed doll” Gothic subgenre. Through this cross-disciplinary investigation of the constantly evolving culture of “human simulacra,” the article will try to show how lifeless objects like toy dolls may become material embodiments of our contrasting, ever-changing attitudes toward the idea of childhood and our rapport with things.