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a blog from Eli the Bearded
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The Mennyms

Some years ago I read Ascending Peculiarity, which is a collection of interviews and profiles of Edward Gorey culled from magazines. In one of them Gorey mentions that The Mennyms books are worth reading.

The books are by Sylvia Waugh and are about a family of life-sized rag dolls. These dolls move and talk and live their lives, which at first seems a bit juvenile. But the dolls are fully aware of their unusual nature and spend quite a bit of effort managing their lives so as not to arouse the suspicions of the humans around them. And they are concerned with the metaphysics of their own existence which gives the books a hook to interest an adult reader.

The first book, The Mennyms, starts when the dolls have been alive for about forty years. The are three generations living in one household, with another woman who lives in a closet but pretends to be a neighbor. Sir Magnus is the bed-ridden patriarch who makes a living writing history articles for magazines. His wife, Tulip is the accountant of the family and makes sells knitwear to retailers by post. Vinetta and Joshua are middle generation of the Mennyms, and Miss Quigley is a friend of Vinetta. Joshua has a job as night watchman, a low paid position, but the hours and loneliness of the job are vital to his staying unrecognized. Vinetta is a stay at home mom with two "teenagers", "ten-year-old" twins, and a baby.

This youngest generation have the most quirks, starting with their names. Soobie is the eldest, a blue-skinned boy who spends most of his time reading and has the least tolerance for the "pretends" of the rest of the family. Appleby a teen girl a little younger than Soobie. She is the most realistic looking of the family and gets sent out for most of the shopping and post office errands. In contrast to Soobie, she is the most interested in the "pretends". Poopie, a boy, and Wimpey, a girl, are the twins. The baby is named Googles.

Life at 5 Brucklehurst Grove consists of pretending to be real, which involves some real activities like cleaning, washing, and paying bills. They live in the house that had belonged to the woman who made them, and they maintain the utilities so that they may have electricity and water for their cleaning and pretends and a phone to avoid face to face contact in their business.

Plus there a great many pretend activities that start with eating and drinking. No one ever grows, and children remain children in judgement, so everyone just pretends to always be the same age. Appleby, for example, spends part of each year as fifteen and part as sixteen. Soobie, least realistic in looks, is most realistic in attitude, takes part in few pretends — he never joins the meals — and breaks taboos like complaining about the pretend notion that Miss Quigley lives on Trevewick Street instead of the hall closet. The teenage judgement and attitude of Appleby is a source of many of the conflicts that arise.

This first book also introduces a new character that springs to life at a time when Appleby is near death. These events first introduce the characters' attempts to come to terms with their metaphysics. At one point Soobie ends up in church and thinks a mental prayer that at once is agnostic and soul searching. Later books introduce complete death and more complete understanding of themselves.

It's an engaging series that works well for tweens or as lighter fare for adults.

Final thought: Ascending Peculiarity is also a good read