Perspectives of a Writer and Musician

Issues related to writing, publishing and playing jazz music: One man's muse.
by Al Stevens

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Location: Florida, United States

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Books About Ventriloquists

A search of books on amazon.com with the search keyword, “ventriloquist” turns up several how-to books, a few novels, and one book of poetry. But most books about ventriloquists are no longer in print and available only through used book channels. Following are reviews of some of the better-known books about ventriloquists.

Wieland, or The Transformation

Charles Brockden Brown, considered to be America’s first professional author, published in 1798, Wieland, or The Transformation, his first and most famous book. It is a story about an evil ventriloquist, thus establishing the enduring tradition of nutty ventriloquists in fiction. Based on an actual case of a New York religious fanatic who murdered his wife and children, “Wieland” tells the story Theodore Wieland, who lives with his wife, Catherine, his sister Clara, and his brother-in-law Henry Pleyel. The family lives in peace and contentment. Francis Carwin, a ventriloquist and associate of Henry’s, appears on the scene, after which the family starts hearing voices. People think they hear other people saying things they would not be expected to say, plotting murders and such, creating chaos in the family. Henry is in love with Clara and she with him, but Henry thinks he hears Carwin and Clara speaking to one another of love. Henry breaks off their relationship. But Clara doesn’t even like Carwin. Then Henry finds Carwin hiding in Clara’s bedroom closet reinforcing his suspicions. But Carwin is not there for Clara; he has been using the hideout to employ ventriloquism to create the voices that everyone hears. After believing he heard Catherine saying things she wouldn’t say, Theodore murders her. When Theodore attempts to kill Clara, too, Carwin uses ventriloquism to persuade Theodore to spare her. Theodore kills himself instead.

The Life and Adventures of Valentine Vox the Ventriloquist

This text, written by Henry Cockton first as a serialized story in the 1830s and released in book form in 1841, relates the story of the title character from birth to death. The print is small and the prose is ponderous, typical of popular writings of that era. The book, which is intended to be funny while it comments on social issues of the day, chronicles the character's penchant for using his skill to make mischief, perform practical jokes, and bring down the high and mighty as he corrects social injustices. You can open to any page and find an episode wherein Vox fools someone into believing an animal or inanimate object is speaking.

Goosebumps, Night of the Living Dummy

The Goosebumps series by R.L. Stine comprises many fictional books with occult themes for younger readers. Three of those books are numbers 7, 31 and 40 in the series and are subtitled Night of the Living Dummy. They are about Slappy, an evil, possessed ventriloquist dummy.

In the first story, a young girl finds Slappy and learns to be a ventriloquist. Her twin sister wants to be a ventriloquist, too, and their father buys her a dummy, which she names Mr. Wood. Weird things begin to happen around the house, mostly caused by Mr. Wood who is brought to life when one of the girls reads a mystical chant written on a slip of paper in his pocket. Eventually the girls dispose of Mr. Wood by throwing him under a steamroller. Slappy, in the meantime, is waiting his turn.

Slappy's turn comes in the next book, which, along with the third, follows much the same theme of the evil dummy that comes alive and does evil deeds. Later, the author wrote a fourth sequel named, Bride of the Living Dummy.

The Goosebumps books are popular with children, and you can purchase a ventriloquist doll made to look like Slappy.

Magic

This book, written by William Goldman in 1976, is about Corky, a successful nightclub ventriloquist who believes his dummy, Fats, is alive. Troubled by his career and life, Corky takes some time off, returns to his hometown and rents a lakeside cabin from a woman who was his teenage crush in high school. The former high school beauty queen is stuck in a dead-end marriage to a former high school jock, and she is impressed that the high school geek, now a famous entertainer, actually remembers her. They renew their friendship and have a brief affair. Corky's manager drives up from the city and threatens to have Corky committed based on his obsession with his dummy. Under the influence of Fats, Corky murders the agent and then his girl friend's husband.

A well-written book, Magic is the typical story of the demented ventriloquist who believes his dummy is alive and commits evil deeds at the urging of the dummy.

The Ventriloquist

This children's book by Mary Blount Christian is about a boy and his talking dog who are trying to break into show business.

The Ventriloquist

Comedian Red Skelton wrote this short novel. It's about a vaudeville ventriloquist who uses his skill to thwart a bank robbery by throwing his voice into the bank vault, making the robbers believe that cops are in the vault. Apparently the book did not sell well. The only copies available are autographed first editions.

Bunter the Ventriloquist

This is a paperback book written by Charles Hamilton under the pen name Frank Richards. The book was published in 1961 as one of a series of novels about the character Billy Bunter.

Phil the Ventriloquist

This is a cute children's book by Robert Kraus about a bunny rabbit named Phil who is a ventriloquist. He makes everything at home talk, causing his parents to worry. They buy him a dummy, but he'd rather make other things talk. When a burglar breaks into the house, Phil uses his skills to scare the burglar off, pleasing his parents and providing a happy ending.

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