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Stephen King wrote the short story Battleground in 1972. The story involves an assassin who kills a toy maker. The assassin then receives a package containing toys which then kill him.

The short story was made into a teleplay in 2006.

An episode (Siege of 31 August) of the series The Darkroom from 1981 contains a similar plot point.

The 1992 film Toys, the 1998 film Small Soldiers, the Toy Story franchise and the computer game Toy Commander all have similar plots with toys coming to life.

What is the first story where toys come to life?

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  • Does this answer your question? Where did the idea of living toys, dolls, and dummies come from?
    – Nzall
    Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 11:11
  • 3
    @Nzall are they dupes though? That question has as the most upvoted answer the golem of Jewish tradition, which is definitely not a toy. This one is specifically about toys...
    – Andres F.
    Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 14:08
  • 2
    This question is more specific than the proposed duplicate and has a different answer.
    – Spencer
    Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 16:42
  • What did your chosen search engine leave unclear about Pinochio, as at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinocchio Commented Nov 25, 2023 at 22:46

6 Answers 6

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The Nutcracker and the Mouse King is from 1816

From Wikipedia:

"The Nutcracker and the Mouse King" (German: Nussknacker und Mausekönig) is a story written in 1816 by Prussian author E. T. A. Hoffmann, in which young Marie Stahlbaum's favorite Christmas toy, the Nutcracker, comes alive and, after defeating the evil Mouse King in battle, whisks her away to a magical kingdom populated by dolls. The story was originally published in Berlin in German as part of the collection Kinder-Mährchen, Children's Stories, by In der Realschulbuchhandlung. In 1892, the Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky and choreographers Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov turned Alexandre Dumas' adaptation of the story into the ballet The Nutcracker.

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  • 4
    Would Pinnochio count?
    – Danny Mc G
    Commented Nov 23, 2023 at 21:56
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    @DannyMcG according to Wikipedia, Pinnocchio was first published in 1881, so it's a later story.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Nov 23, 2023 at 22:03
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    @releseabe Inanimate objects made animate maybe, but I don't think they were children's toys.
    – DKNguyen
    Commented Nov 23, 2023 at 23:29
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    Anthropomorphized objects seem common even a long ways back: in Aesop I find talking swords ("De gladio et viatore"), a talking wheel ("The Creaking Wheel"), and of course talking sun and wind. Couldn't find any toys/dolls, though, nor in the ATU mythic motifs. Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 7:22
  • 1
    @DewiMorgan even non-humans seem to attribute animateness to inanimate objects: female chimps or gorilla have apparently played with twigs like a human child might play with a doll -- long ways back indeed (assuming primate minds might be similar to those of out distant ancestors).
    – releseabe
    Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 13:56
24

Vasilisa the Beautiful is a Slavic fairytale that features a living doll given to Vasilisa by her dying mother. The doll protects Vasilisa from her stepmother's plots against her and later helps Vasilisa complete a set of impossible tasks assigned to her by Baba Yaga.

It was first written down in a collection of fairytales in the mid-19th century. However, like many fairytales, it was in oral tradition before it was compiled into a book, so it is difficult to say how old the story is exactly and whether or not it predates The Nutcracker and the Mouse King.

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I had found interesting document on Anthropomorphic dolls and its appearance in folklore: Anthropomorphic Dolls as Otherworldly Helpers in the International Folk Tale by Avard Jivanyan

It seems that in Aarne-Thompson-Uther index there is no separate category for "Living Toy" or similar which in turn may mean the story element is quite rare in a folk tales, (even more if we are looking for toys as characters) and are usually a variable part of different categories like ATU 510 Cinderella or ATU 480 Kind and Unkind Girls (where i.e. Beautiful Vassilisa is included). This, however, means that the element can be very old, but unfortunately undatable.

According to the same paper the earliest published story featuring living toy may be Princess Camion by Mademoiselle de Lubert. first published in 1743.

In the story princess Camion is transformed into a porcelain doll, but in this form she is animate and retains her ability to speak. In fact she spends most of the story in a form of a living toy and much focus is put on the fact.

The story can be read in English on Project Gutenberg website in the 1854 collection of Four and Twenty Fairy Tales

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  • Porcelain was expensive. It may simply be that the people telling the folk tales, could not afford the toys asked about here. Commented Nov 26, 2023 at 9:20
17

What about The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, a 1816 story by Prussian author E. T. A. Hoffmann, about a nutcracker toy soldier that comes alive and fights off an army of mice?

It's a story...

...in which young Marie Stahlbaum's favorite Christmas toy, the Nutcracker, comes alive and, after defeating the evil Mouse King in battle, whisks her away to a magical kingdom populated by dolls.

15

The earliest one that I know of is The Steadfast Tin Soldier, written by Hans Christian Andersen and first published in 1838.

It is somewhat like Toy Story in that the toys come to life when the people aren't watching.

The tin soldier falls in love with a paper ballerina. A troll causes the soldier to fall out of a window. After several adventures, the soldier is returned to the original house. He and the ballerina both end up in the fireplace, burned and melted together into a heart shaped blob of tin.

From the story:

Now the toys began to play among themselves at visits, and battles, and at giving balls. The tin soldiers rattled about in their box, for they wanted to play too, but they could not get the lid open. The nutcracker turned somersaults, and the slate pencil squeaked out jokes on the slate. The toys made such a noise that they woke up the canary bird, who made them a speech, all in verse.

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  • 1
    Good find! However, according to Wikipedia, The Nutcracker is slightly earlier :)
    – Andres F.
    Commented Nov 23, 2023 at 14:34
  • 3
    I'm not sure this one counts, because the toys don't really come to life? They have thoughts and feelings, but the tin soldier remains steadfast and the ballerina remains in her pose the entire time. They only move when blown around by the wind etc.
    – Coxy
    Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 0:05
  • 1
    @Coxy: I've added a quote from the story.
    – JRE
    Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 6:43
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    @JRE my apologies, the version I've read did not have that paragraph in it.
    – Coxy
    Commented Nov 24, 2023 at 6:49
4

Though not as old as fairytales and stories, a Czech animated film by Hermína Týrlová Vzpoura hraček (The Revolt of Toys) from 1946 or 1947 is quite early in movie history.

The movie shows wooden toys in a carver's workshop fight against a nazi who came to harass or arrest the shop's owner.

Video clip on YouTube

Picture from Národní filmový archiv

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