Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland

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December 14, 2016

Dolls Are Scary

I think we can all admit that dolls are scary.

Too-realistic dolls fall into the “uncanny valley,” creeping us out by being too close to actual people. But even rag dolls like Vespertine can be uncanny, because us human beings are social creatures. Our brains are always searching for faces, whether in spilled coffee, castles, or kayaks. And when one of those faces turns out to be a couple of buttons and a squiggle of yarn, it’s weird.

This is perhaps why fear of dolls is one of the most common phobias, called¬†pediophobia. (Just so you know, fear of children is pedophobia and fear of feet is podophobia. When phobia doctors talk about all three at once it’s probably hilarious.) My wife, in fact, suffers from a pretty severe case. Like, she can’t sleep in a doll-infested guest room without throwing a blanket over the uncanny objects. But the purpose of Vespertine in Spill Zone is not to terrorize her. It was to allow Lexa to be silent to the world, but not silent to the reader.

That’s one of my favorite affordances of comics—that we get to read thoughts without hokey voiceovers or clumsy italics. We can be in Addison’s point of view, narration-wise, while still “hearing” Lexa’s and Vespertine’s conversations. Lexa simply thinking to herself would be boring, but an imaginary friend turns those thoughts into a dialog.

Of course, it’s possible that Vespertine isn’t just an imaginary friend. She seems to have her own distinct personality. After all, perhaps the weirdest thing about dolls is that kids seem to like them, while we adults have generally decided that they’re scary.

What do the kids know that we’ve forgotten?

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