World Of Wonders
by Robertson Davies Character Study The book " World of Wonders" by Robertson Davies is a character study based on Davies' belief that things of the spirit are more important than worldly concerns. The book is about a group of people who listen to their illusionist friend tell his life story. It is centered around the development of the character's personalities, histories, moral characteristics, and flaws, and most of all, the way they react with one another. The characters are divided into two sets; the ones that actually exist in the story, (i.e. the friends of the illusionist) and those who exist in the history of the main characters and are described by the illusionist, Magnus Eisengrim. The characters are further subdivided by their degree of importance. The main characters are Magnus Eisengrim, Dunsten Ramsay, and Liselott Vitsliputzli. This book is seen through the eyes of Dunsten Ramsay who is born in
of Scottish descent. He is a constant stabilizing force in the somewhat confusing happenings of Magnus Eisengrim's story. This man is a humble (in contrast to Magnus) and conservative figure who does not strive for power and fame like others in this story. He is content listening to the incredible tale of Magnus' life, without getting upset or fazed by the opinionated view with which the story is delivered. Nor does he constantly argue with whatever is said. Basically, he on the outside, a relatively simple and happy man, who strives not for control, but for knowledge in and out of his field of history. As one delves deeper into the character of Ramsay, one begins to understand what really motivates him. Just like the rest of the characters in the story, he has had his life-long squabbles and arguments. He is not as totally free from shame as one is originally led to believe. His life-long disagreement with the character "Boy Staunton" regarding events leading up to the premature birth of Magnus, escalates to the point where it looks as if he contributed to the suicidal death of Staunton. Overall, Dunsten Ramsay is a character good enough for the point of narrator, but really rather boring with regards to enrichment of the story. Liselott Vitzliputzli, generally referred to as Liesl, is another dominant character. Growing up in Switzerland, with her rich grandfather, she acquired a disease causing one to become exceedingly large. Her personality began to reflect her unusual height and through a series of events, she became uncontrollable and totally barbaric. It was only Magnus, who was able to reform her while working for her grandfather. The character of Liesl exemplifies the outgoing, opinionated, yet gentle and understanding female. She can at times be extremely stubborn, especially when dealing with finances (being very rich). Liesl is the "mistress" of both Dunsten Ramsay, and Magnus. The three share a large mansion in which Liesl is clearly dominant. Liesl was the administrative side of the Soiree of Illusions, the fantastic show in which Magnus starred. Liesl tends to be extremely frank, especially with those she knows very well (i.e. Ramsay and Eisengrim) but can act this way to strangers, or new friends as well (i.e. the way she acts toward Roland Ingestree). Overall, Liesl is Magnus Eisengrim's female counterpart. She holds the necessary part of the skeptic and sits at the side, jumping in whenever she feels it important, not necessarily appropriate. Magnus Eisengrim is the leading character in this book. He is by far the most dominant of the characters due to a course of life-shaping events; some good, some terrible. He was born in Debtford, to a religious family, eighty days prematurely (due to strange circumstances regarding Boy Staunton). Early in his life, he was kidnapped by a second rate carnival conjurer and forced into sexual, physical, and mental submission. For years inside the great idol Abdullah, working as the mechanism for the con, he practiced sleight of hand and the repair of watches. For eight years he toiled in this way until his captor died as a result of his morphine addiction. Through a set of strange circumstances, Magnus ended up in the theater troupe of Sir John Tresize, whom he immediately adopted as an idol. His part was to play that of a stunt double as he looked much the same. He learned to move, speak and act like Sir John. In a sense he became Sir John Tresize, an actor of great note. During this time, he began to rebuild his battered self-esteem and self image and once again became proud of himself. After Sir John's death, Magnus became a restorer of old clocks for a museum. Eventually, he ended up working for the grandfather of Liesl, repairing the collection of antique toys which she had smashed in a fit of anger and frustration. Through hours of work, Magnus not only fixed the toys, but also humanized Liesl. Following this, he and Liesl formed the Soiree of Illusions and formed it into a successful show. Years later (the time the book is set) Magnus portrays the role of Robert Houdin in Jurgen Lind's Un Hommage a Robert Houdin. This eventually results in him finally revealing his life story, in an attempt to create a subtext to the film. Magnus is an extremely stubborn, strong-willed man. He enjoys humiliating others and then mauling them wolfishly and crushing them into submission. The character of Eisengrim is not that of a nice kindly old conjurer but that of a very refined and proud actor. Through a series of these metaphorical eating of people (meaning totally devouring their character, and taking all the traits to be one's own), Magnus' character is multi-faceted. He is Sir John Tresize; acting as a noble British actor; he is Mungo Fetch, the name given to him while he was in servitude to Willard the second-rate conjurer; he is Paul Dempster, a religious boy from a small country town in Canada. All this leads to making Magnus Eisengrim a very complicated but extremely convincing dominant character. The three just mentioned are the major characters in the book. The story is centered around their reactions to the occurrences in the story. These three characters are further developed by their relationships to the supporting characters in the story. Roland Ingestree is the man who is the backer of "Un Hommage a Robert Houdin." He is a brilliant financier and a very disagreeable, stubborn man. Throughout the story, he and Magnus have a raging argument regarding Magnus' relationship to Sir John Tresize. Ingestree is able to see what really occurred between Magnus and Sir John and Magnus do not like it. They further disagree regarding certain events in which Ingestree was inovlved during Magnus' time with the theater group. Magnus' powerful side is most clearly evident in his dealings with Ingestree and they constantly fight. This character brings out the most hostile reactions from Magnus as Ingestree is himself a wolf (not quite to the degree of Magnus or Boy Staunton). Whenever these men clash, it is up to Liesl or Jurgen Lind to put a stop to the quarrel. Jurgen Lind is the pacifist (along with Ramsay) in this group of characters. He seeks only to increase his knowledge and understanding of the star of his film and the motivating forces behind his performance as Robert Houdin. Jurgen Lind is a great man of patience and is a man slow to anger, yet quick to act upon his anger. Once he has been set off, the offending party can expect to be shut up totally or face the wrath of an even more fired up Finnish film director. Lind often steps in when Ingestree and Magnus argue and manages to convince the two to stop their squabbling and allow Magnus to continue his revelations. Kingohvn (no first name given) has little mention in the book. He is the absent-minded obsessive in this story. He knows and cares only about lighting and related topics and how to create effects on the screen. He worked closely with Lind and Eisengrim on "Un Hommage a Robert Houdin." Kinghovn often blurts into the conversation with some semi-relevant remark, usually having to do with lighting. This can often lead to the cooling of the tempers of the characters involved in the latest dispute by giving them time to consider what they are saying. The final set of characters to be mentioned are those from the tale of Magnus Eisengrim's life. I only feel it necessary to describe the people mentioned in the subtext of the film. Sir John Tresize was one of the foremost actors of his day. He dazzled audiences with his incredible ability to portray the chivalric hero. However as his style began to fade to newer more popular types of acting, Sir John maintained his stance and held it until he retired. Sir John was one of the most influential people in the life of Magnus Eisengrim and the first Magnus "devoured". As Magnus learned to be Sir John on the stage, Magnus also became Sir John in reality. Eventually, after a hard misunderstanding regarding a tribute to Sir John's teacher, he died (Ingestree speculates that this was due to Magnus eating him, and I tend to agree). Sir John was the epitome of the strong, well-mannered knight of old. He maintained his stature in real life as well as on the stage far past the time when an ordinary man would have failed. His uncanny ability to assess a situation and realize what was going on and what he should do, allowed him to convey his message to the audience like none other. The character of Boy Staunton is not mentioned (except briefly at the beginning) until very far through the book. He is actually not mentioned to Lind, Ingestree, and Kinghovn in the subscript, yet his suicidal death is debated by Liesl, Ramsay, and Magnus. When Boy Staunton was a child, he threw a snowball with a rock in it at Dunsten Ramsay and missed. The rock/snowball ended up hitting Mrs. Dempster (Magnus' mother) causing her to become mentally ill and to have Magnus prematurely. Ramsay has never forgiven Boy Staunton for this act and to the end of the book carries his disdain for him. A life-long conflict between the two is finally epitomized at the revelation that Ramsay didn't unduly influence the suicidal death of Boy Staunton. The character of Staunton is that of another wolf. He himself devoured those in the way to his expected path. This caused his relationship with Magnus to be extremely tense as they were both trying to crush each other into submission. They constantly grapple in an attempt to determine who shall prevail. In the end it is Magnus who outlives Staunton and Magnus successfully wins their dual. Overall, I have found the characters in this book unbelievably convincing. The relationships which Davies creates are only to be created by a master such as Davies. The intertwining goals and fears of the characters create an incredibly intense and convincing novel. Eisengrim, Liesl, and Ramsay, and all those supporting them, are could " walk" right off the page into reality.