Max, an eight-year-old boy, moves with his family to a new home in Yorkshire. There he discovers twelve old wooden soldiers who come to life when he unpacks them. They all have distinct personalities, plus a history and myths.
Max soon realizes that they are the twelve toy soldiers that the Bronte children played with and wrote about, and whom the soldiers call the Genii: their protectors and Gods. Max and, eventually, his sister Jane become the soldiers' new Genii. But due to the Bronte collection, the soldiers are sought after by collectors and historians...
My favorite thing, an old-school British children's fantasy, with all my favorite virtues of the genre: a strong sense of place, precise prose, vivid images, an unsentimental view of childhood, and small-scale and very magical-feeling magic.
This one captures the childhood feeling of a very small world with very small people in it; you indignantly protest to adults that you're not "playing" with your dolls or animals, because to you "play" means games and silliness, when what you're doing with them is inhabiting and playing out serious dramas in a very real world on a miniature scale. In The Twelve and the Genii
, Max comes to realize for the first time that stories don't just exist, they are created: the Brontes created their stories, the soldiers created their own, and Max can create his. Moreover, making stories actually alters reality, whether by literally bringing things to life, making myths that didn't exist before, or making a new life or fame for a writer.
This feels like a classic, halfway between The Borrowers
and The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
, and I’m not sure why it isn’t one. The Claw, I suppose. (I can't find the link, but it's the idea that why one thing takes off when other, similar ones don't is essentially like the claw in the arcade game that comes down and grabs one toy from a giant pile of similar toys.)The Twelve and the Genii