“My Name is Talky Tina… and I Have a New Favorite Short Story” – Philip K. Dick’s “Beyond the Door”

As a die-hard fan of the original Twilight Zone series hosted by Rod Serling, I am forever finding its echoes – or things it echoed – in literature. A short story I read last week reminded me immediately of the episode “Living Doll,” starring a pre-Kojac Telly Savalas as a domineering, sleeves rolled up, blue collar-ish husband, who’s not too pleased with his step-daughter’s expensive new doll, “Talky Tina,” who – at least initially – says harmless things like “My name is Talky Tina, and I love you very much.” (The gentle Savalas’s reaction to this? He snarls “Will you shut that thing off!?”)

a quick two-minute “highlight reel” of this episode is available on YouTube https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=hSy8Ko1vSKQ

The introduction of a talking doll into a household that is already under pressure echoes the Philip K. Dick short story “Beyond the Door” wherein it’s not a talking doll that’s introduced, but a cuckoo clock. The husband in the story, Larry, becomes jealous of the clock because of his wife’s affection for it, and it’s seeming “dislike” of him. It doesn’t keep good time when it’s just him in the house, or forgets to chime at all.

The clock also indirectly leads the husband to discover his wife’s adulterous affair when, thinking he will be out for awhile, she invites her lover, Bob, over to see the new clock. This is the last straw for Larry, who gives his wife the boot but, mainly out of spite, decides to keep the clock for himself. What transpires from that point to the end of the tale sheds some light on the introductory paragraph of the story:

Larry Thomas bought a cuckoo clock

for his wife–without knowing the

price he would have to pay.

This story got me thinking about “automatons” and the human race’s long association and fascination with them as they grew to be more elaborate and sophisticated over time. Now our lives are deeply entwined with machines  of all kinds and, even if they aren’t always given human or animal shape, maybe we give them at least a human voice (iOS’s “Siri” anyone?). Personally, clockworks of all kinds have always especially interested me. It could be argued too that automatons are making a “literary comeback” – especially in the steampunk genre, where they seem to be everywhere.

Beyond the Door may be read for free online at http://readbookonline.net/readOnLine/56456/

We have cuckoos (Yellow-Billed Cuckoos at least) in my state (Indiana), and as an amateur birdwatcher, I’m always pleased when I get a (sadly infrequent) glimpse of one.

Did you know that you can even purchase a replica of the original talking doll from the Twilight Zone episode via Amazon.com? Of course you can. 🙂  http://www.amazon.com/Twilight-Talking-Lifelike-Exclusive-Replica/dp/B004MCO78S

Do you know of any other literary stories featuring automatons? What are your favorites?

I’ve rambled on too long again, and I now feel compelled to say  “So long, farewell…” until next time. (& hopefully you’re familiar with the lyrics of the number from “The Sound of Music” pictured below) 🙂

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