What makes Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop a gothic novel?
Gothic literature explores the dark, irrational, uncanny side of the life, the parts that are often buried in the unconscious and not usually brought to light. The uncanny is characterized by what is like us but not like us, called the unheimlich or unhomelike. For example, seeing the back of yourself in a mirror or a photo is uncanny. A corpse is uncanny: both human and yet inhuman. Dolls are uncanny because they look like humans and yet are not human, and hence often appear in Gothic or horror literature. The setting of a Gothic story is usually creepy or out of the ordinary. Sexuality is also often a feature of the Gothic.
With this in mind, we can easily see how Carter's early novel fits the Gothic genre. The opening, in which Melanie ruins her mother's wedding gown and suddenly loses her parents in a plane crash, is dark. The toyshop where she is sent is a creepy and unusual setting. It is filled with life-size uncanny puppets who are like humans but not human, as well as bizarre, creepy toys. Uncle Philip, a frightening and bullying tyrant, is a typical Gothic character. He shows an irrational hatred of Finn and spreads fear. Melanie is highly anxious in this uncanny setting, but here also explores her sexual feelings for Finn.
The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter is a novel with plenty of gothic elements. First, it has a central theme that dwells on the inevitability of life, the advent of fate, and the reality of human frailty. Second, the main character is undergoing a change which she cannot control. Already she lives a dark and sullen life, and now she has to face growing up within limited and obstructing circumstances. Third, the tone and mood of the novel is quite sinister because it uses children's fairy tales as a way to transfer a message. This being said, it is quite eerie to see the Little Red Riding Hood mentioned in a story about a sad adolescent.
Finally, the novel is also gothic in that magic, the surreal, and the supernatural are part of the importance of the plot. Myths and symbols are brought to life, and the air of mystery and suspense is ever-present in the story.