Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Where My Imagination Lived, c. 1976

In an earlier post, Dr. Virago and I took a trip down Memory Lane, fondly recalling the old Fisher-Price Little People Castle from the 1970's. That castle is one of the earliest Christmas gifts I remember getting. Because we were a foster family for about 30 years, good, unbroken toys never got thrown away, and my old castle survives to this day! All the people, furniture, and animals have long since been lost/destroyed, but the castle itself stands firm.

For a look at a pristine castle with all the Little People, check out this image. The only difference seems to be that between the dragon and the coachman are a bunch of generic-looking people who I don't remember being part of that original set. Those of you too young to remember, take note -- all the people are little wooden pegs with plastic heads screwed on top. No doubt that's why dogs loved to chew on them (By the way, according to the website, someone bought that set for $128).

You can see the front of my own castle here:

As you can see, it isn't exactly in mint condition. The moat is particularly ragged looking (though you can still make out the alligator picture if you raise the drawbridge). The poor quality of the moat probably results from the time my brother and I thought it should have real water in it; though it held the water fine, the sticker picture of the moat started peeling. The drawbridge really went up and down, which was an important part of many adventures. Sometimes the hero would be chased by villains, and would have to get through before they could catch him, sometimes an evil villain would hole up in the castle and the heroes would have to sneak in through the dragon cave to save the day.
Also, that dungeon door opened, and up above was a trap door that the Little People could fall through ... the climax of many stories would be when the hero would be losing a swordfight, would leap backwards over the trap door, and the overconfident villain would step on the trap and find himself in the dungeon.
Take note of the pre-PC days ... there are crosses everywhere.

Here we can see the dragon's cave. There was a sliding door inside the castle leading to the cave. Note the bedding, as well as the iconography above -- apparently, in the happy, hippy 70's*, the dragon and the knight were friends. In our adventures, sometimes they were friends, and sometimes they were enemies. Note the vine climbing the castle wall; there's a very nice vine on the tallest tower, and more than once people scaled the sides.

And finally, the interior. The staircase swiveled out, revealing a secret hiding place big enough for a Little Person to hide in. There was a balcony (though we never did any Romeo and Juliet scenes). The owl is sitting on a sign pointing to the village -- years later, after we got other Little People sets, the village began to take shape, and included a farm and an airport.** The owl, black cat at the foot of the stairs, and the suit of armor behind the secret stair led to many adventures in a haunted castle.

One last thing to note: When flicked, the springy flag at the top of the tallest tower would give a satisfying twang. While that was not important for any of our stories, it didn't stop us from twanging it at every opportunity. More than once the princess would escape the castle by pulling down on the flag and then catapulting herself as far as the spring would fling the little peg princess. Apparently, in my imagination, princesses were hardy enough to survive a very great fall.***

*An era that gave us such travesties as disco, Jimmy Carter, and non-violent Tom & Jerry cartoons.
**Little-known fact: Most medieval manors had an airport.
***I'm not sure what that fractions book is doing in the background, since all the kids currently living at my parents' house are either too young or too old to be studying fractions. Maybe the king and queen were promoting an mathmatical education campaign among the peasants.


  1. UPDATE!!! Just after I posted, my son walked in the room and asked why I was posting pictures of the castle. When he saw the image of the original set, he claimed that the prince, princess, and some of the furniture still survives among the flotsam and jetsam of my parents' toyroom.

  2. Anonymous10:36 AM

    You have been tagged for a history meme, if you choose to keep the meme alive, details are on heavenfield.

  3. Anonymous11:39 AM

    Man oh man, do I remember that castle! Be's really hard to get Ewoks out of the dungeon.

  4. My younger brother was given THAT VERY FISHER PRICE CASTLE for his seventh birthday. In a fit of jealousy mixed with insanity, I swore to become a medievalist, just to spite him. Voila!

    Have you looked at the "updated" version of that same castle? I gave it to my son four years ago: no peg people, but little red and black barbarians. No women at all (no princess, no queen). Lots more weapons, and also a boiling oil pot.

  5. Ooh, I forgot about the Knight on horseback. Hm. Why did I have the Princess run off with the coachman, then? Maybe I thought the Knight was too violent to be suitable boyfriend material. Or he was just too busy fighting dragons. Or maybe I decided he was Galahad. Too funny.

    I've got to get mine out next time I'm at my parents' house. I completely forgot about all the cool little hiding places and sliding doors. Awesome -- thanks for reminding me!

    As for crosses, are you talking about the ones on the outside? Aren't those arrow slits -- made for both long bows and cross bows? I always thought of those in practical terms, but, duh, they have symbolic valence as well.

    And now I want the version with the boiling oil to combine with the classic version!

  6. I certainly remember wanting this thing! I did have the farm set, the one with the barn that mooed when the door was opened. Somehow I still managed to end up in the Humanities!

    Toy was sold in Brazil (childhood there from about '76-'81), as I recall, with only minor changes.

    Thinking back, I recall toys like the "GI Joe" figures of the period, which I did not own either (the larger ones, not the later, smaller ones) were sold under the Estrella (star) label, Brazil's Hasbro, and completely relabeled to make Joe a generic soldier of fortune ("Falcon") rather than an American soldier. But the most popular toys among the bulk of my fellow children were cheap and either knock-offs of brand-name toys or simply the sort of thing we'd call a party favor in the US. Same old rich-poor disparity, far smaller middle class there in the 70's.

    Thanks for the memories!

  7. Anonymous10:56 AM

    In the middle of searching Google Images for pictures of Lindisfarne Castle to add to my exciting "intro to British history for high school kids who probably couldn't care less" Power Point, I stumbled upon one of your images of your Fisher-Price castle. nostalgia and super-happy memories washed over me. I am 40 and still have the castle given to me for my 6th birthday (I was a Fisher-Price village too had an airport, a three story parking garage and a farm-in addition to a one room school house...we were very cosmopolitan in my village!)-it is in storage but in good condition. Alas, most of my "little people" have disappeared over the years but I just have to say thank you for the delightful memories you helped to stir and for bringing a smile to the face of an amateur medievalist like myself.

  8. Anonymous3:58 PM

    With great amusement, I came across your blog while researching whether or not to give the castle, Sesame St., the parking garage, schoolhouse, circus train, and a few other pieces to my one year-old grandson. My sister tells me that there was a recall of the people because of a choking hazard. It seems to me that my children as well as many of you survived so he will receive them over the course of a couple years. Fortunately, almost all of the pieces survive. I have very fond memories of my children playing with these toys and am very happy that they didn't go in a garage sale!