Yes, I’ve done it. I’ve actually found an excuse to write about Sylvanians
Happy Birthday, Sylvanians! A Guardian article alerted me to the fact that the famous toy brand is celebrating its 30th anniversary. So I wanted to write something about how great Sylvanians are. No, really.
Around twenty years ago I got my first Sylvanian, and I never looked back. I was getting a bit bored with Polly Pockets and Barbies. Mostly because I don’t like the idea of a one-sex nation, and there wasn’t really much I could do with the latter apart from make them go around on horses and chop off their hair. Even when Action Man and Ken joined the party, I found them a bit dry. I thought Barbie could do better.
But then one lovely Christmas, my parents bought me a Sylvanian boat. It was a wonderful barge that sailed along my bedroom floor, and came with a rat and some other indiscernible rodent creature.
Still, the barge wasn’t enough. And a few Christmases later I had a Sylvanian EMPIRE, with a mansion, bus (places to go, Sylvanians to meet) and even a treehouse that I nicked off my brother during his – sorry, Jack – Sylvanian-curious phase. It all sounds a bit Veruca salt, but I absolutely treasured those things.
The main big win for me with Sylvanians is that – oh em gee, am I about to write this – is that they’re a progressive tool for children.
For starters, they’re very gender neutral. They’re not all girls! You can play with any number of characters, whether that’s mothers, fathers, brothers, uncles or aunties – totally breaking the weird Barbie/Action Man myth that girls only want to play with ‘girl’ toys and vice versa.
In playing with all these characters, you start to form your own ideas about society and even politics. Do you want the father in the frog family to be the Kim Jong-un of the Sylvanian world? Or perhaps the mother in the hedgehog clan could be the Jeremy Corbyn of Sylvania. The possibilities are endless.
Sylvanians are also quite a good metaphor for race. No, really. Can the dog family get on with the meerkats? You decide in your little Sylvanian cosmos.
My Sylvanians lived it large. A session of playtime could be like an episode of Eastenders. My toys went to the Sylvanian bar, got pissed, and even had affairs. There were tears of laughter, tears of pain, and yes, even a bit of nooky in my Sylvanian society.
My two favourite Sylvanian characters were a rabbit called Arnie and a panda called Clara. They couldn’t keep their hands off each other, and produced several interracial Sylvanian babies. Whenever one would pop out of the womb, the Sylvanian midwife would exclaim: ‘it’s a rabbit!’ or ‘it’s a panda!’
There were also class distinctions in my Sylvanian world. Unfortunately the rat and its rodent companion were very much the underclass, mostly cause I thought they were a bit ugly. The same goes for the badger family. They never made it into the Sylvanian mansion, but lived on a caravan somewhere in Sylvanian world.
Even nowadays whenever I go past the Sylvanian shop in Highbury – which once awarded me third place in a Sylvanian-colouring competition (I WOZ ROBBED!) – I feel a bit nostalgic for it all and quite tempted to dig out my empire from the attic (where Arnie et al remain, waiting for some action). I still remain convinced that they’re one of the best things to play with when you’re a child. Forget the toybox, Sylvanians open Pandora’s box to the big wide world.