The third book in the Deptford Trilogy by famed Canadian writer Robertson Davies has been re-released as a Penguin Classic with a new introduction by Wayne Johnston and a suggested reading list. World of Wonders
concludes the story begun in The Fifth Business and continued in The Manticore, following the effects of a snowball thrown by a young boy on the people whose lives were altered that day.
In World of Wonders, the story is that of famed magician and illusionist Magnus Eisengrim. He is chosen to act in a movie of the life of another famous magician, Robert - Houdini. It is while filming this that he is convinced to share the true story of his own life. He is the baby born prematurely when the snowball thrown by Boy Staunton hits his mother, driving her to madness. Raised by his strict, religious father, Magnus
(born Peter Dempster) is forced to run away from home with a traveling circus after a tragic incident
involving one of the performers. After many years with the group, he becomes part of an English theater cast. His change in life from abused circus performer to famed magician is one filled with fear, hard work and determination.
Ramsay wonders, “…there is no time but the present moment, and that everything about the past is diminished by the simple fact that it is irrecoverable?” As Magnus tells of his life, the characters examine how the present affects the view of the past
- can anyone truly tell of their own life without bias or feeling? Magnus portrays himself as beginning as a “Nobody”, as he is only a body inside an
automated card-playing mannequin during all his years with the traveling sideshow. He becomes a tabula rasa that he fills with a new personality during his time with the English theater company. There he is taken under the wing of
aging actor Sir John Tresize and his wife. As he becomes his double on the stage, he also strives to become his double in life.
The arguments of the characters as to whether he unfairly “devoured the personality” of Sir John give rise to some of the book's most intense moments.
The book is narrated by Ramsay, who is encouraging Magnus to tell the story so that he can then write his biography. The viewpoints of the various listeners to Magnus story, such as the filmmakers and Magnus’ longtime partner, Liesl, add dimension and discussion to the tale as they argue God and the devil, good and evil, justice and revenge.
World of Wonders is best read last in the order of the series. It is a strong story within itself but will be most powerful as read after the other two books of the trilogy. This book answers the question asked in The Manticore: “who was really killed by Staunton?”