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Fiction

An Exegesis of the Socioreligious Ramifications of the Collection of Peribi

6.

One day when all of humanity is gone and the old Earth rolls through the dark all alone, a day will come when it is chanced upon by some intrepid visitors from another, more respectable planet—a planet whose denizens did not see fit to destroy themselves as quickly and as thoroughly as possible. Those visitors will descend upon the steaming hot void and may ask themselves, may ask each other, what happened. They will roam across the deep and, no doubt very soon in their journey, will discover what they will take to be obvious signs of recent habitation: our ruined homes, our benighted cities, our landfills. Vast and heaving with our brightly colored waste, those sites now play the hosts to nothing more lively than bacteria, which will surely flourish in our blasted wake.

But these visitors will no doubt notice, if they spend much time at all excavating the waste, certain objects that seem to thrive—that teem amid the flotsam and jetsam of all those foregone lives. Residing in places of honor in all those homes whose owners have long vanished, this plastic multitude may take the visitors by surprise. The visitors will meet the dull gazes of small, squat plastic bodies in mysterious shapes, and they will come to numerous conclusions. Indeed, their scholars will reap a bountiful harvest; it seems very likely that talk will never cease on the visitors’ own home planet of the empty, hot globe and its plastic totems. These totems must have been more numerous by far than the dominant species ever was, and that species seemed to hold them in such regard that they allowed the totems everywhere, in landfills and in houses, too. They produced them in far greater abundance than they knew what to do with.

And so those alien visitors will wonder: What variety of devotion did the members of this planet hold for those things, what species of love? What rituals did they perform with them, what meanings did those figures hold? If the visitors are sufficiently canny and persistent, it is possible that they might unearth records—if records remain—that will tell them all they wish to know; they may indeed uncover the tragic history of the Peribi. And that history may very well look something like this.

5.

Well, here we are at the sorry end.

There are two of them, locked in combat, and to the victor go the spoils. The prize is a small orange object, no more than three inches tall, a mere trinket, a worthless hunk of plastic, decades past plastic’s production. The wells have run dry, as everything has run dry. And as to the question of why, it seems that one of them has it, and the other one wants it, and, though little remains to be fought over, still one wishes to acquire that which does remain. Perhaps the need to assert one’s dominance shall never cease.

These peculiar totems, remnants of a dead world, are piled up in landfills, and they stand in such homes as are left, and such people as are left regard them with a respect that sometimes only borders on devotion and, then again, sometimes ventures fully into that strange country. Little lares, they do offer some succor or solace. It is rather simple: they have become what they are because they remain. There are so many of them, they are quite easy to find, and when one finds it one picks it up and keeps it, cherishes it.

In a perfect world—or so I have heard—one would have need of neither art nor faith: the blank wall in its platonic form would presumably suffice, and so too would the bracing desolation of the sky’s empty vault. In this world, an imperfect one, art and idols are catch as catch can. Fill the gap, cover the wall, do whatever you need to go on, for you must go on. And squabbles emerge over land, food, and trinkets. Sometimes, anger is all that is left. It’s a sad and rapid end, and one wonders how different it is from the beginning. In those long-ago days were combatants likewise locked in such firm and passionate and lusty embraces, and were the objects of their battles equally potent and equally daft?

This brings us back to the battle. A fire burns behind the fighters. It is night, and the flame casts the sole illumination. One lands a punch on the other, square in the face, and the other staggers and falls. The victor retrieves the piece of plastic, shaped with its bloom of fungal petals like a variety of mushroom once known as maitake, hen of the wood. And then the victor leaves for home.

In the night, the loser will seek out the victor. He will retrieve the piece of plastic and toss it into the fire in rage. And for good measure he will end the victor’s life and toss the body on the flame. He will stand before the pyre and watch the corpse burn. He will encounter the scent of cooking meat and realize he enjoys it. That fact, the fact of the meat, may unsettle him. His own life will end soon after. All too rapidly the lights will be extinguished, and the darkness will once more cover the face of the deep.

4.

But that night will come toward the end. Let us peer into the heyday of the Peribi. On a night long before that one, in a world that has not yet become what it will be—a world that teeters on that perilous edge—the Peribi thrive, as they have done for decades. Long past their entrée into the world, they have largely aged into emblems of nostalgia, sometimes ironic and sometimes sentimental; for some, they even seem like metonyms for childhood itself, as though one could get no closer to the thing itself and all its attendant emotions, than by clutching one or the other of them in one’s hands and sinking into an intoxicating reverie of nostalgia.

On the day in question, someone sits down at the computer. His rooms are cold and quiet when he gets there. He has just left work and now has come home. Quickly, he heats up a can of soup for supper and pours the hot liquid into a bowl. He takes the bowl to his table, where his open computer screen waits for him. He’s received an email, which he has been expecting. Here is what it says:

Congratulations!
You’re officially a Fan of Marnie on Fangaea!
You are scheduled to pay $5.00 per month, and your next payment will be charged on March 1, 2021.
Visit Marnie’s Fangaea.
View and edit your profile here. Read our terms and conditions here.

Marnie, whose occupation and fame cannot be specified further than by the nebulous word personality, though she sometimes also identifies as a designer, is one of many whose fame is identical with her persistent usage of social media platforms, as frequently reckless as it is tirelessly calculated. (In actuality, she is qualified in the preparation of tax returns, and her social media feed is sprinkled with jokes about what she sees as the inept and humorous behaviors of the senior citizens who form the majority of her clientele and who would probably be shocked to read such casually cruel mockery of themselves.) One might well ask why her digital doings—the contents of her meals as well as her thoughts, of her shopping expeditions as well as her dreams—are worth one’s attention and care. One cares because they, those contents, are there, and they are abundant. In these days, the Peribi furnish ample material for an entire ecosystem in which personalities such as Marnie flourish. Marnie’s Fangaea account, which allows her to offer inexpensive subscriptions to her fans in exchange for regular content, furnishes those fans with private videos of herself, accompanied by short-form essays on various topics. In theory, Marnie offers lessons in costume-craft, but these lessons are sparse in comparison to the more freeform videos and essays on such topics as she chooses, most of which are Peribi-themed. Our someone has ponied up the cost, has eagerly agreed to the terms. He remains at the computer, slurping canned soup, and clicks onward to Marnie’s profile. There he continues to read:

GREETINGS, FRIENDOS!

Marnie here. Currently, I’m kicking back in bed with the doggo with a nice hot cup of tea. I’m so excited to welcome all my Fans to my Fangaea page! With your support, I’m going to be able to deliver all the amazing content you love directly to your faceholes, whenever and wherever you want it!

Time for some #realtalk, friendos: I need this support. I’m working to make the best videos possible for everyone, and Fangaea is going to allow me to make them more often and with better production values! What that really means is, with enough help, I can quit my day job. Five hours in, and I already have over two hundred Fans, so things are looking good on Planet Marnie.

Today I just wanted to introduce you to a super special feature I’m saving for Fangaea. This one is going to be exclusive to my #fangaeafriendos, so consider yourselves pretty forking lucky.

Each week, I’m going to make a video themed around a Peribi. I’m going to mix it up to keep things fresh, but here’s what I’m thinking: sometimes, I might do a makeup tutorial, to show you how to make your face look like one of the Peribi. Sometimes, I might dress up the doggo in a cute lil Peribi costume. And I’ll include costume tutorials, because we have to keep things educational up in here!

Also, just so you know, I’m probably going to stick to the original forty-eight, at least for now, because I’m old school like that. Sometimes I might even stream the video game. I’ll set up some polls so y’all can help me pick.

Our observer watches the video and clicks onward. This will become a fixture of his, and not just his, lonely evenings: the conversations with fans, the polls, the videos of Marnie wearing makeup or of herself or her dog wearing handmade costumes, the videos of her fumbling her way through an illegal emulation of a decades-old video game. The observers will chatter and praise and question and celebrate this object of their collective fixation. Through her, they will once more enjoy their love of the Peribi, will rekindle it, like a romance. And they will pay her to enable this for them all.

Yes, they will watch the videos. Here her dog is dressed as a mushroom. He lies on the floor, immobile. He is napping in costume, and she films him for the length of five minutes. Her fans titter at the almost poignant dullness of the maitake-canine hybrid. Here she gives her fans a tutorial: how to apply makeup to their faces in order to evoke the insectoid visage of a mayfly and to assemble gauzy wings for a costume. Here she wears the four wings and eight additional eyes of (it must be) an angel. She spreads her arms wide in a posture of authority. She speaks with the voice of this guardian Peribi, the one whom, it is said, watches over them all, the one to whom the lesser Peribi feel always a quiet, steady yearning.

In time there arrives a debacle, years into Marnie’s labor of maintaining an account on Fangaea. We can picture our someone at home, slurping another can of soup, at this or a newer kitchen table, in this or a different apartment, on another dull evening when he opens his email and watches Marnie’s latest production. Intrigued by the hazy thumbnail image, which seems to show Marnie in a darkened room, her face mostly obscured, he clicks and watches.

Marnie’s face is close to the camera. She has wrapped a scarf around her head, a crude imitation of modesty and decorum. She makes startled, frightened faces at the camera. She hunches her shoulders and mimes forward movement, as if sneaking around—she mimes before a greenscreen that displays a nondescript landscape to her viewers—until she approaches a low building. The camera cuts inside, where now the greenscreen shows dark stone walls. Next to her a small table, draped with cloth, comes into view: an altar. On the altar stand several Peribi, worn with age, their paint chipped. It is clear that she is a supplicant who has come to engage in her daily worship. She prays to the Peribi. She winks at the camera.

Our someone furrows his brow. He feels uncomfortable, unsure whether he was supposed to find this funny; he wonders, too, whether, had he found it funny, he would then be guilty of a moral infraction. But, he reasons, he did not find it funny, and he supposes that Marnie herself has committed the moral infraction and should be judged accordingly. He finds this moral reasoning perplexing, circuitous, and dull, not to mention too much effort given its cause: a stupid online video. He deletes the email and pulls up a TV comedy to stream for the rest of the evening, taking his laptop into his bedroom.

As for Marnie, she has crossed a line; she has taken one step too far. She has insulted a people and their beliefs, and her fans are outraged. What’s more, when the video is exposed to the rest of the Internet, her non-fans are even more outraged and even more at the ready to arbitrate her wrongs. She argues, in a poor and ill-considered defense, that she meant only an ironic engagement with the old anti-Peribi debates, long past; she testifies to the depth and intensity of her respect for all religions, for all peoples, citing representative members of her social circles, who may not exist. (It is true that they are her inventions.) At one point, a former colleague of hers speaks up on social media and testifies against her, citing multiple instances of past casual racism. Others dig up older posts, evidence of her gerontophobia, and cite them as further evidence of her depravity. Some of the outraged multitude recall the anti-Peribi debates, and new articles appear online, belaboring the controversy with a tedious exploration of its origin, of the claims from both sides, and its irresolution.

Some express their disgust and their having reached an end of their time with Marnie, but not all. Our someone, for instance, feels a pang of guilt, but he enjoys the videos and continues to watch them, though, it is true, with less interest. In time the guilt fades, is overridden by the greater weight of his desires. But in time, too, he finds that he no longer wishes to pay Marnie five dollars per month—sixty dollars per year—for content that no longer really appeals to him. The charm has faded. He unsubscribes.

In time, Marnie will recede from public view altogether, and another, not so different, will take her place. The Peribi are no longer so popular, anyway; we must wait some time before their charm revives again, and some canny manufacturer of toys buys the rights to manufacture and sell new versions of the same old charming plastic toys.

3.

Let us travel further into the past, before the Peribi acquired their sedimentary layers of history, of individual and collective affection. There was a day before they became innocuous, when they were new and, potentially, quite dangerous. To that end, we shall peek in on the writer Leonard Snow. Mr. Snow was a writer and activist. He wrote two books: a memoir about his religious upbringing and a subsequent, lengthy volume arguing for the complete abolishment of religion. Hounded by critics throughout his brief life as a writer, which included stalking and threats of violence, Snow vanished from history at the age of thirty-five; nothing is known of him after that time, though it is assumed that he died by unknown means. One of the more intriguing passages of his memoir centers on the Peribi. Here is what he wrote.

• • • •

A handmade poster that hung in the basement of my church has stuck in my memory for decades. The poster was at once a reminder of chaos to come and a command to commit ourselves to Jesus. It was by doing the latter that we would escape the former.

In 1999, I remember, many of us developed a foolish trepidation surrounding the oncoming new millennium. It seemed to occur to few of us that the New Millennium, or the Third Millennium, would begin on January 1, 2001; we all believed that the shift to a new initial digit, from 1999 to 2000, was the actual signifier of this brave new world. And perhaps it was, simply because we believed it was. What matters more, accuracy in timekeeping or the weight of cultural meaning? Especially in my church, whose congregation salivated at the very passing mention of eschatology, we raised a weekly clamor about what it could mean to enter the year 2000. We thought it had to do with the End: it was finally happening. Apparently God admired the roundness of the number: it made sense, seemed like sign or wonder of the modern age.

Also, the acronym Y2K became a kind of platitude among the kids in my Sunday school classes. We knew it wasn’t true but repeated it anyway that Y2K stood for “Year 2000 Kaos.” This was something like a popular joke anyway, but for the church kids—who knew nothing of the software problem to which it alluded—it acquired special meaning, another sign that the end was nigh. Few of us, too, actually knew that the K represented thousand, which would deny credence to our apocryphal acronym, and those who did know never bothered pointing out that chaos was misspelled, and that if God required the roundness of the number 2000 it would seem proper for him to have made the acronym work somehow, to have corrected the spelling of the word chaos somewhere along the way. Why would God have chosen such a patent misspelling? Was it not in his power to have made kaos the correct spelling? To point any of this out, of course, led only to further foolish questions and, anyway, would spoil the fun, because a kind of thrill intertwined with our fear. The thrill had to do with righteousness: we knew we were the chosen few. We would be safe no matter what. And, of course, we were children; apocalypse lacked real meaning for us; we simply repeated what we heard the adults say without wondering what it meant when applied to a concrete reality, that is, what might actually happen when the clock struck midnight on December 31, 1999, all of us shifted into the Year 2000, and the world changed, somehow, irrevocably, forever. We harbored only vague intimations of the world to come. When all the sinners were gone, the Earth might lay empty; but the believers, dead and alive, would have been raised up aloft, carried to Heaven, where, it was said, the streets were lined with gold and every Christian had his or her own personal mansion. All that a believer had to do was pray and wait and hope for this ending, which was also a new beginning, of eternal peace and joy with Christ the Redeemer.

Y2K lay on the horizon, and on the door of the Sunday school classroom for five- and six-year-olds hung the poster that read as follows:

Yield
2
Jesus!

On a background of green construction paper, someone had arranged the initial letters in larger yellow letters and the other, smaller capitals in orange. I thought the poster was funny, but in a way I couldn’t then explain, a way that I would have hesitated to explain: I knew that it was meant earnestly, an attempt at a joke that was both too feeble and too sincere to succeed on any level. It was a kind of camp pleasure I took in the joke then, although of course I didn’t know the word, and I knew that I could not share my pleasure.

The classroom was equally dingy, with wood-paneled walls and the same cheap bulbs that poorly lit the hall. More handmade posters hung on the walls, but what they said I cannot remember—likely platitudes, illustrations of Bible stories, attendance charts. They grew so familiar as wall decorations that I paid them no mind. That day, the children had gathered for a special session, not with our usual teacher, someone named Lynne, but a woman whom we knew as a classmate’s mother, who taught older children. And in fact the older children were there too, assembled with us in a rare joint session. We crowded around the long wooden table, perhaps two dozen of us wondering what she would say.

Her name was Sharon and she had, she told us, a special message for us that day. She looked angry, and she began immediately.

“Children, I’m here today to talk to you about some of the devil’s agents sent to Earth to hurt you,” she said. “Most of you probably know all about the Peribi. Do you all know?”

All of us nodded our heads in assent. I owned the toys, the video game, the pajamas; I watched the cartoon, had convinced my parents to buy the junk food that featured brightly colored Peribi branding and to take me to the fast-food restaurants that bundled cheaper, cruder versions of the toys with the kids’ meals. It was only last Christmas that I and my siblings had received the figures, and in the past year or so they had grown in enormous popularity, a mania to which almost everyone I knew was devoted, with a cultish and feverish zeal born of too much time on our hands and a tendency toward cathexis for which the church may have been partly responsible.

“Well,” Sharon said, “I need you all to know the truth about them. About these things that you believe are just a toy. Or just a game. Do you know what their name means?” She took a breath, looked around the room. “Peribi refers to fairies. Fairies from heathen cultures. So you may think that it’s just fun and games, because fairies are nice, sweet creatures. But believe you me, they are not. In the Bible we learn about people who have what they call familiar spirits. The Bible says: ‘Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God.’ This is in Leviticus.”

I jerked, startled by the twisting feeling in my stomach. The term Leviticus brought to mind for all of us punishment; we knew that it was one of the books of the Bible that dealt with the law and with what happens to those who disobey it. If Sharon had brought up Leviticus, she had trouble in mind.

“Regard not them that have familiar spirits! Familiar spirits are like little demons that come to live with the wicked, but they might look like pets. They look cute and cuddly but they are most certainly not. They are evil. And those wizards who have them use them to do magic, and it might look like fun, but you know that magic is evil. Peribi are evil. The toy boxes call upon you to gaze upon familiars and hunt for them and love them and use them for evil. Listen to me: These monsters are familiar spirits you capture like the wizards. And you know that magic is evil, don’t you?” She let out a sigh, as if the repetition had driven her to it. “One of the ways that the devil tries to capture us is to send things into the world that look like fun. Toys are one of his very best weapons. You see them on TV, you see them at school, and you see them at the store. And everybody else has them, so it’s something that you want yourself. And you beg your parents please and they buy ’em for you, and then the devil has you closer in his trap.

“Listen: ‘A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.’ That’s from Leviticus too. We know from the Bible that we must not associate with those who have the familiar spirits, and we know that they must be put to death. We must stone them. Now, we won’t do that to children, don’t worry about that, but I want you to know the truth about the Peribi.” (She loved repeating the phrase, as though that one word alone bore all the evidence we needed of diabolic intent.) She took a breath and then continued, “They are evil and if you play with the devil you will get into trouble. You will be hurt. You have to be strong, and if the kids at school are telling you that that game is ‘cool,’ or ‘fun,’ or anything like that, you have to resist and tell yourself it’s not. Because it is none of those things. It is not cool and it is not fun to deal with the devil. You hear me? God will punish all who sin, especially when they know that it’s wrong. When you don’t repent of your sins you go down there when you die. You go to the lake of fire.”

Everyone in the church had the same funny way of pronouncing this phrase, this phrase from the Book of Revelation, our hearts’ home. They pronounced it as one word, with the emphasis on the same syllable: lake-o’-fire, or, LAY-cuh-fire. I heard it and nearly squeaked. It was a word that went, always, straight to my gut, made me feel hot and afraid, as though I stood in close proximity, could feel it boiling just behind or beneath me. The lake-o’-fire was hell, of course. Its geography seemed to consist only of this giant lake. I had elaborated a mental vision of a cartoonish devil, large and bloated, near-naked, with a twisted tail and scaled wings and devil horns and cloven feet, who stood within an enormous cavern, lit only by the lake that stretched forever behind him. The lake was filled with, perhaps, molten lava—or it defied the usual laws of the world, and it was fire and water both. Either way, it glowed bright orange and red, and flames shot as far as the cavern’s high ceiling. The lake was filled with the many, many sinners—thousands? millions?—who were so foolish as not to repent or with those who had never known God at all. The devil laughed and laughed as he and his demons flew about the lake and pushed the sufferers further into the lake, and there were ever more of them lining up before the great Prince of Darkness, the devil, Lucifer. The world of hell was as real to us as any other place we knew of but had never been for ourselves, as real, far-off, fundamentally unknowable, and irredeemably wicked as, say, Las Vegas.

This is all that Sharon conjured with the phrase, the lake-o’-fire. She continued to speak for a long time, about an hour, circling around the same points, and as she talked I felt my face grow red and my stomach twist in knots. I loved the Peribi dearly, and despite Sharon’s long discussion it still seemed unclear how something I equated with maximum pleasure and delight could be so bad. O, here it was, my first grappling as a child with the philosophy of hedonism. And I didn’t want to give it up, but how could I keep playing now that I knew it was evil? I would have preferred not to know, to remain blissfully ignorant. I was afraid and ashamed. She had brought up my biggest fear, likely everyone else’s as well: the fear of eternal punishment and misery in hell. I wondered then if I was not doomed, if her words had awakened me to my inevitable fate. Sharon had presented all of us with apparently obvious evidence of evil, right before us, in our very hands, and we now faced the decision to give it up. Or not. To embrace it willfully in full knowledge of sin. Or not. I felt unequal to the task. I wanted to leave because I could feel illness setting in, and, to be sure, when the session ended I smiled and said goodbyes to the extent that I was able, left, and hurried to the bathroom across the common room, where I puked up my breakfast, which had, naturally, been the highly processed pastries that had come packaged with a little round pink toy that I found especially cute, even if it would now bear in my mind the stain of the devil.

I found the strength within me then to flee and run upstairs and find my family.

My siblings were in class as well. They, too, were upset, if not physically ill as I was, and when we got home we had to tell our parents what had happened at church. We relayed Sharon’s message, as well as our fear, and begged to know if we were, as she had suggested, evil, because we liked the Peribi and because we knew that now, if not before, we could be judged to be guilty. My parents gave each other funny looks and then set to comfort us. They said no, that’s what she said but that’s her opinion, it’s just a game. It could spin out of control, it could become an obsession—that’s the word they used, I remembered it clearly, obsession—but if we just played it for fun it was not evil. They said that the monsters were not in fact demonic familiars.

We went back the next Sunday, where Lynne, the regular teacher, asked us to report on our week. She did not bring up last week’s discussion, but it sat at the back of my mind, and though I did not confess I felt that I should have done.

My interest in the toys waned; they were tainted forever, after all. Watching the cartoon, as the character shuffled through dark caves and fought other monsters with their Peribi, I began to imagine that their surroundings took on the contours of hell. After a time I couldn’t look at the toys or the game anymore, and the creatures began to populate my dreams. They lined up at the entrance of hell, just like me, but while I stood there to be consigned to my punishment they acted as Lucifer’s helpers, little henchmen who pushed and teased, who snickered and squealed at the fools who’d ruined their lives and deserved to be here. They seemed, too, to be linked to the imminent chaos. They were signs of a world on the brink of its end.

On December 31, not long after, my family huddled in the living room for a New Year’s Eve party, with our traditional meal of Swedish meatballs. All of us drank sparkling grape juice and smiled nervously at each other on the couches, despite our common and unspoken fear of what would happen the next day, on the advent of the Y2K.

Which turned out to be nothing, another day, a Saturday morning. We did nothing special, wandered the house and watched TV, perhaps played a board game. But there is one remarkable thing that occurred. At one point during our quiet evening, I left the family room, which was downstairs, to go to the bathroom. When I returned, I noticed, at the foot of the stairs, a broken Peribi toy. I didn’t know how it had got there, who had put it there, how it had broken. But to my fear-addled mind it seemed to betoken something: a sign of their wickedness, perhaps, or a sign of the descending kaos. I felt fear once more descend upon my soul.

We went to church the day after, January 2, where we tried our hardest to yield to Jesus once more. A pall of disappointment hung over the congregation, because we were ready and we knew it. All of us wanted so badly to be right, to be satisfied at the coming of the end of the world, to revel in our righteousness as the sinners were gathered up—dragged down rather—and flung into the lake, while, presumably, we ascended to heaven, to our streets of gold and mansions. That would have been preferable and instead we got life, more of it. It would go on until it didn’t, but now we didn’t know when that would be.

Yet I believed that the world had changed. Y2K had in fact occurred; for, even if the world did not appear different, it had changed nonetheless, for all of us in the congregation but perhaps for me especially. We were facing a darkening world, a world deserving of its imminent end. The world to come was here already.

2.

Despite the terror, the dread, the warnings of divine wrath, the promise of the reign of perpetual evil, the seeming similarity to heathen religions and customs, their origins as sorcerers’ playthings, the Peribi promised little but love. In fact loving companionship was one of the primary selling points of the toys.

The following advertisement appeared in children’s magazines and comic books beginning in 1998, when the initial line of Peribi toys was launched; it was also sent directly to children in a massive mail campaign encouraging them to learn more about, and ideally purchase, the Peribi.

Introducing the Peribi!

The Peri Company is proud to present Peribi, the newest toy sensation. The Peribi are fun-loving and lovable creatures who can’t wait to meet you!

From Their World . . . to Yours!

The Peribi have come from the land of fairy to be welcomed into your homes. Allow them to enter and bestow on you their unique gifts.

They are incredibly curious about what life is like on Planet Earth and are calling for all fun-loving children to show them what it’s like to be a kid. Peribi are very kind and make great listeners, so they are eager to learn all about you. They’re also ready to share their own stories! Each Peribi comes with a storybook where their new friends can find out all about them. The storybook even includes extra pages at the end for their friends—that’s YOU—to record what they discover during their own adventures with the Peribi!

Small Enough to Fit in Your Pocket . . . with a Heart That’s Larger Than Life!

Peribi are tiny: the land of fairy is much smaller than Planet Earth. But that means that they’re ready to go anywhere you want to take them.

You can take your Peribi to the park or to the pool or even to school. Show them off to your friends—they love to meet new people.

Put them in your pocket, and let your imagination be your guide!

Hunt Them All Down!

The first wave of Peribi features six distinct characters with their own personalities and histories. Every child can find one of the Peribi to call their favorite, but they love company, so the more the merrier!

Each Peribi has a unique identification number, which means that your Peribi is unlike anybody else’s. Build your very own set of special friends.

Now available at a store near you, or visit them on the web—with your parents’ permission—at www.peribiworld.net.

1.

The first line of the Peribi debuted at the New York Toy Fair in 1998. Designed by toymaker Tiffany Morley—daughter of the well-known Morley family of hoteliers—they combined, she said, exactly what the name implied: “peri,” the fairy-like creatures from Middle Eastern legend, and “chibi,” the Japanese style of diminutive caricature. “The Peribi have come from the land of fairy to be welcomed into your homes,” the first advertisement for them explained. “Allow them to enter and bestow on you their unique gifts.” Each toy was small—most of them between three and five inches high—and featured delicate limbs and disproportionally large heads and eyes. The first line featured six Peribi, all of them sculpted with a high degree of detail:

  • a slim grayish-brown figure with jagged features and a threatening visage, whose skin appeared to be made of stone;
  • an inquisitive salamander whose pastel features also resembled traditional clown makeup;
  • a turquoise mayfly with worried eyes and fragile, ornate wings;
  • a purple wyvern with a gentle, deer-like face;
  • a squat transparent figure with a pig’s head and a body similar to that of a tardigrade;
  • and an orange maitake-shaped fungus with no face or appendages at all.

Each toy came packaged with an extensive backstory, detailing that Peribi’s culture, local geography, religion, likes and dislikes, and friends and enemies. This material appeared in a miniature, saddle-stitched volume whose cover resembled a bejeweled, faux-antique tome.

Despite their somewhat disarming appearances, the Peribi were an immediate success. Seemingly intended as an American competitor to various other franchises featuring small, collectible fantasy creatures, the Peribi nonetheless developed their own rabid following around the globe, as well as their own unique set of critics.

Yes, the Peribi created a frenzy in that year, 1998, as well as the years to come, as parents showed up at the store in droves to buy them for their children, waiting in line for the release of new shipments and even engaging in public fisticuffs in order to lay their claims on particular specialized Peribi. Each Peribi bore a number, and some appeared in rare variant color schemes, likewise driving collectors’ mania. (A sparkling variant of the porcine Peribi was among the most popular and the apparent cause of at least three reported altercations around Christmas 1998.) Toward the end of the year, a second wave of six additional Peribi debuted, just in time for parents’ holiday shopping. The following year, a larger third and then an even larger fourth wave debuted—consisting of twelve and eighteen Peribi, respectively—along with an animated television series, a video game, several books, and miscellaneous tie-in merchandise, which included foodstuffs, clothing, blankets, and stationery, among other things. Children wore Peribi costumes for Halloween. They traded or hoarded their favorites. Adults discreetly purchased them and set them aside, hoping the toys would one day accrue enough value that they could sell them off and earn a nest egg. (This did not happen.) Children and adults alike poured hours of time into watching the series and playing the video game. Though many such toy franchises reached early apexes and continued to cater to increasingly small groups of dedicated fans, the Peribi thrived for decades. In all, nearly seven hundred distinct varieties of Peribi were released.

As for Tiffany Morley, she became a multimillionaire. Before the development of the Peribi, she had worked in toy design for about a decade, producing licensed toys for popular brands. But she founded her own firm, the Peri Company, to produce the Peribi. The Peribi made her name and her fortune, which was already considerable. Yet she refused all publicity. She appeared to promote their debut in 1998, and, after that, never gave a single interview or uttered even a single public comment on the Peribi, either their design or their popularity or the controversy that soon came to surround them. The Peri Company frequently received requests for comments, especially in those early years and in response to the later controversy, but only its publicity associates ever responded, and their comments tended to be equivocal and evasive. At the same time, her choices as Chief Executive Officer and Chief Creative Officer of the Company would seem to suggest no small measure of spite. For instance, as time went on, her designs for the Peribi became increasingly grotesque, often drawing obvious inspiration from works of demonology; likewise, that she chose to cap the number of Peribi at six hundred and sixty-six seems to indicate a desire to taunt her most vocal critics, for whom that number, the number of the beast, presented irrefutable proof of their suspicions; but of course, all associated with the Peri Company insisted it was nothing more than coincidence.

The controversy, which started as the kind of minor fuss that might have been, and probably was, anticipated by the Peri Company or at least by Tiffany herself, centered on the Peribi’s suitability and the devotion they tended to inspire. The critics approached the subject from multiple angles, identifying themselves, and drawing from their respective areas of expertise, as concerned parents, church leaders, educators, child psychologists, and media critics, who argued for various reasons that the Peribi’s influence on children should be feared. In particular, many religiously inclined critics focused on their status as idols. As early as the year of their debut Sunday school teachers and pastors passed along lessons to children warning them against these familiar spirits, agents of the devil who would leech all the attention and love they might better offer elsewhere (ideally to God). Soon critics came, too, to dwell on the etymology of the word peri, perhaps most familiar to Western audiences (if familiar at all) from translations of the One Thousand and One Nights. A peri or pari, from the Persian, is a tiny creature, typically depicted with wings and known for its stunning beauty, which is neither essentially good nor essentially bad but a kind of mischievous spirit—a fairy; in some Muslim traditions they have been elevated into benevolent divine beings. In 1998, concern was muted but palpable; several years later, after 9/11 and escalating Islamophobia, many of the Peribi’s critics grew more vocal about what they saw as the dangerous provenance of the creatures, their roles as heathen idols. Still, such criticism rarely stuck except with particular extremist groups. The Peribi thrived.

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Some of those involved with the Peribi’s popularity, the backlash, their long cultural lifespan, may well have lived long enough to mark the onset of multiple apocalypses. Some may have believed that they were quite right to fear the Peribi, those strange totems, struck by a curious sense of satisfaction as they saw their eschatological fantasies confirmed. To most the connection, naturally, would never have crossed their minds. One wonders what Tiffany Morley made of the end of the world, if she lived long enough to see it.

When the world turns to wasteland and we uncover one or the other of them in a heap of trash somewhere, what will we think? Should we cast them off and pray to God for safety or salvation? Should we clutch one or another to our chests, cradling it as they might a pet or child? Might we even say a prayer in hope that some tiny plastic fairy, having emerged from another world to visit ours, might provide some obscure assistance, might dole out some measure of care, before that mysterious being returns to its own far-off world, blessedly sheltered from our world as it falls?

Daniel David Froid

Daniel David Froid is a scholar, educator, and writer of strange stories who lives in Indiana. His scholarly research focuses on devils in eighteenth-century British literature, and his fiction appears in Ligeia, Coffin Bell, and Weird Horror. He teaches at Purdue University.