Signor Topsy-Turvy's Wonderful Magic Lantern is a more sophisticated version of the ‘world-turned-upside-down’ texts which would have been familiar to 18th- and early 19th-century readers (both children and adults), from chapbooks and other forms of cheap, popular literature. These described and illustrated unlikely ‘topsy-turvy’ occurrences such as a fish hooking a fisherman, or a horse being pulled along by a man in harness. The Taylor sisters, Ann and Jane, were already well-known authors of verses for children when they were commissioned to ‘revise and improve’ the original stories for the substantial fee of 24 guineas.
They used the humorous introduction to explain, in verse, the imagined origin of the illustrations: an inventor of a magic lantern – an early form of slide projector – uses it to show pictures, but all the scenes are upside down, which delights the audience.
Each of the 23 engravings is accompanied by a verse describing what the ‘slide’ shows. The scenes and verses work together subversively to reverse the hierarchies of everyday life. For example, a horse, fed up with suffering from being shod by the farrier, rises up and shoes the farrier, reminding him tartly that if he thinks having two shoes fitted is painful, a horse has four feet which is twice as bad. Although the topsy-turvy scenes are comical and anarchic, perhaps the overall theme of the book is to do unto others as one would wish them to do unto you.