An eleven-year old Scottish-American, Marnie finds her troubled life turned upside down when a shoebox containing living toys comes into her possession. She is prophesized to find the Book of Forbidden Knowledge created by Michael Scot and restore the Shoebox Zoo to their human forms. However, she refuses the call, filled with angst from the recent death of her mother. Mopey and cries for most of the series, but with good reason.
Angst: Poor Marnie goes through some trials. Her mother dies of cancer three months prior to the series' events, and her father Ross whisks her away from her home in Colorado to Edinburgh in a matter of weeks. Marnie's grief is a major part of the series' narrative, going through the five stages to tearjerking lengths and takes a walk on The Dark Side for a while. Also doubles as Age-Appropriate Angst.
Face-Heel Turn: Corrupted by the Book's dark magic and driven by her own grief, Marnie turns evil with the plan to resurrect her mother and performs a lot of cruel acts. She eventually has a Heel-Face Turn after having a talk with Ross.
Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Marnie acts like a real bitch towards others, particularly towards the Shoebox Zoo, but this mostly stems from her angst and not wanting more weight on her shoulders. At heart she is a kind girl and becomes very wise despite only being eleven.
What the Hell, Hero?: When she terrifies Becky by using her magic to revive a dead crow, sealing Bruno into a rock, framing Kyle for stealing the Arrow of Truth, torturing Wolfgang's spirit, trying to resurrect her mum, disintegrating Nathaniel. Yeah, Marnie does quite a lot of bad things in the second season, but has a Heel-Face Turn and becomes The Atoner.
The Great Wizard of Scotland, Michael Scot is an 1100-year old mathematician, scientist, alchemist and wizard who created the Book of Forbidden Knowledge. His pride and arrogance led to turning his four students into toys after they stole the Book, and he follows a prophecy that one day a Chosen One will find the Book.
The Little Shop That Wasn't There Yesterday: Michael places the Shoebox Zoo in a number of junk shops during his search for the Chosen One. Marnie finds them in a junk shop in Edinburgh, that mysteriously disappears after Michael gives them to her. It is later revealed that Marnie's mother Rosemary found them in a similar shop in Denver, Colorado when she was eleven. Her concerned mother took them back to the shop when Rosemary became a bit obsessed with them. Marnie later returns the Shoebox Zoo herself to the Denver store so other people can help them.
My Greatest Failure: The creation of Toledo, and being unable to save Rosemary from her cancer.
The Obi-Wan: Very much so. He is Marnie's mentor, but also has a beard, and wears a hooded cloak. Later dies, and then comes back as a ghost.
Pride: Michael's Fatal Flaw. His pride and desire to master alchemy, magic, and science nearly corrupted him, to the point that both his students and servant McTaggart stole the Book to prevent it from destroying him. Michael then punished them all by turning his students into toys, and imprisoning McTaggart in his dungeon for eleven years then making him immortal until the book was found. It's only centuries later does he become The Atoner.
Michael's manservant. Eleven-hundred years ago, he stole the Book of Forbidden Knowledge from his master to protect him from its evil, and shortly after it disappeared. As punishment, he was made immortal until the Book was found. By the time of the series' beginning, McTaggart works as a mole for Michael, acting as a servant for Toledo.
Battle Butler: Revealed to have learnt a couple of spells in his time.
Cold-Blooded Torture: Imprisoned and tortured in Tantallon Castle's dungeon for eleven years after stealing the Book. And then made immortal.
Heroic Sacrifice: Fights off Toledo in the second season using Michael's staff, but is overpowered and blasted down a waterfall to his death.
Marnie's father. Ross works as a librarian at Edinburgh University Library, and struggles to care for Marnie after the loss of his wife. He remains unaware of the magical goings on around Marnie, believing her strange behaviour is due to her age or grief.
Adults Are Useless: For the most part, Ross is oblivious to Marnie's quest and the Shoebox Zoo, although he does note some oddities like meeting Michael several times, and even follows Marnie into her magic locker but is frozen in time by Toledo, yet in the second season he seems to have completely forgotten that experience. He helps Marnie with her grief in the second season.
Always with You: Tells Marnie that her dead mother is always with them in a very moving scene.
Marnie: You said that you'd do anything to bring Mom back. Did you mean it?
Ross: No, sweetheart. I didn't mean it. Mum's gone. She can't come back. No matter how much we want her to. But she's here (pointing to his heart). Right here. Forever.
Good Parents: Ross is a very good father despite being a recently made widow, supports Marnie through-and-through, and even comes to rescue her when she stands at the edge of a waterfall having crossed the Despair Event Horizon.
Identical Grandson: Resembles his ancestor Angus McBride, though that maybe because they are played by the same actor Jason Connery. Angus found the Book of Forbidden Knowledge and gave it to Chief Stonebear of the Lakota people as a gift to marry Stonebear's daughter.
Romancing the Widow: The Toledo-possessed Aurora tries to seduce Ross, and even claims to Marnie that they are lovers, to which Ross is shocked by and denies.
Marnie's best friend from America, Kyle quickly becomes her Secret Keeper and ally in the second season. Pragmatic and honest, Kyle comes from a long line of magical Native Americans but is reluctant to embrace his magical inheritance.
Kyle's grandfather. He is the Medicine Man of the Lakota people, and a descendant of Chief Stonebear. Nathaniel acts as a guide for Marnie in place of Michael, but advises her through words rather than action. Knows where the Book of Forbidden Knowledge is hidden, and believes it should remain hidden.
Badass Grandpa: A powerful magic user in his own right, able to keep the Book's dark magic at bay.
Xanatos Gambit: He and his ancestors all knew where the Book was hidden, and Nathaniel by doing nothing that the evil forces who sought it out would be defeated, and it would never have to be found. However, as Marnie turns increasingly evil herself, Nathaniel decides to destroy the Book, only to act too late. He is disintegrated by Marnie, but gets better.
You Are Too Late: Tries to destroy the Book, but is confronted by Marnie and removed from the picture. He resolves to help do what he should have done years ago.
The Shoebox Zoo
The titular characters of the series. The Shoebox Zoo were the four students of Michael Scot, who stole the Book of Forbidden Knowledge to prevent it from corrupting their master, and they ultimately lost it. As revenge, Michael transformed them into living toys and placed in a form of sleep until the prophesized Chosen One awakens them. Only when the Book is found can they become human again.
Tropes shared by the characters include:
Animal Stereotypes: To an extent, the Zoo members match their animal counterparts - Edwin considers himself a noble being like an eagle if not pompous, Bruno is a friendly bear, Ailsa has a snake's cynical and cunning nature, and Wolfgang is lone wolf incarnate. Hunter exhibits the classic traits of a spirited but stubborn horse, though he is actually a horse spirit.
The Atoner: The four wish to become human again, but first have to admit they stole the Book.
Self-proclaimed leader and spokesperson of the Shoebox Zoo, Edwin is a pompous metal eagle dressed as a knight. A bit of an Upper-Class Twit bursting with British Stuffiness, Edwin is a Glory Seeker and wants to be the first person to touch the Book of Forbidden Knowledge.
Acrophobic Bird: A more literal case. Edwin learns how to fly in the second season, and his ego takes another few leaps.
British Stuffiness: Unabashedly pompous, snobbish, and a very stuckup person. He mellows out over time though.
Butt Monkey: Oh, definitely. Edwin is often the butt of other character's jokes, performs a prat fall once per episode, and usually the first to face Marnie's temper.
Glory Seeker: Believes glory is the key to earning redemption and his humanity back, and wants to be the first person to touch the Book in eleven-hundred years. Toledo exploits this, briefly hypnotising Edwin into giving into temptation and opening the Book, releasing its dark magic.
The Ditz: Enjoys life to the fullest, very fun-loving, but the brightest of the bunch. He doesn't even know that the Earth is round, and has trouble explaining or understanding things.
Everyone Has Standards: Criticizes Marnie when she uses her powers to scare Becky by resurrecting a dead bird, saying he'd rather remain a toy than become human via dark magic. Marnie then punishes Bruno by fusing him to a rock and abandoning him. He gets better.
Undying Loyalty: To Marnie, believing she can accomplish anything, and is the first to support her.
The sole woman of the group, Ailsa is a cynical golden adder with a distrustful nature about her. The oldest of the group, Ailsa is the most desperate to become human again and is more willing to do questionable things to get what she wants.
Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Ailsa comes up with the idea that Marnie should user her mother's old necklace to talk to her ghost. The evil Marnie takes that idea, and plans to resurrect her mother all together.
Screw Destiny: Ailsa tries to convince Edwin, Bruno, and Wolfgang that saving the world is not worth it if their one chance to be human again is lost. Thankfully, Hunter comes over and talks some sense into the group, mostly through flattery and guilt tripping.
A blue-and-gold painted wooden wolf, Wolfgang is a deceptive character with a shady past and even shadier motives. Has long-standing hatred towards Michael, and eventually acts as a mole for Toledo just to spite him and Marnie. Terrified of being set alight, likes the taste of butter, and hates being wood, believing everything tests of sawdust.
Darkand Troubled Past: Wolfgang is Michael's son and grew to hate him when Michael denied his rightful heritage in favour of his own ambition and pride, even when he became a man. Wolfgang spited Michael, stealing the Book, and kicking off the whole series. Michael hides self-loathing for his pride, but still damns his son as a traitor until Marnie makes them discuss their issues.
Green-Eyed Monster: Envious that Michael chose Marnie as his Chosen One. Makes sense when their relationship is brought into context. Michael denied Wolfgang his inheritance in favour of his own ambition, turning Wolfgang against him.
A Native American Spirit Advisor who can materialise as a horse-shaped dancing stick introduced in the second season. He is a friend to Kyle and Nathaniel, wild and excitable, but also honest and one for justice. Able to shapeshift into an actual horse.
Hunter: I am Sinquaki, Spirit of the Horse Dance, son of Wacangli, war horse of Chief Inkpaduta, pupil of Keeper of Many Secrets, loyal servant of Wankantaka, and the guy who just spilt red wine all over your table. I'm sorry. But you can call me Hunter.
The series' central antagonist. A mysterious, evil shapeshifter with a passion for white-coloured clothes and Spanish culture, Juan Roberto Montoya de Toledo is as old as Michael and seeks to obtain the Book to cover the world in eternal darkness and prove his superiority to the wizard. During the first half of season one, he disguises himself as an Evil Brit student named John Roberts.
Dropped a Bridge on Him: In the first season, Toledo died in specacular style. In the second season, which was the finale, Toledo gains the Book at last only for Marnie to shoot the Arrow of Truth. The Book quietly implodes, taking Toledo with it. Doubles as a Yank the Dog's Chain moment.
Manipulative Bastard: Always looking for a way to play people and use them as his pawns to obtain the Book. Manipulates Marnie quite well in the second season, preying on her desire to see her mother again so she can get him the Book. And it works.
Not So Different: The basis for his friendship with Wolfgang. Both were cast aside by Michael and team up to spite him, though it eventually dissolves due to their loyalties. Toledo does seem fond of Wolfgang, referring to him as his "Little Wolfy".
Shapeshifter Mode Lock: Gets transformed into a white rat by Michael, but cannot transform back until after eleven days have passed. Toledo is not at all pleased and finds himself becoming addicted to a hamster wheel McTaggart put in his cage.
Shapeshifting Seducer: Subverted. Toledo possesses Aurora and tries to seduce Ross to get at Marnie, even proclaiming they are in love. Marnie and Ross are gobsmacked.
Voluntary Shapeshifting: Able to turn into man, woman, and animal. Disguised as John Roberts and Joanna Robertson to get close to Marnie.
The evil opposites of the Shoebox Zoo created by Toledo to spite Michael's own students. Dark, blind and driven by evil thoughts, they spend most of their time growing in crystalline eggs until awakened by the opening of the Book.