Whether it’s tiny houses, miniature books, bite-size burgers, small airplane seats, or mini cars, we are obsessed with all things teeny. Sometimes the world feels like it’s getting bigger, while everything seems to be shrinking around us. At one time or another we have all been expected to make a huge impact with very little, in which case courage, resourcefulness, and quality-over-quantity must prevail. The following books feature small objects of greatness where tiny has never been so big.
The protagonist in The Miniaturist, Nella, navigates her way through betrayal and self-discovery in seventeenth-century Amsterdam. Mystery surrounds the newly married woman as she hires an unknown miniaturist to craft tiny objects for her wedding gift: a lavishly ornamented cabinet that contains an exact replica of her house. The items Nella receives from the anonymous miniaturist represent various conflicts throughout the novel. The dolls reflect the puppetry of manipulation and control that dominates her in-laws’ relationships. A piece of marzipan symbolizes both the sweetness and innocence of the childhood she left behind. The small cradle conveys her sexless marriage to her gay husband and a prediction that there will be a child in her house. A miniature wedding chalice commemorates the married life she aspired to and a symbol of hope that she and her husband may still live out the ideal life of a bride and groom.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
In this classic children’s book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice follows a rabbit hole into a strange world where she shrinks herself with a potion then encounters tiny objects that alter her existence. Her journey into a miniature realm begins with a tiny door located behind a curtain in a long hallway. It can only be opened with a tiny golden key. It is an entrance way to the garden. A bottle marked “Drink Me” appears on the little glass table as Alice is trying to get through the tiny door. She drinks its contents, which make her shrink to a height of 10 inches. Once through the door, eventually, she finds another little bottle in the White Rabbit’s house. It has no label at all; however, when Alice drinks it, she immediately grows almost too large to fit in the house. When she fills up the Rabbit’s house and prevents him from entering, he and his neighbors throw pebbles at her. The pebbles turn into little cakes as they hit the floor. Alice eats one and shrinks to a height of 3 inches. Her adventure continues as she explores various spatial relationships and fantastical characters that ultimately teach her important life lessons about the value of knowledge and the burden of suppression.
Bilbo Baggins is a Hobbit, a small creature half the size of a man who has the courage of a giant. He is invited on an adventure by Gandalf, a wizard, but is not interested in leaving the familiarity of his home. Bilbo has no desire to travel or increase his world view in the face of incomprehensible danger. Gandalf finally convinces the Hobbit to embark on the adventure in search of stolen treasure that will change him into a hero by the end of the journey. Early in the tale, Bilbo finds a magic ring that makes him invisible. This ability helps him become brave. He frees dwarves from spiders and wood-elves and faces a dragon with great courage. In the end, although Bilbo is profoundly altered by his journey, he is happy to live a simple life when he returns home again. The Hobbit is content with the knowledge and honor he has earned from making personal sacrifices and taking risks to help others despite his small size.
Lemuel Gulliver, in Gulliver’s Travels, is a doctor and seafaring explorer who finds himself stranded on the island of Lilliput after a violent storm. He wakes up surrounded by thousands of miniature people, called Lilliputians, who have tied him to the ground. His presence as a giant in this land offers a new perspective on humanity to Gulliver, as he befriends these tiny humans. They slowly come to trust Gulliver and he is integrated into their culture helping them in an important military victory with neighboring Blefuscu. Gulliver is commended and named an honorable man at Lilliput. However, after several years there, he must flee the island when the government intends to arrest him for treason. Brobdingnag the second land to which Gulliver travels is the complete opposite of Lilliput—it is a land of giants. Now, he is the size of Lilliputians when compared to these inhabitants. Gulliver sees much of the grotesque aspects of humanity through his new microscopic view and is repulsed by many of their cultural habits. He eventually flees back to England for fear of his life and his desire to be with people his own size once again.
The Poetics of Space
The author of The Poetics of Space, Gaston Bachelard, is a French philosopher who explores the subjectivity of the soul expressed in poetic imagery. Poetry uses images to provoke a response in the reader that seems to come from a forgotten likeness. The author observes that imagination is a major power of human nature. The certainty that poetic imagery is not subject to rules of logic does not diminish its reality. Poets are able to communicate images and stimulate values through the use of fantasy in miniature. Size in a fairytale is not absolute and the perspective of distance can make a dreamer feel larger or more able than he is. Often people choose to ignore the miniature worlds and objects in tales and miss their value. By allowing yourself to absorb the absurdity of small things we are transported back to the perspective of our childhood imagination.
In the Small
The book In the Small describes how mankind has created many dangers for itself including terrorism, nuclear weapons, economic collapse, and global warming. However, none will take a final toll on the world like its biggest threat: an eerie blue light that encompasses the globe known as “the Gaia Effect.” The Earth has become so enraged with the damage that man has caused, nature has no choice but to strike back with this phenomenon. Now, in a cruel twist, the blue light that she is emanating is targeting mankind and shrinking them to a smaller size so they are no longer a threat. People are now forced to adapt to their new size by wearing dolls clothes and creating weapons to defend themselves against creatures like cats and dogs that now threaten their existence. The survivors raid miniature museum displays and convert a normal-sized skateboard into a supply transport. Their new reality of being smaller than rats poses many more challenges and demonstrates the strength of the human spirit and its infinite drive to survive and adapt.