The best miniature stories about the miniature

Sam Gayton Author Of Lilliput
By Sam Gayton

Who am I?

I grew up in featureless suburbia, where the streets of identical bungalows seemed scrubbed of anything miraculous. Maybe that’s why I came to be fascinated, as a kid, with the idea of tiny things. Here was magic that might exist in my backyard: miniature people trooping through lawns as if they were forests, riding ladybugs, and carrying bramblethorn spears! These daydreams formed some of the first stories I wrote, as a child. And they’ve continued to fascinate me as a reader, and a writer, ever since. I’ve tried to pick stories that might have slipped out of sight amongst ‘bigger’ brethren like The Burrowers and Gulliver’s Travels. I hope you enjoy them!


I wrote...

Lilliput

By Sam Gayton, Alice Ratterree (illustrator),

Book cover of Lilliput

What is my book about?

Her name is Lily. She is a girl three inches tall, her clothes stitched from spider-silk, her eyes like dewdrops. For half her life, she’s been imprisoned in a gilded birdcage by the giant Gulliver. Only dimly does she remember the island that was home, where everything was small. 

Gulliver intends to show her to London, just as soon as he finishes the book of his travels. But Lily doesn’t have time to wait around. Time passes for small folk faster than it does for big ones. She has to get away, before it’s too late. She has to go home to Lilliput.

The books I picked & why

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Anton B. Stanton and the Pirats

By Colin McNaughton,

Book cover of Anton B. Stanton and the Pirats

Why this book?

A Tom Thumb-type fable, and the first story about the miniature that I remember being enthralled by. Anton B. Stanton sails a castle moat like it’s a sea, and gets captured by Pirats (I didn’t get the lame pun until I was a grown-up and buying the book for my own son). It was the first book that held out the promise of tiny, miraculous adventures happening right under my nose. 


The Knife Thrower: and Other Stories

By Steven Millhauser,

Book cover of The Knife Thrower: and Other Stories

Why this book?

Stephen Millhauser writes so elegantly. He’s also one of the smartest writers on the miniature that I’ve come across. He doesn’t just use tiny things to delight and enthrall us but interrogates why we find the miniature so compelling. It’s fitting that his best work is to be found in short story form, where he crafts fiendishly complex tales of obsessed miniature makers, like in “The New Automaton Theatre.” This intriguing example, told in (I think) first-person plural perspective, is a fictional history of ‘automaton theatre’ that speculates not just on our fascination with the miniature, but with imitative art itself.


Night Shift

By Stephen King,

Book cover of Night Shift

Why this book?

In the short story “Battleground”, a hitman finds himself under siege in his own apartment by an army of toy soldiers. It’s typical concept-on-a-napkin by Stephen King, and typically compulsive storytelling, too. I’ve got a special reverence for writers who can tackle silly narratives with the utmost conviction (it’s what I try to do myself!), and I just loved the ever-escalating madness here. The final twist will have you grinning, guaranteed.


The Toymaker

By Jeremy de Quidt,

Book cover of The Toymaker

Why this book?

I just don’t know why this book isn’t talked about more. It’s so brooding and brilliant and horrifying. Heavily influenced by Philip Pullman’s masterful Clockwork (there’s sinister automata, and creepy clockmakers, and a snow-bound Germanic feel), it contains one of the most awful and terrifying antagonists in all of children’s literature. Nasty and enchanting — the very darkest and grimmest of tales.


The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

By Corinne May Botz,

Book cover of The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death

Why this book?

As a writer and a teacher of writing, I’m always on the lookout for writing prompts, which is how I came to own this gorgeous photography book of the Nutshell Studies: eighteen dollhouse dioramas produced by Frances Glessner Lee, a master criminal investigator in the 1940s, for the purpose of training in forensics. The images are captivating as much as they are disturbing, and represent a rare but perfect marriage of the realms of the miniature and criminal deduction. In his essay on the subject, Stephen Millhauser writes that ‘the miniature holds out the promise of total revelation.’ In Glessner Lee’s dioramas of tawdry and violent death, we feel the accompanying prospect of a solution to these crimes, tantalisingly hidden in the smallest of details. All we have to do to perceive it, is look closer; and closer; and more closer still.


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