A Tuesday Ten: Little Folk
One of the more fascinating subjects that’s been explored through children’s fantasy is the notion of little people. In this case, we’re not including fairies or dwarves or similarly paranormal style folk. Most of these miniature people have similar limitations to regular sized human beings–and they live in a world where their small size sparks the imagination. What would it be like to have real little people living in a dollhouse? Or a friend you could tuck in your pocket?
The Bromeliad Trilogy by Terry Pratchett (HarperCollins, c1989)
I’m kicking this list off with a 3-book trilogy. The Bromeliad Trilogy is made up of three books: Truckers, Diggers and Wings. All three books tell the story of a group tiny people called nomes. Nomes are not only tiny, they live and move very fast. The nomes who live in a huge department store believe that the store is the world in total. So they’re very shocked when outsider nomes enter the store and reveal there’s a much larger world out there–and that their department store is on the verge of being demolished. Pratchett’s nomes are the only truly science fictional entries on this list. Great fun combined with astute observations and profound thoughts.
How I Hunted the Little Fellows by Boris Zhitkov, translated by Djemma Bider, Illustrated by Paul O. Zelinsky (Dodd Mead, 1979)
And this is my entry on this list that probably few have heard of. An obscure title about a young boy named Boris. Fascinated by the intricate ship in a bottle that he is forbidden to touch, Boris believes he sees tiny people on the ship, and he tries all different tricks to catch them out. Ultimately his obsession leads to disaster . . . and leaves readers wondering whether the little fellows were there at all.
The Borrowers by Mary Norton (HMH, c1952)
If I say “little people” and you don’t think immediately of this iconic title, I’d be very surprised. Out of all the miniature folk stories, this is one of the most popular. Tiny people who live inside the houses of “human beans” and “borrow” things to live on are the stuff straight out of a child’s imagination. There are five books in total in The Borrowers series, following the adventures of this one small family. The story was made into a rather awful movie in 1997. A much lovlier film was created by Miyazaki inspired by the book. The Secret World of Arriety takes some departures from the original story, but still captures the tone of tiny people living in a huge world and one unusual friendship.
The Littles by John Peterson (Scholastic, c1967)
The Littles seem to be a sort of American version of The Borrowers, albeit created for a younger readership. Like Borrowers, Littles live inside the walls of houses and make use of big people objects to create their households. Unlike Borrowers, Littles have tails and slightly pointed ears, making them a bit more “creature-like”. The Littles Series has over 20 titles in it, several of them still currently in print. And if you’re an 80’s kid (as I was) you might remember the TV series that was created around the same characters.
Little (Grrl) Lost by Charles De Lint (Viking Juvenile, 2007)
Charles DeLint is an adult urban fantasy author who has written only a few books for younger readers. This is one of them. T.J. is a girl having trouble fitting in to her new surroundings and new school. She’s not good at standing up for herself. Elizabeth is a Little, a tiny person with a giant attitude and a chip on her shoulder the size of a mountain. The two girls become friends and–in helping one another–come to terms with their own lives. It’s a light weight tale for this author. It’s labelled as number 20 in his Newford series, but stands out as being the only juvenile book in the entire series.
The Carpet People written and illustrated by Terry Pratchett (Clarion, c1979)
Yep. I’ve included two Terry Pratchett entries. This book is about reeeeeally tiny people. An entire world that resides in the depths of a carpet. An epic fantasy tale of great magnitude but in a miniscule arena. Pratchett’s earliest published work has finally been printed in the States. What’s interesting is that years after it’s first publication, and once he’d started making a name for himself, the author went back and rewrote the story and fixed some of the flaws he’d felt were too glaring. I don’t really know if this will be as accessible and appealing to children as it is to Terry Pratchett fans, but one can hope!
The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks (Bantam Dell, c1980)
This was my first literary exposure to “minature people”. A boy puts a plastic Indian toy in an old wooden cupboard and turns the key in the lock . . . and something amazing happens. The toy is no longer a toy at all but a flesh and blood Indian named Little Bear, and Iroquois brave. An astonishing adventure and friendship results as the boy explores the magic of the cupboard. The story continues in the Indian in the Cupboard series with four more stories of our characters and the magical artifacts that allow them to reach across time and space. Seriously though, I wanted that cupboard growing up!
Mistress Masham’s Repose by T. H. White (The New York Review Children’s Collection, c1946)
Ten year old orphan Maria discovers something remarkable on her family estate. On a deserted island in a small corner of the estate lives an entire community of little people. And these aren’t just any little people, they are the very ones from Gulliver’s Tales. Lilliputians in exile. Lonely Maria tries to befriend and help the tiny people with some unfortunate results. But when her greedy guardians learn of these little people, Maria will have to find a way to save them from being trapped and exploited.
The Last of the Gullivers by Carter Crocker (Philomel, 2012)
Another book of Lilliputians! This is a more modern take. Michael is a troubled boy who struggles to stay out of gang life and get himself back on the right track. When he makes the extraordinary discovery of a community of little people in an old man’s garden, it may be just the thing he needs to find his own inner strength and confidence.
Castaways in Lilliput by Henry Winterfeld (HMH, c1958)
Lilliputians again! Gulliver’s tales is perhaps the most popular of all the “little people” stories. I didn’t include it here chiefly because it’s more of an adult classic. But it’s clearly influenced many writers in their own creations. In this story, our characters actually wind up on the island of Lilliput, much like Gulliver once did. Can these kids prove their in need of assistance to get home and not just city wrecking giants?
Can you think of other books I missed? What ones are your favorites? Comments welcome!
Posted on November 12, 2013, in General Posts, Lists and tagged Books, Children's Books, Children's Literature, Children's Movies, fantasy, Historical Fantasy, Lists, MG Books, sequels, series, Urban Fantasy. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.