Steven Millhauser – In the Reign of Harad IV

reignharad01Another fun story right in Millhauser’s wheelhouse.

The first sentence pretty much sums it up:

In the reign of Harad IV there lived at court a maker of miniatures, who was celebrated for the uncanny perfection of his work.

As with Thirteen Wives, it is somewhat predictable how the story will play out, but the journey is such fun that it doesn’t matter.

The unnamed Master is richly rewarded by the King.  In addition to 2 apprentices, he has a residence in the palace, and an ermine robe that entitles him to take part in official ceremonies.

For a toy palace, he had created a miniature orchard including a basket of apples which was no larger than a cherry pit.  Upon each apple was a delicate stem, and on one stem, a perfect tiny fly.  This achievement opened up a new world to him.  In his next carving, he was driven to reduce the entire basket to the size of a cherry pit, its contents still ornamented by stem and fly.

The tale of his “invisible” fly makes him even more renowned.  Special lenses were required for the creation and appreciation of his masterpieces.  Astounding as these were, the Master could tell that the King was ready for him to get back to more traditional works.  The Master, however, was committed to constructing a miniature of the entire toy palace — itself already miniature of the King’s home, standing chest-high — which would be so small as to be invisible to the naked eye.  Each of its 600 rooms would be precisely miniaturized, down to the silver utensils in the drawers.

After discovering that his apprentices could satisfy the King’s more pedestrian carpentry needs, the Master was liberated to retreat further into his his shrinking world.  Soon they had their own apprentices, and the Master pursued his dream of an entire miniature city.

One day the new apprentices came calling to see the new city.  The Master allowed them to view the city through the special lens.  He had by now, however, moved beyond the visible world and there was nothing they could see.  Still, they lauded him for his craftsmanship, and took their leave.

The maker of miniatures, knowing that they had seen nothing, that their words were hollow, and that they would never visit him again, returned with some impatience to his work; and as he sank below the crust of the visible world, into his dazzling kingdom, he understood that he had travelled a long way from the early days, that he still had far to go, and that, from now on, his life would be difficult and without forgiveness.

I guess it’s pick-your-metaphor.  Is the Master descending into madness?  Has he just gotten old, humored by younger people, and is just turning inward to his own thoughts? Or is just a dude who makes really small stuff?


Still available online as of this date.

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