As long as I can remember, I’ve enjoyed imagining that the ground beneath my feet is inhabited by tiny beings. These fantasies were — and are — especially strong when I explore rock platforms.
Long before I knew what it was like to look down at the world from a plane, I liked the feeling that I had a birdseye view of landscapes that were home to miniature civilisations perched on craggy cliffs overlooking vast waterways, or huddled in oases among rocky wastelands.
In worlds such as these, rocks become mountains, sea creatures morph into sea monsters, and ripples swell into tsunamis.
My fascination with the close-up sometimes amuses people. When cleaning out the fridge, my work colleagues squeeze their noses and wonder why on earth I want to take photos of the penicillin that’s grown on their abandoned lunches.
Because their bacterial civilisations remind me of exploding galaxies, that’s why.
At home, I am very discreet if I take food photos while cooking or my son moans that I’ve been brainwashed into being a social media zombie.
On bushwalks my friends get mildly irritated, or sometimes mildly worried, when they lose me on the trail because I have stopped to take a photo, and then spent 10 minutes trying to get the right exposure and focus for a close up of flowers, or spiders, or butterflies.
Or diamond beaded moss.
Or tiny caves that I imagine are inhabited by Lilliputian abseilers.
Of course I’m not the only person to entertain myself with microcosmic daydreams. English speakers owe the very word ‘Lilliputian’ to Jonathan Swift, who invented the land of Lilliput almost 300 years ago, and in modern times children’s movies from Ants to Wreckit Ralph are located in small, invisible worlds.
But there’s a world that is perhaps not so well known as these, unless you are a fan of the late Sir Terry Pratchett: The Carpet.
The Carpet is home to many complex and diverse civilisations, who meet their daily needs by harvesting grit, dust, Achairleg, and the massive carpet hairs (which are similar in size to the largest trees in our world). Giant sugar crystals are precious and venerated; swords and spear tips are manufactured from varnish. The top face of a penny is home to an entire race of people, who have built elevators to scale the towering metal escarpment (a bit like the Wall in Game of Thrones, but more friendly).
The Carpet is bordered by desolate wooden wastelands and is periodically threatened by a terrifying and destructive force of nature called Fray, which sweeps through The Carpet, toppling hairs and crushing cities.
The Carpet People tells the story of some of The Carpet’s inhabitants. The good guys (although Pratchett makes it clear right from start that everyone thinks of themselves as ‘the good guys’) include the Munrungs, the Dumii and Deftmenes.
A motley band of heroes manage to face their fear of the unknown realm of the Underlay, think outside the square, overcome their mutual antagonisms, and unite their people to defeat a common enemy, the dreaded Moul.
I’m a dedicated fan of Terry Pratchett, so of course I loved this book. How could I not, when the main characters have such deliciously ridiculous names as Snibril, Glurk, and Pismire? It’s actually his first published novel (in 1971, when the author was 17), although I suspect the original is rare as hen’s teeth, because in 1991 an older, wiser Pratchett tweaked it a bit here and there and released a new version.
Like Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, which was a political satire, The Carpet People is of course about more than tiny people in an amusing setting. The book pokes fun at the stereotypes of the Swords and Sorcery genre and like all Pratchett’s work, has a keen sense of the ridiculous. But amidst all the fun there are more serious themes, such as social justice, the power (and empowerment) of ordinary people and their communities, the value of diversity and the stupidity of prejudice, and perhaps most importantly, the necessity of always thinking for yourself, rather than accepting at face value what others tell you to think.
These are themes that pervade Pratchett’s later work and I’m sure are the reasons he’s loved by so many. His humour draws you in, but once you’re paying attention to the detail, as with a photographic close up, you find so much more.
This post was written for the WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge and also for the Winter Readathon, which is raising money for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.
View other people’s close-ups here.