When I was a kid, I played with miniatures. So did you. No? Think about it. Whenever a little boy plays with action figures and builds models, and whenever a little girl plays with dolls and their houses, they're playing with miniatures. I never thought of it that way, but I’ve discovered that miniatures are something nearly every child gravitates to, and apparently a substantial number of adults as well.
Ever seen those high powered radio controlled cars? They're gasoline-fueled, capable of reaching high speeds (how's up to 200MPH for fast? Not typical, but possible!), and can be very expensive.
What about radio controlled airplanes? The turbine-powered type emulates jets, and can reach even faster speeds than cars (more than 440MPH; unbelievable!), and are even more expensive. These two hobbies are widely popular across the globe and are anything but trivial. And what about those immaculate dollhouses? Some of them are so realistic, you could easily mistake them for the real thing if you’d only seen them in a photo.
But isn’t realism the point? To incorporate so much detail that, oddly, a bystander visualizes the miniature as literally a smaller scale of the real thing? Take miniature reenactments like the Civil War. They try to exemplify this concept by staging each part of a major battle (The Battle of Gettysburg for example), then acting them out with tiny lifelike soldiers. And of course, the surrounding area looks as close to the real thing as possible, enticing the participant's imagination. These types of miniatures are ideal for experiencing the past, but the battles were already fought and either won or lost. Often, people want more of a challenge. In this case, they may turn to various types of wargaming.
Nowadays, it's probably much more popular to play games of this nature on a computer screen. Simulations like Command and Conquer offer a player a battlefield with numerous options and attractive visual effects.
There are also hands-on games that do add a bit more realism while utilizing miniatures as well. Axis and Allies is one of them, and I can tell you from experience it is definitely a strategic challenge.
Computer and board games can certainly have a level of realism, but in many ways, miniature wargaming does a better job. Wikipedia says:
"Miniature wargaming is a form of wargaming which incorporates miniature figures, miniature armor and modeled terrain as the main components of play..."
I'm sure you can see the appeal of these games and the authenticity they add to the experience. There's the challenge of devising and implementing your own battle plans while watching them unfold in pocket-sized reality.
Even though all these aspects of miniatures are fascinating, they pale in comparison to the hobby (and most definitely art) of miniature model building. What is that exactly? It's a question I would've asked before visiting an extraordinary museum in Victoria Canada called Miniature World. The pictures here don’t do it justice. The ones on the website are much better but are still unable to capture the magic of seeing the exhibits in person.
The self-paced tour began in a dark hallway, dimly but perfectly illuminated to display an amazing array of outer space exhibits recessed into the walls. Colonies inhabited astonishing alien planets. Shuttles traversed from one space station to the next, their landing bays and compartmentalized stations crafted expertly. A lone astronaut floated in the dark vastness of space. She appeared to be gazing at the enormity of the universe while pondering her own minuscule existence. Of course, the irony is that while there’s a world of difference between a one-inch replica of an astronaut and a real live six foot one, their respective universes are anything but different. Instead, they are equally boundless.
And there was war. I gazed upon on decimated cities during World War II, and couldn't fathom the talent, patience and expertise needed to incorporate the level of detail these scenes displayed.
Familiar with Lindon Bridges? For me, the nursery rhyme comes to mind, but this tiny port town with its Old English style homes, ships and boats, and of course the famous bridge sheds it all in a new and refreshing light.
The dollhouse section was magnificent. What was especially unique was that these houses may not have been considered miniature compared to some of the others, but they were no less enchanting because of their larger size. Indeed, the occupants, furniture, and every other item within them were just as enthralling. The attention to detail was captivating. I’m talking teeny tiny toothbrushes, pipes, pencils, even napkins with lipstick blots! The structure of the houses was fantastic as well, displaying every style imaginable, all constructed with realism in mind.
I can't possibly comment on every exhibit, but it'd be a crime not to mention the carnival and circus. If I had to describe it in a single word, “epic” would be it. The exhibit had periodic intervals of day and night.
Daytime was wonderful, but the night was magnificent; there’s nothing like the carnival at night. The tiny lights were scaled down like everything else, but they still provided plenty of illumination, and the general feel of a classic carnival was ever present. Crowds of tiny people appeared to stroll between old-style carnival games. When they weren’t playing, they were in line purchasing good old fashioned carni food from a variety of booths (and I bet even in these fantastical worlds a small box of popcorn is 5 bucks too!)
The highlight, of course, were the rides, but they weren't boring static models by any means. They actually worked. The Ferris wheel turned, the octopus danced in the air, and the teacup ride moved in a lackadaisical circle speeding up at various intervals. The best ride for me was the miniature hammerhead. I grew up with this dangerous looking beast of a ride, and it always scared the hell out of me when I rode it, which I did at almost every opportunity. Like the others, this scaled down mechanical exhibit was fully functional. Just watching it move brought back those old memories of gut wrenching, heart stopping, screams…
Why do we love being scared again? Sounds like a future blog post…
I highly encourage you to visit a museum of this type if the opportunity arises. But, if you’re in the Victoria BC Canada area, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice if you miss out on Miniature World! My two little girls were mesmerized the entire time, and I don't mind admitting that my wife and I were as well.
What does this have to do with fiction? Think The 3 World of Gulliver or Fantastic Voyage. How about an old favorite novel of mine, The Micronaughts by Gordon M. Williams. In it, civilization severely lacks resources and is on the verge of collapse. Scientists believe salvation lies with the shrinking of humanity to microscopic size. I mean, just think of how long food would last in simple garden if we were that small. And who could forget Honey I Shrunk The Kids?
I can’t say the creators of these stories specifically had miniatures in mind, but the correlation is uncanny isn’t it? Miniatures are one of those rare things that fascinates and captures our imaginations from childhood to elder years. Think I’m wrong?
As my family and I were leaving the museum, an elderly lady stopped to talk to us. She spoke of how much she loved the museum and what visiting had always done for her (we got the distinct impression she’d visited many times). She also mentioned she was having a birthday soon; her 90th.
As far as I'm concerned, anything that can entertain us from childhood to old age is priceless.