"For behind the wooden wainscots of all the old houses of Gloucester, there are little mouse staircases and secret trap-doors; and the mice run from house to house through those long narrow passages; they can run all over the town without going into the streets."
Similar in many ways to Beneath the Earth
, Mouse World
exists in secret on the fringes of human society; the difference is scale. This is an entire class of stories built around tiny protagonists operating just out of sight in the human world. These come in a few flavors, but all share some important common elements. In any case, the lives of the little folk draw eerie parallels to the lives of the big-folk.
In an urban setting, the characters most often act like rats, even when they aren't actual Talking Animals
in the 3- to 6-inch range. They live in Mouse Holes
using adapted or cobbled-together materials made from human trash with the odd toys and models thrown in usually making it Scavenged Punk
If they deal with human opponents directly, expect clever trickery, stealth and the odd Colossus Climb
. They may become Dinky Drivers
to operate human vehicles. If humans aren't aware of them in the slightest (as in most cases), it's usually because they either have a strong Weirdness Censor
, the tiny species is keeping a complex and clever masquerade
, or they simply regard talking and/or clothed Funny Animals
or tiny humanoids as an Unusually Uninteresting Sight
. In some cases one lucky human (usually a child
) Speaks Fluent Animal
and is the only human character in the story aware of the tiny species. In combination with an Incredible Shrinking Man
, you can have a Trapped in Another World
plot. Other slightly larger animals such as cats and dogs may also play a role in this world, but expect Animal Jingoism
to come into play, along with examples of Cats Are Mean
May have begun with the Lilliputians, and later Gulliver's time with the Brobdignagian giants, in Gulliver's Travels
by Jonathan Swift. The best-known recent version is probably The Borrowers
Not to be confused with the Disney Theme Parks
. If you're looking for little people who don't necessarily live in one of these worlds, head over to Lilliputians
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- There is a weirdly humanlike monkey society in The Jungle Book, but they do not act humanlike around any person other than Mowgli.
- The animals in general only act humanlike toward Mowgli.
- In Incarceron anyone who enters the Prison is shrunk down to fit into it. Said Prison is, in fact, a silver cube set on the Warden's pcketwatch.
- The Far Side loves this trope. There have been cartoons featuring rodents, fish, arthropods and even microbes whose behaviour mirrors (and of course satirises) that of humans.
Anime and Manga
- The scene in MouseHunt in which the mouse's room is shown, consisting of a postcard as a poster and a little bed made up of a tin box and cotton balls.
- Stuart Little
- The young adult Discworld novel The Amazing Maurice And His Educated Rodents
- Played quite straight in the novel The Prince Of Darkness, about a Rat-Machiavelli eventually being overthrown by a communist revolution...
- China Miéville's King Rat plays this with gritty realism. Organized rats are real city rats living in the sewers.
- The Deptford Mice books by Robin Jarvis.
- The Tale of Despereaux has one for mice (the Trope Namer) and one for rats.
- The Redwall books started out with a few elements of this, which were later Ret Conned away.
- The most obvious example of this is the horse and human-sized cart Cluny and his horde first show up in. Horses are never seen again in the series. Then there's the stampede of cows through a village, a dog, and an abandoned barn.
- There's also St. Ninian's church, which was burned down in Pearls of Lutra, and a mention of the (human) country of Portugal in the first book.
- Firmin by Sam Savage is a novel about a rat who lives in a bookstore and is a consumer of great literature (literally — he finds it quite tasty).
- Angelina Ballerina
- The Christopher Churchmouse series of biblically-oriented short stories, written by a Barbra Davoll, is set in a church where mice live much the same lives that humans do in secret, even including attending the preacher's sermons.
- Margery Sharp's The Rescuers series, source material for the two Disney Animated Canon films.
- Geronimo Stilton
- In the book, House of Tribes. It shows life entirely from the perspective of rodents. It is a very well done example, that fits this trope to the T.
- Pet supply companies put out a variety of toys for rodents that emulate this trope, such as hamster-sized plastic cars or model huts made of gnaw-friendly materials.
- Professor Schimauski by German artist Walter Moers discovered that his toaster actually worked because there's a little dragon living in it.
- Watership Down, except they live in a rural setting.
- The Mouse and His Child includes both small creatures and non-living things.
- The Wind in the Willows sort of waffles between this and the typical cartoon-animal approach. Sometimes the small animals seem to be the correct size, but sometimes they interact with scaled-down horses and other such non-anthropomorphic animals that really ought to be a lot bigger
- In Redwall, animals live in a medieval sort of world, and they do have tables, ovens, swords, clothing, etc. They don't live in a realistic way, it's very humanlike. However, they do retain characteristics of being animals... moles are good at digging, squirrels are champion climbers, otters are naturals at swimming, some animals are mentioned as being carnivorous (most animals in the series eat only fish and eggs, as far as non-plants go).
- The mock epic Batrachomyomachia makes this Older Than Feudalism: it parodies epics like The Iliad by replacing the heroic figures with warrior mice and frogs, fighting each other complete with miniature armor and weapons.
Fish and Sea Creatures
Anime and Manga
- The Secret World of Arrietty, Studio Ghibli's film adaptation of The Borrowers
- The Littl' Bits
- Kabu No Isaki by Hitoshi Ashinano. The story is set in a world where everything except humans is 10 times larger (in linear size), but apparently the Earth surface gravity force is not 10 times stronger. Result: Japan appears huge and sparsely populated, humans are piloting what looks like toy airplanes, landing on fuki (butterbur) leaves and such.
- There is also an old one-shot called Kuma-bachi no Koto ("something about carpenter-bees") by Ashinano in which small humanoid(s) and standard-size people co-exist.
- Busou Shinki. Humans are perfectly aware of the sentient girl-shaped toys equipped with lethal weapons, but it's not regarded as something special. There is a fringe Shinki society that few know of, however.
- The Polish film Kingsajz is set in such a world, inhabited by gnomes. The title is a phonetic rendition of "king size", here a normal human's size which can be temporarily achieved through a magic potion.
- The Littles
- The Borrowers
- Terry Pratchett's Nac Mac Feegle (aka the Pictsies) in Wee Free Men and other Discworld books. His earlier children's books, The Carpet People and The Bromeliad Trilogy (Truckers, Diggers, and Wings) are a more obvious example.
- Michael de Larrabeiti's Borribles and their enemies the Rumbles are a bit bigger than the usual Mouse World inhabitants, but otherwise seem to fit the trope nicely.
- Mistress Masham's Repose
- The Gallivespians in His Dark Materials
- Possibly the tiniest example is the Protozoan World of the microscopic people in the short story "Surface Tension". Just barely qualifies as interacting with the macro-scale human world, due to the etched metal documents left behind for them.
- A classic of British fantasy literature, The Little Grey Men features four gnomes who presumably had a Mouse World culture once, but now are the Last Of Their Kind.
- Gnomes is a wonderfully detailed illustration on how six-inch humanoids might survive in the wild. For the most part they live In Harmony with Nature but they do occasionally scavenge things from human beings and their domestic animals.
- Land of the Giants (Inversion: regular humans trapped in a world filled with — guess what — giants.)
Insects and Arachnids
- Junkville, the setting of a series of Disney comic books starring Bucky Bug.
- A Rustle in the Grass by Robin Hawdon is a novel about ants told in a Heroic Fantasy style.
- The Ant Bully
- The City Under the Back Steps by Evelyn Sibley Lampman, in which two children are shrunk down to ant size and have adventures in/with an ant colony
Sapient Nonliving Things
- The Doll People features dolls that take an oath upon being made which allows them to keep their sapience. Oddly, Barbie dolls are not alive, although fictional brands of dolls are.
- Barbies could be alive. For some reason, they mostly choose not to take the oath.