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LITTLE KINGDOMS: THREE NOVELLAS Hardcover – September 16, 1993

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (September 16, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067186890X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671868901
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 6.1 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,340,717 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Overlappings of imagination and reality cast magic through these three vividly conceived novellas exploring the ramifications of artistic creation. In "The Little Kingdom of J. Franklin Payne," the eponymous hero, a cartoonist for a New York City newspaper in the 1920s, labors in the study of his Mount Hebron home on a "secret, exhilarating project": thousands of numbered ink drawings that will constitute moments of an elaborate animated film. As the world of his art becomes more splendid, the day-to-day reality of his life becomes progressively less rewarding. "The Princess, the Dwarf, and the Dungeon" juggles familiar motifs of legend--a beautiful, virtuous princess; a jealous prince; a scheming dwarf; a towering castle and subterranean dungeon--in its tale of a town's self-conscious effort to attach a fanciful, folkloric past to its utilitarian present. "Catalogue of the Exhibition" fashions a biography of fictional 19th-century painter Edmund Moorash and his intimates from a sequential discussion of his exhibited works. Millhauser ( The Barnum Museum ) evokes the impact of non-verbal art with uncommon ease. He develops each of these stories with such narrative precision and well-chosen detail that even his most fanciful and abstract conceits fully engage the reader.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

These three ingenious novellas confirm Millhauser's status as a master fabulist--an author who displays a fantastic ability to describe in detail objects of his own invention: puppets, circuses, board games, and miniatures. Here, his greatest inventions are the comic strips and animated cartoons of J. Franklin Payne--in a portrait of an artist whose work recalls the career of Winsor McCay. Like McCay, Payne raises the level of popular ephemeral to high art. And Millhauser so effectively creates Payne's inner ``kingdom'' that we begin to see reality refracted through the artist's peculiar imagination. In the 20's, Payne begins as a midwestern comic-strip artist whose first series on a dime museum earns him a place on a major New York daily, where he contributes editorial cartoons as well. With his wife--a high-brow who never really accepts his art--and daughter, Payne sets up house north of the city, where he spends hours in his studio creating his first animated cartoons. His meticulous craftsmanship results in commercial success, but also the opprobrium of his employer. As Payne begins his masterpiece, he retreats further into his world of artifice, so that by close, reality and fantasy collapse. The ``The Princess, the Dwarf, and the Dungeon'' concerns an actual kingdom, though one that exists in no discernible time or place. It's a cubist re-creation of a Prince's ``moral fall'' after he gratuitously tests his wife's faithfulness. Full of desire and duplicity, the tale unfolds rather dryly, with a description of possible endings, all of which emphasize a sense of justice and concord. Last, a faux art catalog uses the descriptions of 26 paintings by Edmund Moorash to draw a portrait of a strange genius. In the early 19th-century, Moorash's dark visionary landscapes and portraits fail to equal the bizarre demise of the artist, his sister, and their best friends. There's nothing overly academic about Millhauser's fictional inventions--for every bit of cleverness, there's the art of true passion. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By schapmock on September 22, 2002
Format: Paperback
The first of the three novellas that comprise this book, The Little Kingdom of J. Franklin Payne, is by itself worth the price of admission. Unusually direct for Millhauser, the story of an obsessed cartoonist in turn of the century New York engages the emotions as well as the intellect, creating a quietly heartbreaking family portrait while vividly depicting the joys and agonies of iconoclastic creativity.
The Princess, the Dwarf, and the Dungeon is a yet another post-modern fairy tale, but after a slow start becomes quite intriguing, let down only by an overly facile conclusion.
Catalogue of the Exhibition is a brilliant idea -- the story of an artist and his circle told in the catalogue for an exhibition of his work -- and seems perfect for Millhauser, whose love for (and skill at) describing invented painting and drawing seemingly knows no bounds, yet this novella disappoints. The "Catalogue" idea seems tacked on as the entries grow to fill pages barely about the painting at hand, and the story never quite punches through the conceit. But we do get some wonderfully spooky descriptions of Lovecraftian canvases.
Millhauser's certainly an acquired taste and not for everyone, but if you've enjoyed any of his other work this collection, particularly its fine first tale, will likely please.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Babytoxie on April 5, 2007
Format: Paperback
It's been a while since I've read anything by Steven Millhauser. I jumped into his short stories several years ago with the collections The Knife Thrower and The Barnum Museum, got a good feel for his style (which I liked), and moved to other books in my stack. I have certainly felt Millhauser's pull since that time, and I couldn't ignore it any longer. LITTLE KINGDOMS was an excellent choice for getting back into his work.

The three novellas comprising LITTLE KINGDOMS are thematically related, in that they all showcase how art at first replaces reality, and then assumes it. In "The Little Kingdom of J. Franklin Payne", a newspaper cartoonist turns to animated side-projects to escape from his unsatisfying life. Millhauser works wonders with this tale, effectively capturing the spirit of comic strips and animation in the early 20th Century and bringing them to surprising life. "The Princess, the Dwarf, and the Dungeon" shows how we shape our own mythologies, and how they in turn shape us. By the end of the tale, the two perspectives are merged into an astounding whole. Finally, "Catalogue of the Exhibition: The Art of Edmund Moorash (1810 - 1846)" uses the descriptions of an artist's paintings to tell the artist's life story, and what descriptions they are. The catalogue format enables Millhauser's creativity to run free, creating objects that might be too unsettling or terrifying to view in real life. While it is not essential to read these novellas together, I feel that doing so shows how Millhauser effectively uses different styles of writing to present a single theme.

In addition, there is another common theme of relationships in distress. To go much further into this might ruin the stories, but I will say that the main characters in these three novellas do not have healthy relationships with their loved ones. But for all the problems present with the main characters, they sure do make for fascinating subjects.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Raphael Matto on November 29, 2001
Format: Hardcover
I've read several of Millhauser's books, and the first (and longest) novela in this book is one of my favorite. It's about a cartoonist who begins creating animations in the 1920's. He becomes more and more obsessed... wonderful descriptions of his drawings... but his interactions with his wife and daughter are touching and very sad. This story will have a lasting effect.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By John Kwok HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on January 2, 2013
Format: Paperback
Steven Millhauser demonstrates just how elegant a storyteller and writer he is in his novella collection "Little Kingdoms", which emphasizes his longstanding interests in exploring what some might refer to as magical realism, and what others might contend represent realistic fantasy. This is a most fascinating trio of novellas, of which the first one, "The Little Kingdom of J. Franklin Payne", may be the most endearing in emphasizing the emotional impact which Payne's cartoons have upon his life, and, in particular, his relationships with his wife and daughter; the latter becoming a most ardent fan of his animated cartoons. An emotional impact that's so overwhelming that, in essence, Payne loses himself to his obsessive desire in creating the finest animated films ever made, based on his cartoons and distinguished for their realism."The Princess, the Dwarf and the Dungeon", reads like one very long Brothers Grimm fairy tale as re-imagined by Franz Kafka; this is an especially grim - no pun intended - tale about a medieval castle that may startle the reader with its emphasis in depicting, with equal measure, both exultation and horror. "Catalogue of the Exhibition: The Art of Edmund Moorash (1810-1846)" reads like an extended essay from the catalogue of the latest exhibition devoted to the work of this 19th Century Romantic Painter, but one in which the biographical details recount scenes that could only come from the likes of Edgar Allan Poe and H. P. Lovecraft, in emphasizing the dysfunctional psychological nature of the relationships between Moorash and his friends, especially those who are women, in a style that may remind some of Thomas Bernhard's fiction. Without a doubt, "Little Kingdoms" emphasizes why Millhauser is often viewed as among our finest contemporary American writers of fiction, especially with regards to his impressive gifts in storytelling and in crafting elegant, often lyrical, prose.
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