By John Christopher (Avon; 1966/68)
Here we have a rich and fascinating take on Irish folklore courtesy of England’s prolific and imaginative John Christopher (a.k.a. Samuel Youd).
This sixties-era novel shows its age in its extremely subdued approach; despite the audacity of its premise, THE LITTLE PEOPLE is very much an example of so-called quiet horror.
The slow building narrative has a young couple exploring a secluded Irish castle they’ve inherited, which they decide to turn into a vacation spot. Cut to several months later, when this unlikely holiday cottage is up and running: some disquieting things quickly become apparent, including doll-sized figures glimpsed in shadow, odd noises and a tiny footprint in the dirt outside the castle. Can it be that the little people of Irish legend are afoot?
Not exactly, although there are several miniature people running wild in the area. Around the midway point one such person is captured, a tiny young woman named Greta who speaks German. One of the castle’s guests is a German man, who upon discovering a diary left by a previous inhabitant, a Nazi, helps uncover the secret of Greta and her companions. It seems the Nazi was conducting horrific experiments on pregnant women, and wound up with several walking, talking fetuses–the so-called Little People now terrorizing the castle.
There initially doesn’t appear to be much in the way of terror in the little ones’ make-up. Greta’s fellow fetus people willingly make themselves known to the castle’s guests, appearing quite docile. But behind their seeming passivity lies dark, supernaturally-tinged malice.
That’s a mighty dotty premise worthy of a B-movie or children’s story. To his credit John Christopher deftly evades both categories, creating a serious and altogether unique example of subtle, grown-up horror. That’s particularly true of the little people’s climactic assault on their full-sized captors, which utilizes hallucinatory apprehension (the little people, it transpires, possess strong extrasensory powers) in place of the expected stalk-and-slash showdown.