Rod Serling believed that the role of a writer was to “menace the public’s conscience”… often demonstrating with social commentaries hidden in the dreamscapes of his scripts.
Serling particularly liked to pick at religion and faith, examining the different perspectives of a universal ruler…. questioning the purpose of human life. Every week, audiences would tune in for the latest existential crisis. A half hour ride into the void, seeking answers in… The Twilight Zone.
“A little exploration into that gray, shaded area of space and time…”
Far into the antiquated future once imagined we find two Earth explorers. Commander William Fletcher and his Navigator Peter Craig have made an emergency landing on an uncharted planet. Fletcher is played by the beefy Claude Akins. Perhaps best known as, though unrecognizable, Aldo of Battle For The Planet of The Apes. He’d appear in another Twilight Zone episode, “The Monsters are Due on Maple Street.” Navigator Craig is portrayed by Joe Maross who would also appeared in “Third From the Sun.” Maross appeared in many other science fiction TV series like The Outer Limits, The Invaders, and The Time Tunnel.
In The Twilight Zone’s “The Little People” the astronauts make repairs to their ship. Commander Fletcher is hard at work, eager to get the job done so they can move on. But Navigator Craig lays about complaining all the while.
Attempting to make the best of their situation, Fletcher asks Craig what he lusts for in life. The ne’er-do-well reveals his hunger for power and control. While stranded in The Twilight Zone, one needs only to ask and they shall receive.
The Little People: “From a slob with a slide rule to a God”
With repairs taking longer than expected, Craig does little to help Fletcher. Taking long walks alone and returning looking refreshed. The Commander takes notice and realizes his navigator has been hiding a source of water. Just before losing his temper with the malcontent, Craig offers to show him other findings.
Thus, The Twilight Zone’s “Little People” are introduced.
A whole advanced civilization of microscopic humans has been discovered. Craig’s time shirking responsibilities was spent making contact and establishing authority. Terrorizing the tiny population with his size and strength. Threatening to destroy the small secluded world unless they obey his commands. Wielding power over life and death for millions.
The Twilight Zone’s “The Little People” was influenced by Theodore Sturgeon’s sci-fi novelette “Microcosmic God”. Originally published in April 1941 in Amazing Science Fiction magazine. Sturgeon’s story is of a biochemist creating synthetic life forms called Neoterics, demonstrating his authority over them by killing half their population when they disobey. Microcosmic God popularized the pocket universe trope. Pocket universe or pocket dimension is a concept in inflationary theory, proposed by Alan Guth. As a trope in the science fiction genre, it’s defined as separate pockets of life within the observable universe.
“The Little People” has been parodied often, most notably by The Simpsons. In The 7th Halloween special, Lisa accidentally creates a mini universe for a science fair in “The Genesis Tub”. A parody of the parody appeared on South Park’s “Simpsons Already Did It” when Cartman tries to create a city in a bottle with Sea-People. In the 3rd season of Futurama, the episode “Godfellas” features Bender floating through space. Worshiped as a god by a race of Shrimpkins thriving on his body. It has even been suggested that Rick & Morty’s “The Ricks Must Be Crazy” was directly influenced by Microcosmic God.
The pocket universe trope almost overlaps with the shrinking person trope. Both convey fears of disappearing within a world looming too large around us. The simplicities of our known domestic life become terrifying landscapes to the small secluded world. Fears of being deemed obsolete are also realized with these micro civilizations advancing quickly.
Navigator Craig’s mini universe in The Twilight Zone’s “The Little People” may seem meek and innocent. But the rapid development of intelligence and skills make them a force to be reckoned with. Tables could turn so easily, and our tiny people become aggressive and evil. Prime examples being the Lilliputians of Gulliver’s Travels and Little Ashes of Army of Darkness.
Navigator Peter Craig is literally driven mad with his newfound power. Making ridiculous demands from his fearful followers as Commander Fletcher tries to stop him. With his own life being threatened by Craig’s rampage, Fletcher has no choice but to leave his navigator behind. Cackling with glee, Craig settles into his new life as a self-proclaimed God. Reminding “The Little People” who is in-charge by thrashing through their civilization. Just then, a different spacecraft lands on the planet. Revealing another dominant life form. Craig will quickly learn his place in the universe under the thumb of these new visitors. Lest we all never forget the fragility of life and small parts we play in The Twilight Zone.
Last Updated on August 1, 2021.