Molly writes in with this question:
I’m hoping you remember a short story from the New Yorker published, I think, in 2006. Of course I don’t remember the author or title, or the date of publication (spring? fall? no idea). But the story was about a minaturist who worked for a king, he made intricate replicas of the castle with accurate reproductions of drapes, paintings, furniture, etc. An exquisite craftsman, he grew bored and made minatures of his minatures. Eventually he mastered his art when he broke through the barrier of the visible, the ultimate in his craft. By then, he had many apprentices, and he was so beloved that they humored him in what they considered the pursuit of a senile old man. Ring any bells?
The story is called “In the Reign of Harad IV,” and it is available on the New Yorker Web site. The story is by Steven Millhauser, and it appeared in the April 10th, 2006 issue. Molly does a good job of describing the story, and I remembered it pretty well, too, I think because it departs from the typical New Yorker story. Unlike the usual realism of New Yorker stories, “The Reign” is characterized by its magical elements and fable-like style. Millhauser is best know for his Pulitzer-winning novel Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer. Most recently, Millhauser published The King in the Tree in 2003.