The Borrowers

CARNEGIE MEDAL WINNER – 1952

The Borrowers

by Mary Norton

Orlando: Harcourt Books, 1953

180 pp, 20 chapters

Age: (read to) 6 + ; (read independently) 9 +

Interests: family, old houses, little people, adventure

Sequels: The Borrowers Afield, The Borrowers Afloat, The Borrowers Aloft, The Borrowers Avenged

Also by this author: The Magic Bed Knob and Bonfires and Broomsticks (which together were made into the movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks)

Arrietty and her parents are the last family of little people living beneath the floorboards in an old house belonging to humans. They are Borrowers, and live by ‘borrowing’ little things from the big people. They live in fear of detection, but Arrietty isn’t content to live in hiding all her life and makes friends with a human boy. The boy brings them gifts for their home under the floor, but Arrietty’s parents Pod and Homily soon become greedy. The housekeeper starts to grow suspicious and after much prowling about she finally discovers their home. She brings in traps, poison, dogs, and finally an exterminator to smoke them out. Arrietty and her folks escape a terrible fate at the very last moment, presumably to join their relations living in a nearby field.

The story’s events seem straightforward, but there are also intriguing undercurrents coursing through this tale. Foremost is Arrietty’s rebellion against her over-cautious parents, and her desire to see the great outdoors. Then there’s the past history of various borrower families who used to live in the house, and the complicated relations between them, fuelled by snobbery, gossip, and grudges. As the other families are long gone from the house, Arrietty is distraught to think that they might be the very last Borrowers in the whole world. She and the boy discuss the big world, and the purpose of their respective species – ie. do the humans live just to provide for the Borrowers’  needs and wants?

Finally there is an interesting lesson about material possessions and greed, as Arrietty’s parents Pod and Homily ask for too much from the boy. Ironically this is what brings about their downfall in the house, the very end of all that Pod and Homily value above all else: security, comfort, and the status quo. (Could this be more contemporary? A lesson against the greed and materialism in these occupy-wall-street times?)

Of course the most fascinating aspect of this book is that the Borrowers use our odds and ends for their own purposes: old letters for wallpaper, postage stamps for artwork, matchboxes for dressers, thimbles for buckets, etc. They are admirable in their resourcefulness, certainly. And this explains what happens to all those little things that go missing every day. Unfortunately the everyday objects in the house date from another long-gone era and modern readers may find them confusingly unfamiliar. (ie. hairpins, sealing-wax and blotting paper)

This book should interest readers on several levels, from the suspense of the little people skittering around in constant fear of capture, to Arrietty’s struggle with her parents for greater freedom, and the truly cataclysmic climax. Future books are strongly hinted at, with the epilogue revealing that Arrietty and her folks made it safely to their new home in the country. And over all is the disquieting notion that none of it may be true… the narrator insists that her brother, who told her the whole story, was a notoriously unreliable source.

I remember being totally entranced with these books when I was young. I’d guess that you could read them to a six-year-old. For independent reading, I’m no expert on reading levels, but I’ve found this on Grade 4 / Age 9 reading lists.

(This title on amazon.)

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All writings posted here are © Kim Thompson, unless otherwise indicated. For all artwork on this site, copyright is retained by the artist.
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