Within the annals of children’s literature, few books have managed to capture the vividness of the imagination quite like Mary Norton’s classic tale, The Borrowers. First published in 1952, it has since become a beloved treasure for generations of young readers. A recent rereading, however, has revealed that Norton’s masterful storytelling transcends age, making it a joy for the young at heart as well. The Borrowers revolves around the lives of tiny people who live unseen beneath the floorboards, borrowing items from the world of human beings to furnish their own minuscule existences. In this review, we delve into the miniature universe Norton so brilliantly crafts, as well as the themes and characters that give this story its enduring appeal.
At the heart of The Borrowers are the Clock family, composed of Pod, Homily, and their teenage daughter Arrietty. They reside beneath the kitchen floor of an old country house in England, hidden away from the prying eyes of humans. The Clocks are borrowers, a secretive race of tiny people who live off the detritus of the larger world. They scavenge and repurpose human items, transforming them into the necessities of life. Thimbles become teacups, postage stamps adorn their walls as fine art, and needles serve as swords for protection.
Norton’s world-building is nothing short of extraordinary. With a keen eye for detail, she transports readers into the secret lives of the borrowers, a realm where the mundane becomes extraordinary. The story unfolds at a leisurely pace, inviting readers to fully immerse themselves in the richly imagined, yet humble world of the Clock family. It is a testament to Norton’s skill that she is able to make the ordinary trappings of human life appear wondrous and novel through the eyes of the borrowers.
The characters themselves are also richly drawn and deeply human, despite their diminutive size. Pod is a cautious, responsible, and skilled borrower who takes pride in his ability to provide for his family. Homily, his wife, is a worrier who frets about their safety, often bemoaning their lot in life. And then there’s Arrietty, their adventurous and curious daughter. She yearns for companionship and a life beyond the confines of their home beneath the floorboards.
The story’s conflict arises when Arrietty, against the wishes of her protective parents, befriends a human boy named “the Boy” who lives in the house above. As Arrietty’s friendship with the Boy blossoms, it brings about unforeseen consequences that threaten the Clocks’ very existence. The novel explores themes of curiosity, friendship, and courage, as well as the delicate balance between the worlds of the borrowers and humans.
One of the most striking aspects of The Borrowers is its ability to spark the imagination of its readers. It invites us to ponder the hidden worlds that may exist right under our noses, stirring within us a sense of wonder for the seemingly ordinary. Norton’s tale encourages us to look closely at our surroundings, and perhaps even empathize with the lives of those who dwell in the margins.
The book also raises questions about the nature of borrowing and ownership. The borrowers do not see themselves as thieves, but rather as resourceful survivors. They take only what they need, and what they believe will not be missed. Through this lens, we are asked to consider the line between necessity and excess, between what is borrowed and what is stolen.
Norton’s prose is elegant, with a touch of humour that keeps the story engaging without diluting its more serious themes. The dialogue is natural and well-crafted, giving each character a distinctive voice. The descriptions of the Clock
family’s home and their daily lives are intricate and evocative, imbuing the novel with a sense of magic and wonder. Readers will find themselves transported into the minuscule world of the borrowers, delighting in the ingenuity with which they repurpose everyday objects and navigate their precarious existence.
The illustrations by Beth and Joe Krush, which grace both the original and subsequent editions, add another layer of charm to the story. Their black-and-white drawings beautifully capture the spirit of Norton’s text, providing visual cues that make the world of the borrowers all the more tangible. The attention to detail in these illustrations is remarkable, allowing readers to fully appreciate the clever ways in which borrowers adapt their surroundings to suit their needs.
The Borrowers is not without its darker moments, however. The sense of impending danger that looms over the Clock family is palpable, as they grapple with the potential discovery of their secret world. Norton does not shy away from the harsh realities that the borrowers face, and her depictions of the trials and tribulations they encounter lend the story depth and emotional resonance. The novel serves as a reminder that the world can be a cruel and unforgiving place, even for those who inhabit the fringes of our own lives.
Despite the challenges they face, the Clock family’s resilience and resourcefulness are inspiring. Norton adeptly conveys the strength of the bonds that unite the family, as well as the power of friendship to transcend the boundaries of size, culture, and circumstance. These themes are woven throughout the narrative, culminating in a finale that is both heart-warming and thought-provoking.
In conclusion, Mary Norton’s The Borrowers is a timeless tale that continues to enchant and captivate readers of all ages. Its richly detailed world, engaging characters, and exploration of themes such as curiosity, friendship, and the delicate balance between the world of borrowers and humans make it a classic work of children’s literature. It serves as a powerful reminder that even the smallest lives have value and that the unseen worlds around us may be far more complex and magical than we ever imagined.
Over the years, The Borrowers has inspired a successful film adaptation, sequels, and countless young readers to seek out the hidden wonders in their own lives. It is a testament to Norton’s storytelling prowess that her novel remains a beloved treasure, more than seven decades after its initial publication. This enchanting tale is a must-read for anyone who has ever wondered about the secret lives of the tiny people who might just be living right under our floorboards.