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The Borrowers by Mary Norton

May 9, 2015

TBMiniature people live in skirting boards of an old house and go out on forays to collect items for their house – henee the reason why things go missing. A boy discovers and befriends them but they arc caught by his mother, who threatens to call the rat catchers to get rid of them – the boy rescues them. Like angels, this book develops the idea that life exists in other forms than that of man, who always assumes that he is the centre of the universe.

(Mary Norton (1903 – 1992), was born in London, the only girl in a family of five children. She was brought up in the Manor House in Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire, which later became the setting of her most famous book, The Borrowers. She was educated at convent schools and, after a brief and unsuccessful time as a secretary, she became an actress. She was a member of the Old Vic Theatre Company for two years and always thought of herself more an actress than a writer. She remembered her most thrilling moment as the time she first went on stage as an understudy at the Old Vic. She gave up the theatre when she got married and went to live with her husband in Portugal. There her two sons and two daughters were born, and she began to write.When war broke out in 1939, Mary’s husband joined the Navy and she brought her children back to England via the United States—she lived there for a while waiting for a passage home. She returned to the stage in 1943. The Borrowers was published in 1952 and won her the Carnegie Medal, the most important prize in children’s fiction. The story was based on fantasies from her childhood when her short-sightedness made her aware of the teeming life in the countryside around her. C. S. Lewis, the author of the Narnia books, wrote to her in 1956: “May a stranger write his thanks and congratulations for The Borrowers and The Borrowers Afield? They have given me great and (I anticipate) lasting pleasure…” )


“It was Mrs. May who first told me about them. No, not me. How could it have been me–a wild, untidy, self-willed little girl who stared with angry eyes and was said to crunch her teeth? Kate, she should have been called. Yes, that was it–Kate. Not that the name matters much either way: she barely comes into the story.”

“It’s that curtain,” cried Homily. “He can’t climb a curtain at his age—not by the bobbles!”

“With his pin he could,” said Arrietty.

“His pin! I led him into that one too! Take a hatpin, I told him, and tie a bit of name-tape to the

head, and pull yourself upstairs. It was to borrow the emerald watch from Her bedroom for me to time the

cooking.” Homily’s voice began to tremble. “Your mother’s a wicked woman, Arrietty. Wicked and selfish,

that’s what she is!”

“You know what?” exclaimed Arrietty suddenly.

Homily brushed away a tear. “No,” she said wanly, “what?”

“I could climb a curtain.”

Homily rose up. “Arrietty, you dare stand there in cold blood and say a thing like that!”

“But I could! I could borrow! I know I could!”

“Oh!” gasped Homily. “Oh, you wicked heathen girl! How can you speak so!” and she

crumpled up again on the cork stool. “So it’s come to this!” she said.

“Now, Mother, please,” begged Arrietty, “now, don’t take on!”

“But don’t you see,

Arrietty…” gasped Homily; she stared down at the table at a loss for words and then, at last, raised a haggard face. “My poor child,” she said, “don’t speak like that of borrowing. You don’t know—and, thank goodness, you never will know” she dropped her voice to a fearful whisper—“what it’s like upstairs.

“Mrs. May looked back at her. “Kate,” she said after a moment, “stories never really end. They can go on and on and on. It’s just that sometimes, at a certain point, one stops telling them.”

“…Borrower’s don’t steal.”
“Except from human beings,” said the boy.
Arrietty burst out laughing; she laughed so much that she had to hide her face in the primrose. “Oh dear,” she gasped with tears in her eyes, “you are funny!” She stared upward at his puzzled face. “Human beans are for Borrowers – like bread’s for butter!”
“The child is right,” she announced firmly.
Arrietty’s eyes grew big. “Oh, no-” she began. It shocked her to be right. Parents were right, not children. Children could say anything, Arrietty knew, and enjoy saying it-knowing always they were safe and wrong.”
“I don’t think human beans are all that bad-”
“They’re bad and they’re good,” said Pod; “they’re honest and they’re artful- it’s just as it takes them at the moment”.”
“Human beans are for Borrowers—like bread’s for butter!”
“As people, other people, living in a house who . . . borrow things?”
Mrs. May laid down her work. “What do you think?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” Kate said, pulling hard at her shoe button. “There can’t be. And yet”-she raised her head-“and yet sometimes I think there must be.”
“Why do you think there must be?” asked Mrs. May.
“Because of all the things that disappear. Safety pins, for instance. Factories go on making safety pins, and every day people go on buying safety pins and yet, somehow, there never is a safety pin just when you want one. Where are they all? Now, at this minute? Where do they go to? Take needles,” she went on. “All the needles my mother ever bought-there must be hundreds-can’t just be lying about this house.”
“Not lying about the house, no,” agreed Mrs. May.
“And all the other things we keep on buying. Again and again and again. Like pencils and match boxes and sealing-wax and hairpins and drawing pins and thimbles-”

“Oh,” he said again and picked up two petals of cherry blossom which he folded together like a sandwich and ate slowly. “Supposing,” he said, staring past her at the wall of the house, “you saw a little man, about as tall as a pencil, with a blue patch in his trousers, halfway up a window curtain, carrying a doll’s tea cup-would you say it was a fairy?”
“No,” said Arrietty, “I’d say it was my father.”
“Oh,” said the boy, thinking this out, “does your father have a blue patch on his trousers?”
“Not on his best trousers. He does on his borrowing ones.”
‘Oh,” said the boy again. He seemed to find it a safe sound, as lawyers do. “Are there many people like you?”
“No,” said Arrietty. “None. We’re all different.”
“I mean as small as you?”
Arrietty laughed. “Oh, don’t be silly!” she said. “Surely you don’t think there are many people in the world your size?”
“There are more my size than yours,” he retorted.
“Honestly-” began Arrietty helplessly and laughed again. “Do you really think-I mean, whatever sort of a world would it be? Those great chairs . . . I’ve seen them. Fancy if you had to make chairs that size for everyone? And the stuff for their clothes . . . miles and miles of it . . . tents of it … and the sewing! And their great houses, reaching up so you can hardly see the ceilings . . . their great beds … the food they eat … great, smoking mountains of it, huge bogs of stew and soup and stuff.”
“Don’t you eat soup?” asked the boy.
“Of course we do,” laughed Arrietty. “My father had an uncle who had a little boat which he rowed round in the stock-pot picking up flotsam and jetsam. He did bottom-fishing too for bits of marrow until the cook got suspicious through finding bent pins in the soup. Once he was nearly shipwrecked on a chunk of submerged shinbone. He lost his oars and the boat sprang a leak but he flung a line over the pot handle and pulled himself alongside the rim. But all that stock-fathoms of it! And the size of the stockpot! I mean, there wouldn’t be enough stuff in the world to go round after a bit! That’s why my father says it’s a good thing they’re dying out . . . just a few, my father says, that’s all we need-to keep us. Otherwise, he says, the whole thing gets”-Arrietty hesitated, trying to remember the word-“exaggerated, he says-”
“What do you mean,” asked the boy, ” ‘to keep us’?”

“She learned a lot and some of the things she learned were hard to accept. She was made to realize once and for all that this earth on which they lived turning about in space did not revolve, as she had believed, for the sake of little people. “Nor for big people either,” she reminded the boy when she saw his secret smile.”
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