One of the first books we listened to in the car was Mary Norton’s The Borrowers. We had one child and he was very small. But he’d been well-trained on audio books. He fell asleep to The Velveteen Rabbit (Meryl Streep and George Winston) or Winnie-the-Pooh (The BBC version) every night. So we popped in the tapes (yes, cassette tapes — this was a good fifteen years ago) to The Borrowers on a trip to Bloomington, Illinois to visit friends.
The boy did not fall asleep. He did not look out the window. I’m not sure he blinked. He just stared straight ahead.
I’m sure it was magical, the voices of The Clock Family — Pod, Homily, and Arrietty — swirling around him. The Clock family are borrowers—they are a family of tiny people who live under the floor, in the pipes, and in the walls of an English house in the countryside. They borrow (really, they steal, but we won’t quibble about that) what they need from the “human beans,” who also reside in the house.
The Clocks have extended relations, as well — Lupy and Hendreary, and the posthumous Egglatina. Egglatina is used as the cautionary tale for Arrietty in the first book — Egglatina is missing and her disappearance corresponded ominously with the arrival of a cat in the house. In the second book (there are five) Egglatina is found to be alive and well, but still, the borrowers live in mortal dread of being seen. Much of the plot revolves around this aspect of self-preservation. Because, of course, Arrietty, the teenage borrower, has a bit of wanderlust. She wants, at the very least, to learn to borrow with her father. Really, she wants some adventure and excitement—upstairs and outside. She has some adventures, alright! Quiet, British adventures mostly. (Which is why the audio is so good — it really does need a British accent and mine is really rather bad.) It’s a very gentle book. But still, one’s heart pounds when Arrietty is (spoiler alert!) seen.
Our little boy, who cried when we stopped to get gas and use the bathroom on that trip (“More Awietty!” he cried), is looking at colleges now. He wants to go into engineering. I think this might have something to do with The Borrowers. Seriously. The Clock family members are ingenious in their ability to take common everyday things that won’t be missed from the human beans and repurpose them, in the most interesting of ways, for their own use. Carpet fibers form a scrub brush, red blotting paper serves as carpet, old letters turned and hung so the script runs vertically makes a unique wallpaper design, pretty postage stamps hang on the wall as art, chess pieces serve as statues, etc. This book helped both of my kids (I read the series to the youngest several years later) look at everyday objects at a slant and think about what else they might be.
What is it about little people who live behind books, in walls, in the dollhouse, and lead whole lives when we human beans are not watching? I remember being fascinated by this idea as a kid. My kids were, too. Anyone else have favorite books along these lines?