The Borrowers is one of those children’s classics that I am always wanting to reread. I reread the series probably once a year at least, and the stories get better every time. My only quibble with them is that they are so short!
This is the first book in the series and was originally published in 1952. It’s the story of Pod, Homily, and Arrietty Clock, a family of tiny people who are very like humans, but about six inches in height. Borrowers survive by “borrowing” what they need from the Big People. Borrowers prefer sleepy old houses in the country, where the routines are firm and the humans few. For borrowers must live secretly, or the humans will capture them and exhibit them like animals in a zoo. Their very survival depends upon this secrecy.
But Arrietty, Pod and Homily’s only daughter, is tired of the safe life under the kitchen. She hates the long, dusty passages under the floors and the dull loneliness of secrecy. She longs for the outdoors, for freedom — and when Pod finally agrees to take her on a borrowing trip, she is overjoyed. But when she meets a human boy unexpectedly in that great outside world, a chain of events is set in motion that wil change their lives forever. They must flee their old home and strike out in search of a new place.
I think one of the strongest things about this story is the characters. They are entirely believable, and both Pod and Homily remind me a great deal of my own parents. Even the villains are well-drawn, and you feel that you understand them. And there is always that lingering uncertainty, the little coincidences that *might* just mean the whole story of the borrowers is made-up.
Though she never gets bogged down in wordy explanations, Norton somehow makes all the details of their precarious lives convincing. Everything is do-able, down to the last technical detail of how Pod climbs up the steps or improvises something for their little home.
The message — if I want to weigh down such a delightful story with something so ponderous and adult as that — is that independence, even if inconvenient and difficult, is far better than a comfortable dependence. Oh yes, the dolls’ furniture and decorations delivered right to their home are nice, but, as Norton puts it in one of the later books, “improvisation is life and breath to borrowers.” It’s a matter of self-respect.
I cannot wait until I have children of my own and we read these books together for the first time. I can’t recommend them highly enough.