Small and dark: The Borrowers

the book:

The Borrowers by Mary Norton

published 1952 chapter 9


[tiny Borrower Arietty has come across a human boy]

Don’t move!” said a voice, and the voice, like the eye, was enormous but, somehow, hushed – and hoarse like a surge of wind through the grating on a stormy night in March.

Arietty froze. “So this is it,” she thought, “the worst and most terrible thing of all: I have been ‘seen’! Whatever happened to Eggletina will now, almost certainly, happen to me!”…

“I’ll pick you up and break you in half!”

Arietty stood up. “All right”, she said and took two paces forward.

There was a sharp gasp and an earthquake in the grass; he spun away from her and sat up , a great mountain in a green jersey. He had fair, straight hair and golden eyelashes. “Stay where you are!” he cried.

Arietty stared up at him. So this was “the boy”…

observations: The boy is not nearly as aggressive as this makes him sound - he is in fact scared to death of Arietty, and he is as charming and loveable as she is. He is nine (though he claims to be ten) and he can’t read - he tells Arietty “Well if you’re born in India, you’re bilingual. And if you’re bilingual you can’t read. Not so well.” He wants her to read to him, and she does.

This is a true children’s classic, delighting imaginations for 60 years. In fact some of us didn’t care if Arietty never had adventures, we just liked reading about the clever uses the Borrowers put to household objects – the pin and nametape for climbing, the broom made out of doormat fibres, the cotton reel for a stool. Even the young wonder whether Mary Norton has worked out the scale correctly, but it would spoil the magic actually to make the calculation. There are darker elements to the book – the missing Eggletina, the constant shadows, the way the boy questions Arietty about who is actually left, the thin smoke trail of lost family.

Links up with: other children’s classics such as
Jennings – also from 1952 - and Ballet Shoes. Another strange boy in this children’s book.

The picture comes from the
Tyne & Wear archives and museums.