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The Borrowers

Author: Mary Norton. Illustrated by Diana Stanley
Series: Puffin Story Book
Edition: 1982 reprint
Published: Harmondsworth
Physical Description: 153p. : ill
Notes: Annotations throughout
The Borrowers was first published in 1952 and won the Carnegie Medal; the series of Borrowers books are now considered classics of children’s literature. Peter Hunt describes The Borrowers as ‘the quintessence of the “second golden age” of British children’s literature’ (Hunt 151). The book is renowned for its imagination, its impressive detail and contrasts of scale, its intricate narrative structure, and the potential for dark allegorical reading of ‘the Borrowers’, a small race of people who are being persecuted and driven out of their homes by the ‘human beans’. The publication of The Borrowers within the Puffin Story Book series is also important. The novel was first published by Puffin in 1958, six years after its initial publication, and suggests the ability of the series’ first editor, Eleanor Graham, to identify and include such contemporary classics. The novel begins with a statement of narrative uncertainty and introduces ambiguity regarding the narrator of the frame narrative, which remains throughout: ‘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’ (7). This hesitant and uncertain narration can be read as part of what Hunt describes as ‘a new and fractured world which is replacing the old certainties, the old “grand narratives”’, (Hunt 151) evident in the novel. The introduction of the Clock family, Pod, Homily, and Arriety, depicts a barricaded and hidden life, full of worry, insecurity, and secrecy. Arrietty has never been out of their boarded-up home and longs for freedom and company, even if that means risk. Arrietty is shocked when her father agrees with her, and her vocalisation of this indicates another prominent theme, the relationship between adults and children: ‘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’ (47). Arrietty asserts her independence by befriending the boy of the house, who helps them, but also leads to their having to emigrate. Narrative uncertainty returns towards the end of the novel, as the fate of the Clock family is not revealed, while the reliability of the story of the Borrowers is also cast into doubt.
[Ciara Gallagher].
Hunt, Peter Children’s Literature. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2001.
Subject: Genre, Gender, Fear, Imagination, Narrative Voice, Conflict, Persecution, Adult-Child Relationships
Language: English
Original price: U.K £1.00; Aust. $2.95
Library: Church of Ireland College of Education
Collection: Bartlett Puffin Collection - CICE