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The Borrowers

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The Borrowers
TheBorrowers BookCover.png
Author(s) Mary Norton
Country UK
Language English
Series The Borrowers
Genre(s) Fantasy
Publication date 1952
Followed by The Borrowers Afield

The Borrowers is a children's fantasy novel by Mary Norton about tiny people who "borrow" things from normal humans and keep their existence unknown. The central characters are the Clock family: father Pod, mother Homily and their spirited thirteen year-old daughter, Arrietty. Published in 1952, it won the Carnegie Medal for that year, and was selected in 2007 by judges of the CILIP Carnegie Medal for children's literature as one of the ten most important children's novels of the past 70 years.

It was followed by a series of sequels recounting the further adventures of the Clock family.

  • The Borrowers Afield (1955)
  • The Borrowers Afloat (1959)
  • The Borrowers Aloft (1961)
  • "Poor Stainless: A New Story About the Borrowers" (1971)
  • The Borrowers Avenged (1982), which includes "Poor Stainless" (a short story from Homily's childhood).

Series introduction

In all of these, interaction between the minuscule Borrowers, who are themselves supposed to be descendants of the folkloric little people, and the "human beans" (a slang or dialect form of "human beings") is seen as the primary cause of trouble, irrespective of the human's motives. Whether the main character, Arrietty Clock, has been talking with the ward of Firbank, with Tom Goodenough, or with Miss Menzies, her parents react with similar fears and worries.

As a result of Arrietty's illicit talks, her family is forced several times to move their home from one place to the other, making their lives more adventurous than the average Borrower would like. They finally settle down in the vicinity of a church, in the home of a caretaker surnamed Whitlace (or "Witless" as his undiscovered tenants call him).

Along the way, they meet a cast of colorful characters, such as a hunter of their own race whose only memory of his family is the adjective "Dreadful Spiller" which he uses as a name; other Borrowers such as their relations the Harpsichords and one Peregrine (Peagreen) Overmantel; also Big People such as Mild Eye the Gypsy, Tom Goodenough the gardener's son and Her.

Plot summary

Thirteen-year-old Arrietty Clock lives under the floorboards of a house with her parents, Pod and Homily. As Borrowers, they survive through Pod's "borrowing" of items from the big people ("human beans" as Arrietty calls them). One day, Pod comes home shaken after borrowing a toy tea cup. After sending Arrietty to bed, Homily learns that he has been "seen" by one of the big people - a boy who had been sent from India to live with his great-aunt while recovering from rheumatic fever. Remembering the fate of their niece Eggletina, who wandered away and never returned after (beknownst to her) her father had been seen and the big people had brought in a cat, Pod and Homily decide to warn Arrietty. In the course of the ensuing conversation, Homily realizes that Arrietty ought to be allowed to go borrowing with Pod.

Several days later, Pod and Arrietty go on a borrowing trip to retrieve fibers from a doormat for a scrub brush. Arrietty wanders outside where she meets the Boy. At one point, Arrietty tells the Boy that there cannot be very many of his kind but many of her kind. He disagrees and tells her of times when he had seen hundreds and even thousands of big people all in one place. Arrietty realizes that she can't prove that there are any other Borrowers left in the world besides her and her parents and is upset. The Boy offers to take a letter to a badger set two fields away where her Uncle Hendreary (father of Eggletina), Aunt Lupy, and their children are supposed to have emigrated. On a later borrowing trip, she manages to slip the letter under the doormat where the Boy agreed to look for it.

Meanwhile, Arrietty has learned from Pod and Homily that when big people approach, they get a "feeling." She's concerned that she didn't have a feeling when the Boy approached, so she practices by going to a certain passage over which the cook, Mrs. Driver, often stands. She overhears Driver and the gardener, Crampfurl, discussing the Boy. Driver is annoyed that the boy continually disturbs the doormat and Crampfurl is concerned about him after seeing the Boy in a field calling for "Uncle something" after the Boy asked him if there were any badger sets in the field. Crampfurl is convinced the Boy is keeping a ferret.

Arrietty becomes anxious and sets off on her own to find the Boy. As it turns out, he did find her letter, delivered it, and returned with a response - a mysterious note asking her to tell Aunt Lupy to come back. Pod then discovers Arrietty talking to the Boy and takes her home. Pod and Homily are frightened because the Boy will probably figure out where they live. They turn out to be right but the Boy, instead of wanting to harm them, brings them gifts of dollhouse furniture from the nursery. They experience a period of "borrowing beyond all dreams of borrowing" as the Boy offers them gift after gift. In return, Arrietty is allowed to go outside and read aloud to him.

Driver, in the meantime, notices a few items missing and believes someone is playing a joke on her. She stays up late and almost catches the Boy bringing his nightly gift to his new friends. She does, however, see the Borrowers and find their home. The Boy attempts to rescue the Borrowers but Driver locks him in the nursery. At the end of three days, the Boy is to be sent back to India. Driver cruelly takes him to the kitchen before he goes to see the ratcatcher smoke the Borrowers out of their home. The Boy manages to slip away and break off the grating outside. He never gets to see the Borrowers escape since the cab comes to take him away. However, later, his sister (and the narrator at the beginning and end of the book) is able to go to the badger set and leave gifts there, which are gone the next time she checks. She also finds Arrietty's diary (though the author creates some ambiguity when the sister mentions that Arrietty's letters look like her brother's letters).


The Borrowers

  • Arrietty Clock - an adventurous thirteen-year-old Borrower girl who is allowed to go borrowing with her father and meets the Boy. She knows how to read, owns a collection of pocket-sized books, and enjoys looking out the grating and writing in her diary.
  • Pod Clock - Arrietty's father and, according to his wife, the most talented Borrower.
  • Homily Clock - Arrietty's mother. She has a bony nose and untidy hair (though she starts curling it later on), is often cross, has a taste for fine things (such as dollhouse furniture), and is terrified of the thought of emigrating and living in a badger set.
  • Hendreary Clock - Arrietty's uncle. He was on the fireplace mantel when the maid came to dust and attempted to pass himself off as a knick-knack but sneezed when he was dusted. He later emigrated to a badger set with his family.
  • Lupy (Rain-Pipe Harpsichord) Clock - Uncle Hendreary's wife. Homily describes her as apt to put on airs because of her association with the Harpsichord family. She has three sons (the youngest of whom is Timmus) and a stepdaughter, Eggletina.
  • Eggletina Clock - Uncle Hendreary's daughter by his first marriage. She wandered away and disappeared after a cat had been brought into the house, leading her family to think the cat ate her. Eggletina is used as a warning to Arrietty about what could happen if she is 'seen'; however, in the second book Eggletina is discovered alive and well.

The Big People

  • The Boy - A nine-year-old "human bean" who has left his home in India to recover from his sickness at his great-aunt's home near Leighton Buzzard. He discovers and befriends the Borrowers.
  • Great Aunt Sophy - A bedridden elderly lady. Pod often comes to her room to borrow when she has had too much Fine Old Pale Madeira. She believes that Pod comes from the bottle. Also called Her.
  • Mrs. Driver - The housekeeper-cook. She's described by the Boy as fat with a mustache and constantly threatening to take her slipper to him.
  • Crampfurl - the gardener.
  • Rosa Pickhatchet - a maid who once worked in the house. She quit after she dusted Uncle Hendreary and made him sneeze.
  • Mrs. May - The Boy's sister. As an elderly woman, she tells Kate her brother's story.
  • Kate - a "wild, untidy, self-willed little girl" who likes to crochet with Mrs. May and eagerly listens to the older woman's story about the Borrowers.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

There have been three distinct screen adaptations of The Borrowers.

  • The Borrowers: a 1973 American made-for-TV movie.
  • The Return of the Borrowers
  • The Borrowers: a 1997 film with a British/American cast including John Goodman, Jim Broadbent, Celia Imrie and Mark Williams.
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