The first of five novels and a shorter book, Mary Norton’s charming fantasy was first published in 1952. The British edition was illustrated by Diana L. Stanley, the American edition, the one I grew up with, had wonderful illustrations by Beth and Joe Krush, as seen above.
The story is framed with a young girl, Kate, sewing with her Aunt May, who tells Kate about The Borrowers, tiny people who live in the cracks and crevices and inside the walls and floors of old houses, and who “borrow” all kinds of things, from food to a variety of small items to use as tools, containers, clothing, and decorations in their homes. In particular, Aunt May tells the story of a Borrower family, the Clocks, who lived in a home she visited as a child. Pod, the father, is the chief borrower, he goes out regularly to the main rooms of the house to gather. He’s getting older, and not as spry as he once was, but very wise in the ways of the “human beans” of the house and other dangers he might encounter. The owner of the house is an elderly woman, an invalid who lives in her bedroom. Beyond that there’s a cook and housekeeper and a gardener. Homily is Pod’s wife, a homemaker, and a clever one, though she is nervous and never satisfied with what she already has, always nagging Pod to bring her more “borrowings.” Their daughter Arrietty has always lived in their home under the kitchen floor, with only a small grate to view the outside world, and she longs to see and experience more. There were once many Borrower families in the house, but they have all gone, either “emigrated” to other places or disappeared in some way. Pod and Homily are vague about this with Arrietty.
Finally Arrietty is given a chance to begin learning to borrow, going with her father on his expeditions. Unknown to them, a boy has come to stay in the house temporarily while he recovers from an illness. The greatest danger to a Borrower is to be seen by a human bean, and before long the real trouble begins when the Boy sees Arrietty. She is not afraid of him, and they become friends of a sort, but the Boy causes all kinds trouble when he starts helping them borrow the contents of a dollhouse in his bedroom. Things only get worse from there for the Clock family. Will they have to “emigrate,” and try to find some of their long-missing relatives?
Great book, highly recommended. I’ve read them all a few times, and am beginning again. This kind of book is like comfort food for the mind in my case.