The Borrowers


The Borrowers is a children's fantasy novel by the English author Mary Norton, published by Dent in 1952. It features a family of tiny people who live secretly in the walls and floors of an English house and "borrow" from the big people in order to survive. The Borrowers also refers to the series of five novels including The Borrowers and four sequels that feature the same family after they leave "their" house.[1]

The Borrowers won the 1952 Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's outstanding children's book by a British author.[3] In the 70th anniversary celebration of the medal in 2007 it was named one of the top ten Medal-winning works, selected by a panel to compose the ballot for a public election of the all-time favourite.[4]

Harcourt, Brace and Company published it in the U.S. in 1953 with illustrations by Beth and Joe Krush.[1][2] There have been several adaptations of The Borrowers in television and film.


All five Borrowers novels feature the Clock family; Pod, Homily and Arrietty. In the first book they live in a house reportedly based on The Cedars where Norton was raised.[5] The sequels are titled alliteratively and alphabetically: The Borrowers Afield (1955), The Borrowers Afloat (1959), The Borrowers Aloft (1961), and The Borrowers Avenged (1982). All were originally published by J. M. Dent in hardcover editions.[6] Puffin Books published a 700-page trade paperback omnibus edition in 1983, The Complete Borrowers Stories[7] with a short introduction by Norton.[1]

The primary cause of trouble and source of plot is the interaction between the minuscule Borrowers and the "human beans", whether the human motives are kind or selfish. The main character is teenage Arrietty, who often begins relationships with Big People that have chaotic effects on the lives of herself and her family, causing her parents to react with fear and worry.

As a result of Arrietty's curiosity and friendships with Big People, her family are forced to move their home several times from one place to another, making their lives more adventurous than the average Borrower would prefer. After escaping from their home under the kitchen floorboards of an old English manor they finally settle down in the home of a caretaker on the grounds of an old church.

Along the way, they meet more characters: other Borrowers, including a young man around Arrietty's age who lives outdoors and whose only memory of his family is the descriptive phrase, "Dreadful Spiller", which he uses as a name (introduced in The Borrowers Afield), the Harpsichord family who are relatives of the Clock family, and Peregrine ("Peagreen") Overmantel; and also Big People such as Mild Eye the gypsy, Tom Goodenough, the gardener's son, and Miss Menzies, a sweet but overly helpful woman.

The short, separate book Poor Stainless (1966) was revised as a novelette and re-published posthumously with a short author's note in 1994.[8] The narrative, told by Homily to Arrietty, occurs before the first of the full-length Borrower novels, and concerns a small adventure Stainless has when he gets lost. (Like most Borrower names "borrowed" from human objects, Stainless is named after items in the kitchen cutlery drawer.)


The story begins with a frame story of young Kate sewing a quilt with her aunt Mrs May. As they stitch the quilt, Kate complains that some of her sewing supplies have gone missing, leading her to wonder where all the small household items that disappear really end up. Mrs May tells Kate about the Borrowers: miniature human-like creatures who live unseen in houses and "borrow" such items from the "human beans" that live there. She goes on to tell the story of how her younger brother once befriended a young Borrower named Arrietty.

Arrietty Clock lives with her parents Pod and Homily under the floor beneath a grandfather clock (Borrowers take their surnames from their living place). One day Pod comes home shaken from a borrowing expedition. After Arrietty goes to bed, Pod tells Homily that he has been seen by a human boy who had been sent from India to live with his great-aunt while recovering from an illness. Remembering the fate of their niece Eggletina, who disappeared after the "human beans" brought a cat into the house, Pod and Homily decide to tell 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 invites Arrietty to accompany him on a borrowing trip. Since Arrietty has only ever seen the outdoors through a grating, she is allowed to explore the garden, where she meets the Boy. After some trepidation on both their parts, Arrietty and the Boy strike a bargain: the Boy, who is bilingual and slow to learn English, will bring the highly literate Arrietty books if she will read to him. At one point, Arrietty tells the Boy that the world cannot possibly have enough resources to sustain very many humans. He disagrees and tells her that there are millions of people in India alone. Arrietty becomes upset when she realizes she cannot know that there are any Borrowers other that her own family. The Boy offers to take a letter to a badger sett two fields away where her Uncle Hendreary, Aunt Lupy, and their children are supposed to have emigrated.

Meanwhile, Arrietty has learned from Pod and Homily that they get a "feeling" when big people approach. She is concerned that she didn't have a feeling when the Boy approached, so she practises by going to a certain passage below the kitchen, which is more frequently trafficked by humans than the rest of the house. There she overhears the cook Mrs Driver and the gardener Crampfurl discussing the Boy. Mrs Driver dislikes children in general and believes the Boy is up to no good, particularly when Crampfurl suspects that the Boy is keeping a pet ferret after seeing him in a field calling for "Uncle something."

The Boy delivers Arrietty's letter and returns with a mysterious response asking Arrietty to tell Aunt Lupy to come back. Pod catches Arrietty taking the letter from the Boy and brings her home. After Arrietty confesses everything she has told the Boy, Pod and Homily fear the Boy will figure out where they live and that they will be forced to emigrate. The Boy soon does find the Clocks' home, but far from wishing them harm, he 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.

Eventually Mrs Driver suspects the Boy of stealing after catching him trying to open a curio cabinet full of valuable miniatures. Following him, she sees the Boy lifting up some floorboards near the clock. Believing this is where he has been caching his stolen goods, she peers beneath the boards and is horrified to discover the Borrowers in their home. To prevent the Boy from helping the Borrowers escape, she locks him in his room until it is time for him to return to India. Meanwhile she hires a ratcatcher to fumigate the house in order to catch the Borrowers. Mrs Driver cruelly allows the boy out of his room so that he can watch when the Borrowers' bodies are found. The Boy manages to escape her and, running outside, break open the grating in hopes of providing his friends with an escape route. As he waits for them to emerge, the cab arrives to take him away. Mrs Driver drags him to the cab and forces him inside, leaving the fate of the Borrowers unknown.

Some time later, the Boy's sister (a young Mrs May) visits the home herself in hopes of proving her brother's stories were real. She leaves small gifts at the badgers' set, which are gone the next time she checks. Later she finds a miniature memoranda book in which the entire story of the Borrowers has been written, presumably by Arrietty. However, when Kate rejoices that the book means that the Borrowers survived and that the whole story was true, Mrs May points out that "Arrietty's" handwriting was identical to Mrs May's brother's.

  • Arrietty Clock – An adventurous fourteen-year-old Borrower girl who is not allowed to go borrowing with her father until her mother decides to let her. Then she meets the Boy. She knows how to read, owns a collection of pocket-sized books, and enjoys looking out of 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 sett.
  • 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 sett with his family. He went fishing in a bowl of soup to see if he could reel up any chunks of food from the soup.
  • 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 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.
Big People
  • Kate – A "wild, untidy, self-willed little girl" of 10 years. It is through Kate that the story of The Borrowers is told. Not much of Kate is in the middle of the story.
  • The Boy – At ten years old he leaves his home in India to recover from an illness at the country home of his great-aunt near Leighton Buzzard. He discovers and befriends the Borrowers.
  • Mrs May; Aunt May – The Boy's sister. As an elderly woman, she tells Kate the story of the Borrowers that was told to her by her brother.
  • Great Aunt Sophy – The Boy's bedridden, elderly great-aunt who has a penchant for Fine Old Pale Madeira. Pod often comes to her room to borrow when she has had too much to drink - she believes that Pod is a hallucination. Also referred to as "Her".
  • Mrs Driver – The housekeeper and cook. She is described by the Boy as fat with a mustache and is constantly threatening to "take her slipper" to him.
  • Crampfurl – The gardener.
  • Rosa Pickhatchet – A maid who once worked in the house. She gave notice after seeing Pod's brother, Hendreary Clock.
  • A. N. Wilson considered the work as in part an allegory of post-war Britain – with its picture of a diminished people living in an old, half-empty, decaying “Big House”.[9]

There have been several screen adaptations of The Borrowers:

  • The Borrowers: a 1973 American made-for-TV movie in the Hallmark Hall of Fame.
  • The Borrowers: a 1992 BBC TV series and its 1993 sequel The Return of the Borrowers, both starring Ian Holm and Penelope Wilton.
  • The Borrowers: a 1997 film with a British/American cast including Tom Felton, John Goodman, Jim Broadbent, Celia Imrie and Mark Williams.
  • Arrietty: a 2010 Japanese animated film from Studio Ghibli, known as The Secret World of Arrietty in North America.[10]
  • The Borrowers: a 2011 BBC production starring Stephen Fry, Victoria Wood, and Christopher Eccleston.[11]
See also
  • The Littles, a later series by John Peterson, also featuring a family of tiny people.
  1. ^ a b c d The Borrowers series listing at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database. Retrieved 2012-07-10. Select a title to see its linked publication history and general information. Select a particular edition (title) for more data at that level, such as a front cover image or linked contents
  2. ^ a b c d e f "The borrowers". Library of Congress Catalog Record. "The borrowers" (first U.S. edition). LCC record. Retrieved 2012-09-08.
  3. ^ Carnegie Winner 1952. Living Archive: Celebrating the Carnegie and Greenaway Winners. CILIP. Retrieved 2018-02-27.
  4. ^ "70 Years Celebration: Anniversary Top Tens". The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children's Book Awards. CILIP. Retrieved 2012-07-10.
  5. ^ Wentz, Melanie (2014-05-13). Once Upon a Time in Great Britain: A Travel Guide to the Sights and Settings of Your Favorite Children's Stories. St. Martin's Griffin. ISBN 9781466871496. 
  6. ^ "Mary Norton Bibliography: A Collectors Reference Guide: UK First Edition Books". Bookseller World. Retrieved 2012-07-10.
  7. ^ ISBN 0-14-031666-3
  8. ^ Viking UK, ISBN 0-670-85427-1
  9. ^ A. N. Wilson, After the Victorians (2005) p. 522
  10. ^ "Ghibli's Next Film Adapts Mary Norton's The Borrowers". Anime News Network. Retrieved 2009-12-16. 
  11. ^ "Stephen Fry leads cast for Borrowers adaptation". BBC News. 20 June 2011. Retrieved 2011-06-20. 
External links
  • The Borrowers in libraries (WorldCat catalog) – first US edition
  • The Borrowers directory at the Internet Movie Database
Preceded by The Wool-Pack Carnegie Medal recipient 1952 Succeeded by A Valley Grows Up

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