The Borrowers by Mary Norton

The BorrowersInformation

Goodreads: The Borrowers
Series: The Borrowers #1
Source: Library
Published: 1952


Arietty Clock and her parents Pod and Homily are Borrowers–little people who live in the homes of human beans and take what they need to survive.  Pod and Homily fear the world upstairs, remembering the fate of other Borrowers who have been seen, but Arietty is tired of living alone and fearful that she and her family are the last of their kind.  The arrival of a boy in the house signals the start of a new adventure for Arietty, who longs for a friend.  Interacting with humans, however, even the nice ones,  always means trouble.


The Borrowers introduces readers to a magical world where little people live beneath the floors and behind the walls of the homes of “human beans,” taking what they need both to survive and to furnish their homes.  Lengthy descriptions of letters used as wallpaper, stamps as portraits, and match boxes as beds are as integral to the story as the characters or the plot–Mary Norton seems to want readers to inhabit this world and to make their own, just as the Borrowers do.  There is something enchanting about viewing a world in miniature and, ultimately, that enchantment overshadowed the other charms of the book, at least for me.

After viewing Miyazaki’s The Secret World of Arietty, I expected The Borrowers to be the tale of a forbidden friendship that endured despite familial opposition and thwarted evil attempts to capture the Clock family.  Though The Borrowers contains elements of such a friendship, I never felt that Arietty and the human boy ever really got to know each other, or understood each other.  Instead, the focus remains on the Clock family, humorously drawing their foibles and poignantly recalling a time when they did not live alone but in a house full of Borrowers.  It is a clever and a bittersweet portrait, and yet all I wanted was more of Arietty and her friend.

In fact, I remember little about the actual plot of The Borrowers, but instead retain only snatches of the items used to build their home.  Such a lapse on my part tempts me to say that something about the story is, if not memorable, at least slightly lackluster.  But this is a children’s classic we are talking about!  Is it the story really not that interesting or did watching The Secret World of Arietty first simply lead me to disappointment because I expected a different reading experience?

Whatever the case may be, the more that time passes, the less inclined I feel to read the rest of the series, though I initially had vague intentions of reading the sequel.  Mostly, I admit, because I hoped to see the origins of Miyazaki’s Spiller character.  I suppose that the charm of the Clock family’s world was, in the end, not enough to hold me.

8 thoughts on “The Borrowers by Mary Norton

  1. jubilare says:

    The setting and the idea of the book is what stuck with me, too. It has been twenty or more years since I read it, though, so pretty much everything is faded except that world.


    • Krysta says:

      It’s interesting that we both remember the world, but not much else! I’m still deciding whether or not the world is attractive enough to entice me to read the next book, though. I’m leaning towards “no.”.


  2. revgeorge says:

    The Borrowers always annoys me because it reminds me of another story I read decades ago about another family of little people or gnomes or some such living in a human home but which I can never remember.

    As for The Borrowers itself, a decent story but I was never tempted to read the following stories either.


      • revgeorge says:

        The Littles to the Rescue by John Peterson!!

        I ended up googling books similar to The Borrowers and found it. I originally read this book back in elementary school. Back in the day, mid-70’s, Scholastic had a nice racket where their books were promoted in the schools and you could fill out a form to buy books and your parents would end up on the hook to pay for it. Fortunately my mom always did. Because we loved reading.🙂

        Unfortunately it looks like the books are somewhat hard to find nowadays. They aren’t in the two biggest libraries in my area and on Amazon there are many that would have to be bought through third party sellers. Oh well, I’ll have to see what I can do to find them. Maybe check out some used book stores.


        • Krysta says:

          I just looked it up and the official summary calls the book a “timeless favorite,” so it’s rather odd that it’s not being sold! I even checked Scholastic’s website and they don’t seem to be offering it.

          Scholastic used to hold book fairs in schools where they set up tables and you could go in with your money and browse for books and pay for them there (maybe they still do, but I don’t know). At one point they also sent us home with a catalogue. Though my parents agreed to buy me some books, they never arrived. Months later I finally asked where my books were and I was told that the order had been cancelled due to lack of interest or some such thing!


  3. DoingDewey says:

    I read this when I was younger and went into it without expectations, which is probably part of why I loved it. I remember it being a very cute story and loved imagining how the Borrowers would re-purpose items for their own use🙂


    • Krysta says:

      I think I would have enjoyed this one more had I not seen the Miyazaki film first, alas. I kept waiting for the story to focus more on Arietty’s forbidden friendship, but it never really did! I am interested, however, in the title of the fifth book of the series, The Borrowers Avenged. How do we go from descriptions of tiny homes to avenging?!


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