The Borrowers by Mary Norton

3 October 2015

We found a copy of the first book in the series in an op shop, it was so enjoyed, we tracked down the rest of the series at our local library. Luna and Blake are still enjoying the adventures and have played out many of the ideas, including ‘Borrowing’ items for their own doll houses…

The Borrowers Afield

The stories share the adventures of Arrietty, Homily and Pod Clock. They are The Borrowers and Mary Norton writes about their life of adventure and survival in a series of books, the first of which was published in 1952. The books are beautifully illustrated by Diana Stanley.

The Borrowers Homily in the kitchen

Some of Luna’s ‘borrowings’ in her doll house.

Living room detail new set up

Cotton reels from my sewing room became much sought after furnishings…

green room dinner party wide shot

The kitchen in Blake’s doll house.

The Clock family are tiny middle class people who live in a big old house, under the kitchen to be precise, tapping the pipes for water and furnishing their home and lifestyle with ‘Borrowings’ from the humans in the household.

The Borrowers borrowings

A collection of typical ‘borrowings’.

Do your hair clips seem to vanish over time? The odd glove, the stub of a pencil or piece of jewelry? They might have been ‘borrowed’ when you were not looking…And of course food, imagine surviving on ‘borrowed’ food, an apple core, a crust or some crumbs from a cake in the pantry.

Arrietty is the teenage daughter in the Clock family, she loves to read, writes in a diary, yearns to connect with ‘humans’, to learn and explore the world, she dreams of Freedom. Her parents, Pod and Homily are wary of humans, bitterly aware of their need for humans to survive, yet always fearful of being ‘seen’. Over the years they have seen Borrowers leave the once lively and full household, and they are the only Borrowers remaining. They have a comfortable life, access to warmth, shelter, food and water, Homily and Pod have together created a real ‘home’ under the kitchen floorboards.

The Borrowers the Overmantels

Cleverly played out is the class structure that shaped the life of a Borrower…no doubt experienced in The Real World at the time it was written, and still relevant today. There were the upperclass families known as the Harpsichords and Overmantels, both of whom lived on the Borrowings collected from the morning room, that means tea parties, liquor and other such luxuries. They were more cultured and could read and write (as those were the rooms the human children received their lessons in) enjoyed art and poetry. They were also a bit stuck up. We also hear about the Drainpipes, who run about, a bit grubby and wild in and out of doors.

The Borrowers runken Overmantels

Homily is constantly trying to better herself, though always quick to maintain her middle class ‘humility’, she has aspirations for her daughter Arrietty of course, who is more determined to follow her own path. Arrietty makes friends with a human boy, just as lonely as herself, and her whole family’s life is set to change forever….

The Borrowers diner party

The Borrowers, while dependent on humans, are clever and resourceful, they use acorn tea cups, thimbles to drink from, hankies for sheets, cotton reels for stools…

Living second room

Luna’s doll house with outdoor and indoor ‘borrowings’.

dolls sleeping in the doll house

Blake’s doll house, treasures from Nana and homemade bedding.

The Borrowers in the teapot

The stories are full of risky adventures, survival, hardship, and loss. They experience hard times, struggle with the potential of being in the ‘absolute power’ of some rather unpleasant humans. Especially for Arrietty, there are moments of real joy, her first days outdoors, sunshine, and growth as she learns the nuts and bolts of Borrowing from Pod, and later, Spiller, a rather unusual Borrower who lives in the wild. Some parts are really scary, for Luna anyway, but they get through.

The Borrowers Homily hanging washing

I like that these stories are not sanitised, the characters are real, they have flaws, make mistakes, sometimes again and again, have difficulties and doubts but they do their best, are fragile and strong. Luna and Blake and I talked a little about how it would feel, being homeless, having to survive on what you have at hand, being resourceful and thrifty. We didn’t need to go into too deeply as you get this in the telling of the story, it was quite relevant given the current refugee crisis, which Luna has been trying to understand.

It was some insight into how cruel humans can be, and how generous and loving too. Luna and Blake are big on building huts, creating homes, making do, and those ‘survivalist’ type games that can be popular at their age, so this had real appeal for them on that level too.

doll house borrowings

**spoiler alert**

I also like that the story doesn’t have a happy-ever-after-Arrietty-marrying-the-Borrower-of-her-dreams ending. We also see a bit of sexism, apparently girls don’t do the ‘borrowing’, but being the only child, Pod and Homily discuss how there’s no real reason why Arrietty can’t ‘borrow’, she needs to survive, and ‘borrowing’ is a life skill. It’s not overdone, either, you know, in that moralistic style? We just come across these ideas in the story and see how the characters work this stuff out.

I have really enjoyed seeing how Luna and Blake started telling stories and making ‘set ups’ in their doll houses around some of the ideas from the stories. These books have ignited some cool new play senarios and games.

Here are some more photos from the doll houses….

Elephant bathroom

The bathroom in Blake’s doll house, with cloths and a water tray for the elephants.

Elephant bathroom 2

Blake’s doll house is organised most often by colour ways, lots of lining up of objects, sometimes in a containment, like fences, sometimes clusters of colours, shapes and animals and lego people together.

Elephant in the doll house

Blake’s doll house is most often a container for his most precious items.

green room

You can probably guess his favourite colour and animal!

inside Blake's doll house

Luna’s doll house is very Baroque, she has spent a lot of time in arranging, and rearranging (and then re-arranging) the decor and telling stories in there.

Living room detail

Also full of treasures, carefully edited and assembled.

Living room

Luna’s living room, hanky for a carpet.

Luna's doll house red dinning room

A ‘borrowed’ mini book, this one is a ‘Maori – English, English – Maori’ pocket dictionary from the 50s, it was my nanas.

Luna's doll house reading room

The birds nest bed under the stairs.

Luna's doll house understairs room

Part way through the rearranging.

Inside Luna's doll house

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