Arrietty. Pod. Homily. Cigar-box beds. Bottle-cap pots and pans. The illustrations. The grate. The idea that real Borrowers might be skritching and scratching inside the walls of our farmhouse . . .
And The Boy.
Arrietty, our heroine, meets The Boy at the beginning of the series, and that’s what causes all of the Borrowers’ problems. (Problems that go on for five books.)
When I was in the first grade, Arrietty and The Boy were my Juliet and Romeo. My Leia and Han.
Here began an ongoing theme in my reading life — turning stories into love stories. Mentally supplying romance for my favorite characters. Always wanting more for them.
I remember reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH in first or second grade and thinking, “This is good and creepy and blowing my mind, but it would be even better if Mrs. Frisby would admit that’s she’s in love with Justin.” I didn’t even care about the mouse/rat differences. Justin was just what she needed; she couldn’t go back to a normal mouse after chemically enhanced Jonathan. (I mean, really.)
I did this — I do this — for almost everything I read or watch. I pick out a couple I like, root for them, then make up my own love story when the author fails me.
The world of fandom has supplied a brilliant word for this — shipping, short for “relationship.” Like, “I shipped Luke and Leia until I found out they were siblings.” Or, “I ship Harry Potter with anyone who isn’t Ginny.”
For me, this longing for romance isn’t about wanting all-romance/all-the-time — when I try to read romance novels, I can’t get through them. I just want the books I love to have more romance. I want love to be as important to the plot as “who gets the giant diamond” or “who wins the Hunger Games.”
Because love is important to the plot.
The plot. Life. Existence. Everything.
When we were in high school, my husband — then my friend — told me that he figured the whole point of life was finding someone to share it with. He said this in a very non-sentimental, matter-of-fact way. But I was already a little in love with him, and it made me fall a little bit more . . .
And damned if he isn’t right.
We live to share our lives — and that doesn’t always mean romantic love, but often it does, and there’s no shame in that. There’s no shame in loving love stories. In believing that romance makes a story more complete.
Okay, this blog entry is about to turn into a review of Mary Norton’s The Borrowers series. Which may or may not be what you came for. But it will continue on this shippy theme — because Arrietty Clock is one of the most boy-crazy characters in literary history.
The Borrowers was clearly a huge favorite of mine, and my kids immediately fell for it, too. They were enchanted by the descriptions of the Borrowers’ tiny lives. What they use for furniture, how they get their food, how they make their clothes . . .
The series is 90 percent description, chapter after chapter describing candle stubs and stick pins and life in a Victorian house. There is some plot. Every once in a while, a gypsy shows up and chases the Clock family, or they find a new weed to use in their soup — but mostly they just hang out. Homily complains. Pod steals things. And Arrietty yearns for adventure and giant boys.
I thought my overactive 6-year-old imagination must have supplied the romantic angst I remember in the books — but no. Arrietty is obsessed with boys. She won’t stop talking to the The Boy in the first book, and that’s such a disaster, her family has to go live in a field . . .
What I like about Arrietty is that she’s boy-crazy and awesome. She’s smart. She’s brave. She’s taught herself to read and write, and she wants to explore the whole wide world. Which includes boys. Of all sizes.
As soon as Spiller shows up, Arrietty’s like, “We might actually be the only unrelated Borrowers left alive. We should probably get married.” But Spiller doesn’t even speak in complete sentences.
He helps the Clock family locate some intolerable relatives and settle into another house . . .
. . . where Arrietty immediately starts talking to another human boy. IMMEDIATELY. She sneaks out of her hole in the wall and stays up all night talking to him. It’s ridiculous. The family has to move again — her mom practically has a nervous breakdown. Spiller helps them escape through a drain, and the whole time, Arrietty’s like, “Mom, do you think me and Spiller could ever be a thing?” Homily weeps.
After three books of this, the unresolved romantic tension was driving me crazy. I’d say to my kids, “Do you think Spiller and Arrietty are going to get married? Arrietty keeps talking about it.” And my 7-year-old would say, “I wonder if Spiller made his own bow.” And my 4-year-old would say, “Is a Borrower bigger than a Pokemon?”
The plot of The Borrowers Avenged boggles the mind: there’s a church flower show; a woman with a supernatural finding ability, lots of descriptions of Victorian larders; and a ghost! A dead child. But that isn’t even part of the story. Arrietty’s just walking down the hall, and Peagreen’s like, “Don’t mind that ghost, some kid died here. Moving on . . .”
Did I mention Peagreen? I think I did. In the last book, Spiller gets some serious competition for Arrietty’s affection — Peagreen Ovemantel, a handsome Borrower who injured his leg when he was young and now spends all of his time reading, painting and writing poetry.
Peagreen was depicted as child in The Borrowers movie and played by Tom Felton:
In the book, he’s a handsome, posh young man. So I like to picture him like this:
BUT NO. In the last two pages of the series, Arrietty argues with Spiller about talking to humans and is comforted/scolded by Peagreen, who then gives her an egg and talks about Jesus.
“Today’s the day the humans call Easter Sunday.” (SERIOUSLY, PEAGREEN?)
Arrietty keeps pushing the human thing — she wants to tell a human friend that the Borrowers are finally safe . . .
That’s it. No resolution. No ship. No ending, frankly — which is the only way these frustrating, weird, wandering books could end.
I totally recommend them by the way.
Norton — who also wrote the book behind Bedknobs and Broomsticks — is a gorgeous writer, and the Borrowers’ world is epically drawn. It fueled my kids’ appetites for small stories. Anything with pixies, fairies, leprechauns . . . Even, to my dismay, The Littles.
Read The Borrowers books. Read them aloud. Just don’t get caught up in Arrietty’s boy drama.
Or do what I did — imagine a happily-ever-after for her after you’re done.