Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Small Beings: The Borrowers aka The Secret World of Arrietty


Did anyone else here adore The Borrowers as a child? It's probably no surprise that I hunted them and don't know how many I read from the series since that kind of information wasn't a few computer clicks away back in the dark ages. What was available in my school library, I read, the end. I know none ever lived up to the first which is bargain priced in ebook for $1.59 right now on Amazon so I had get it although I still have a paper edition, too.

Anyway, a new movie based on the book is being released here after its original release in Japan, so yes, there is an anime influence. Now it's The Secret World of Arrietty which I am not so sure is more magical that The Borrowers, but that's me. I  am not the target audience anyway.

Jerry Griswold, recent presenter at Grimm Legacies, has an article in the Los Angeles Times to go along with the movie, 'Arrietty,' 'The Borrowers' and the appeal of all things small. Thumbelina and other fairy tale tinies are mentioned, so it fits here, right? Right?

Kids understand how size correlates with power. Adults talk over their heads. At McDonald's, they can't see over the counter to order and they can't pay for a meal with their own credit card. Indeed, restaurants kindly provide high chairs and booster seats in the same way they provide wheelchair access. When Tom Hanks magically changes from a kid into an adult and gets his own apartment and a job on Madison Avenue, the movie is called "Big." Likewise linking size and power, billionaire Leona Helmsley famously said, "Only the little people pay taxes."

That's not to say small fry can't take advantage of their size. That rascal Peter Rabbit goes places where the portly Mr. McGregor can never pursue him. The diminutive Stuart Little does a favor by slipping into a sink drain to recover a lost wedding ring. And Tom Thumb and Jack (once he climbs the beanstalk) are tricksters who have their way with the humongous.


This is the world the Borrowers inhabit: where a drop of water is a pending threat to those below, where a ticking clock causes the floor to vibrate and where tissue paper is stiff and loud. It is the same world where Hans Christian Andersen's Thumbelina is "pelted" by a snowflake and where E.B. White's mouse-sized Stuart Little must manhandle a straw when proffered a drink. A change of scale makes us see the ordinary with different eyes.

Oh, children and a few of us adults do love to read about things smaller than us, don't we? If anything, Griswold's article reminded me of some beloved books from my youth.

And while we are here, in case you haven't seen it, here's the movie trailer:


  1. Though it's called Kari-gurashi no Arrietty (Arrietty the Borrower) in Japan rather than Yukashita no Kobito-tachi (The Little People Under the Floor) as the novel is I suspect it could be more a matter of rights conflicts thanks to the 1997 film that it hasn't been released as The Borrowers in the UK (where it's just "Arrietty") nor US; that would also explain why it's "inspired by" rather than "based on" the novel though, despite the relocation, it's much closer to it than that earlier film.

  2. I have a weird history with the Borrowers. I first learnt of the books from the trailer for the 1997 movie. Which I never saw (and I'm thankful for that in retrospect), but the concept intrigued me. Yet... I never read any of the books. I just couldn't find them, and even when I could, I rarely went for them. I'm not sure why. I know I read the last one in the series, but I don't remember much that happens, just basic sketches of the characters. I finally read the first one last summer, and I liked it a lot, although I might have liked it more ten years ago. The only Mary Norton book I really read as a kid was Are All the Giants Dead? No, you've probably never heard of it. Of her 9 books, it's the most obscure.

    Actually, this being SurLaLune, maybe you HAVE heard of it. It's quite relevant, being about a boy who gets dragged by a fairy into a world of fairy tales, and has to look for Beauty and the Beast's lost daughter, meeting Jack the Giant Killer and Jack of the Beanstalk along the way, as well as encountering a slew of other fairy tale references (Red Shoes and the Frog Prince come to mind). I liked it a lot, and the way it was written actually made me think it was part of a series, which I would have loved. But it's the only one. Great book, though.

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  4. I loved The Borrowers as a kid and totally looked for them. I used to think that if I ever had a daughter I would name her Arrietty and she would not hate me for it. I still blame them for little things that go missing. Just last week, my roommate couldn't find a matchbook and I said without thinking twice, "the Borrowers took it." I want to see the movie; I love hand-drawn animation and want to support it. If I go in knowing it's a loose adaptation, that will soften the blow. And as someone who also adored Thumbelina as a kid, I'm sure I'll appreciate essay (esp. having heard Jerry Griswold speak).

  5. I didn't know about the 1997 film, but I had wondered about the 'inspired by' appellation on the new movie.

    As for the books, I still think fondly of them although I liked the series less and less as it went on. Whether that was because of me getting older or the series failing over time, I've never dared revisit them to find out.

    I was thrilled when the movie came out, though.