The Borrowers by Mary Beth Norton appeals to my fascination with exploring miniature worlds, tiny secret places within our own large and sometimes frightening world. This classic of children’s fantasy literature is about a miniature race of people called Borrowers who live under the floorboards and between the walls of our houses, constructing their homes out of items that they “borrow” from the human residents. With furniture constructed out of chess pieces and match boxes, or borrowed from a forgotten dollhouse, and postage stamps to decorate their walls, their world will be a fascinating place for those who share my interest in secret places and tiny, cozy homes. Foraging for food from the leftovers on the tea trays and from the pantry upstairs, the Borrowers survive quite nicely without attracting the attention of many residents. If a Borrower is “seen” by a human, however, then they are in great danger.
Norton’s novel is the story of a lonely little boy who discovers and befriends a family of Borrowers, becoming familiar with their miniature world in such a way that no other human has before. He begins to “borrow” items for his new friends and spend happy afternoons reading with them. But although the boy’s friendship is genuine, his relationship with the Borrowers ultimately puts them in danger when the adults begin to notice that so many things have gone missing from around the house.
The Borrowers seems to me to be about the desire to discover other worlds and the particular desire of lonely children to become a part of those other worlds. So many children’s fantasy novels are about the discovery of a secret place, a more fantastic world that allows the characters and the reader to escape the drudgery and the loneliness of the everyday world in which we live. Norton’s novel does this especially well, describing the Borrowers’ home and tactics for moving through the house – climbing up curtains and tunneling under the floorboards – in clever detail. I felt as though I was exploring a fancy dollhouse, an entire world that posed its own set of problems and dangers. I recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys discovering and exploring secret places and other worlds, whether they are through a wardrobe door or just underneath the kitchen floorboards.