Mary Norton’s Poor Stainless (1966)

Also included in the Odyssey Classic edition of The Borrowers Aloft (originally published in 1961 and republished in 1998) is the short tale, Poor Stainless.

This was originally published as a separate volume in 1966, presented as a tale that Homily tells Arrietty,  something that happened when Homily was a girl.

I think it must have been like Philip Pullman’s Lyra’s Oxford at the time…a slim book connected with the series to offer readers who were desperate for more.

Though today’s readers can enjoy Mary Norton’s series straight-through, I remember how hard it was to wait for the next volume of His Dark Materials, so Poor Stainless must have been some consolation for fans of The Borrowers who had to wait like that.

The story contains a little mischief and a little moralizing, in a blend which is appealing enough, but what struck me most about the tale was something that was likely quite unintentional.

In The Borrowers Aloft, the roles of the borrowers — and the humans living nearby — are fairly traditional; Pod’s authority in the family is unchallenged and even though Arrietty disobeys at times, she repents with tears and promises when her disobedience is discovered.

Overall, throughout the series, the girls — grown and otherwise — fall into line.

“Miss Menzies did as she was told; relieved, she felt suddenly, to surrender the leadership. Her father, she thought, would have acted just like this. And so, of course, would have Aubrey. In times of stress and indecision, it was good, she realized, to have a man about.”

But that was 1961.

Here, in Poor Stainless, in 1966, we have a shift, albeit one which ostensibly reaches back to Homily’s girlhood, when young Stainless was lost.

“He was lost, you see. And we were all to go up and look for him. It was an order,” said Homily. “Some people thought it wrong that the women should go, too, but there it was: it was an order.”
“Who gave it?” asked Arrietty.
“The grandfathers, of course. It was the first time I ever saw the scullery…”

Women are reaching beyond the confines of what was known. I mean, it is 1966.

It seems as though the world is getting bigger: the borrower women’s world and the borrower writer’s world.

Though how ironic that Homily’s world opens up INTO the scullery!