Mary Norton’s The Borrowers Afloat (1959)
Illus. Beth and Joe Krush
Harcourt Inc, 1990

It was Mrs. May who first told Kate about the borrowers (although it wasn’t Mrs. May who had seen them, but her brother, when he was still alive, and just a boy).

It’s possible she doesn’t know when to keep quiet (surely it leaves these small beings vulnerable to have so many people know of their existence).

But again, in this third volume of the series, she is letting the proverbial cat out. And admittedly, if you’re new to the series, her description of the borrowers is useful:

“Something far smaller than a human being but like them in essentials – a little larger-seeming in the head, perhaps, a little longer in the hands and feet. But very small and hidden. We imagined that they lived like mice – in the wainscots, or behind the skirtings, or under the floorboards – and were entirely dependent on what they could filch from the great house above. Yet you couldn’t call it stealing: it was more a kind of garnering. On the whole, they only took things that could well be spared.”

This time she’s speaking to Mr. Beguid, who is a lawyer, sorting out a real estate deal which will bring Mrs. May into possession of a small cottage that the borrowers (Pod and Homily and their child, Arrietta) called home for a time.

But, ironically, it’s not Mrs. May who is aware of the details about the Clock family’s tenancy.

While the old woman  is talking up a storm to Mr. Beguid, young Kate is elsewhere,  listening to Tom Goodenough’s tales.

Kate is enthralled, not only because he shares her belief in this small family’s existence, but because Tom — unlike anyone she’s spoken to so far — has actually seen … and spoken … to young Arrietty Clock.

The tales he relays to Kate are of a similar tone to the first two books in the series, but they have a shine to them because he’s gotten the story direct from Arrietty herself.

Once more our protagonists have been cut adrift from the life they have known and they are seeking a new home. This is a pattern in the series; undoubtedly prequels, had they been written, would have relayed a dull tale indeed, everyday life beneath the floors where nothing worse than a marmalade spill from above transpires.

It’s a universal theme, survival and endurance, though it’s unfolding for a family whose members measure less than six inches high. But, no matter: “Given a struggle for life, people react very much alike –according to type, of course –whatever their size or station…” says Mrs. May.

When I read this volume as a young girl, it was likely not only for the adventure of it (I absolutely loved Beth and Joe Krush’s illustrations of the tea kettle boat), but for the promise of home.

I wanted the borrowers to live large, but I was grateful that they always pulled through and found someplace new to put down roots.

As Pod says: “…in life as we live it – come this thing or that thing – there’s always some way to manage. Always has been and, like as not, always will be. That’s how I reckon.”

I needed to believe that as a girl reader; after all, I was smaller than most of the people around me too.

Did you read adventure tales as a young reader too?