Mary Norton’s The Borrowers Aloft (1961)
Illus. Beth and Joe Krush
Harcourt Inc, 1998

There is no sign of Mrs. May in the fourth volume of Mary Norton’s series about the Clock family.

Instead, the story introduces us to Mr. Pott, an old railway man who has lost a leg on the job (while trying to save a badger, but that’s another story) and now spends his days working on his model railway out-of-doors.

It’s grown to a substantial size and now also includes an expansive village, one which has taken on a legendary status in the lives of borrowers everywhere. (Miss Menzies helps with the detail work, including the small figures which ‘inhabit’ the town, or, at least, are meant to seem as though they are living inhabitants.)

Imagine: an entire town the perfect size for borrowers, buildings and streets and railways and lamps and chimneys.

But it’s not just someone’s imagination. It’s real.

Spiller (a lively borrower with a rather adventurous existence who’s introduced in The Borrowers Afield) tells the Clock family that it’s not just a story. And, when they find themselves once again on the search for a new home, in The Borrowers Afloat, Spiller agrees to take them there.

Of course, nothing goes as planned, either on their journey in the last volume, or after they arrive in Little Fordham. Well, things going as planned…that doesn’t make for very interesting stories, does it.

But what is predictable is the interaction between the borrowers and humans. Mary Norton makes it easy for her readers to imagine being the chosen people, those who are able to have contact with these small beings.

As much as Pod and Homily dread being “seen”, Arrietty — who is sixteen years old now — craves it; her connections with humans have motivated much of the upset in the Clock family’s life throughout this series (but, also, it must be said, have brought about some wonders as well).

In The Borrowers Aloft, it is Miss Menzies who does the seeing. “This little man I saw with this sack thing on his back – he was panting. Quite out of breath, he was. Now, fairies don’t pant.”

Of course it’s Pod that she sees, but other humans who have spotted Pod have been quick to make their discovery known to him; Miss Menzies is clever enough to keep her discovery to herself. (Well, except that she does tell Mr. Pott: humans in this series are not very good at keeping secrets.)

Miss Menzies is cut of a different cloth. She guesses (and rightly so) that if Pod knows he’s been seen, his behaviour will change. So Miss Menzies practices looking as though she’s not looking, seeing without seeing. And she watches from a distance.

“What could be more charming for someone – like me, say – to share one’s home with these little creatures? Not that I’m lonely, of course. My days –“ Miss Menzies’ eyes became overbright suddenly and the gay voice hurried a little – “are far too full ever to be lonely. I’ve so many interests, you see. I keep up with things. And I have my old dog and two little birds. All the same, it would be nice.”

Had she not been watching so carefully, the Clock family’s disappearance would have gone unnoticed. But when Miss Menzies sees that it’s been three days since there’s been smoke from their cottage in the village, she sounds the alarm.

“‘She loves us,’ said Arrietty, ‘Miss Menzies really loves us, Papa.’
He sighed. ‘I don’t see for why. But maybe she does. Like they do their pets – their cats and dogs and birds and such.'”

Yes, the Clock family on the move once more. But there’s something startlingly different about their travels this time.