The Borrowers by Mary Norton

The Borrowers by Mary Norton
Borrow this!

Here’s a fantasy novel for kids from English author Mary Norton (1903-1992). It was published in 1952 and follows the lives of tiny people, who live under the floorboards of an English home.

It was adapted into a TV series in the 1990s we remember fondly, starring Sir Ian Holm. But there was also a major screen adaptation in 2010 from Studio Ghibli.

Let’s borrow some of your time to have a gander. Yeah?

The Borrowers

As the first book was a hit, Norton wrote four more. So, using our advanced mathematical abilities, that means there are five of them.

The last of them was published in 1982 when Norton was 78—The Borrowers Avenged.

So, we’re kind of encompassing all five of the works here. Rather than the very first one. Makes sense, eh?

The series follows the lives of the tiny people—the Borrowers. There main issue is avoiding the enormous humans who lumber about the place.

The main character is Arrietty. There’s also her father Pod and mother Homily.

They live beneath the floor of a grandfather clock, which inspires their surname—Clock. The borrowers take their surnames from wherever they live.

There, stamps hang on the walls as paintings. And matches are nailed together to make household furniture.

One night, Pod worries with Homily after he was spotted by a human boy in the house. “Human beans” as the borrowers mispronounce in charming fashion.

To calm any fears, they agree to go on a “borrowing” mission (i.e. theft) into the garden. And take Arrietty, who has only seen the outside world once.

Whilst there, she meets the human male boy. Instead of starting a war or something, they get on.

And agree for the tiny lady to read to the boy, as she’s highly literate, so he can improve his spoken English (he’s from India).

What follows is a story of friendship in unlikely circumstances, the type of unusual bond that can develop in this world.

And it’s a charming book for kids. Obviously, the draw here is that fantastical element that sparks the imagination.

Are tiny individuals really just hidden out of sight?

It’s one Terry Pratchett played with in magnificent fashion for his Nome Trilogy decades later. Wings is our favourite from that lot—hilarious fun.

The Borrowers has a more sedate pace and is quintessentially English. But it’s a great book for all ages, even if children will revel more in the read.

Norton’s great success with it is how the work inspires the imagination. And that’s a real gift for new generations of children to enjoy.


The Secret World of Arrietty (as it’s called in North America) was a major adaptation from Japanese legends Studio Ghibli.

Off its $23 million budget, it was a big hit—making over $145 million at the box office.

The fantastic American-Irish actor Saoirse Ronan (whom we have fond memories of from The Grand Budapest Hotel) takes the lead for the UK dub.

Plus, the brilliant Olivia Colman has a part (so excellent in The Favourite).

The US dub has Bridgit Mendler as Arrietty. Amongst Amy Poehler and others.

It’s a good film, too! Watch it if you can—either in the original Japanese language as intended with subtitles, or the UK/US dub.

There was a 1997 Hollywood film starring John Goodman, too, if you’re keen on that. Plus a 1973 made-for-TV one in America.

But, for us, the 1992 and 1993 BBC mini-series with Sir Ian Holm and Penelope Wilton is what we remember fondly.

As we were so young when watching it, but really enjoyed the thing. That imaginative kick was there for us.

It follows the Clock family as they try to avoid the human beans. And they generally scurry about trying to not get flattened.

The BBC productions values were high and the show popular—even decades on, it still looks pretty darned good!

Yeah, obviously great fun for kids. We thought it was pretty magical back then. A pretty telling nod to the quality of Mary Norton’s books, then.


  1. I have a distinct recollection of ‘The Borrowers’ being somewhere in my parents’ house, in the Puffin edition, when I was a kid. Odds are on that it’s therefore now in my house. Unfortunately about half my book collection is still stashed in boxes which will be sorted one day, when I get a circular thing known as ‘around tuit’ so I can’t be sure.

    Liked by 1 person

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