The Borrowers Aloft by Mary Norton (1961)

Book review: The Borrowers #4: The Borrowers Aloft by Mary Norton (Puffin Books, 1997 [1961], from The Complete Borrowers)

The Complete BorrowersAll in all, it was a happy summer for everyone the year Pod, Homily and Arrietty settled in the model village of Litte Fordham. They could not have found a more perfect place to live in – a complete village tailored to their size and visitors kept leaving things – a plus for all Borrowers.

Our Borrower family have made it to Little Fordham, the model village built by an old man, Mr Pott, for the love of model-making. It’s like heaven – a whole town with buildings just the right size for a Borrower, and the borrowings are great too, what with all the visitors and all.

Problem is, somewhere across the river, there’s another model village, run by the Platter couple. And when the unscrupulous Platters discovers that the rival village has got living models, a plan is quickly hatched: to kidnap the living models! And so the Clock family end up spending the winter as prisoners in the Platters’ loft, trying to work out how to get out …

There are several interesting things about this book. First of all, it takes several chapters before we get to read about the Clocks from their perspective. The first chapters are all about how Mr Pott came to set up his model village and how Miss Menzies is helping him – and then the two of them Miss Menzies talking about the little people who have come to live in the model village, while Mr Pott only lends her about half an ear.

The second is that this book is sort of … political. Or perhaps “political” is the wrong word, because I don’t mean Norton has suddenly decided to take a stand in support of a political party. It’s just that with this book more than anything, readers are bludgeoned by “GREED IS BAD” and such messages, where before, she was a little more subtle with it, or it didn’t feature so much at all.

Mr Pott didn’t start building Little Fordham to make money – he did it out of love of the craft. He started building miniature replicas of his village because he had an accident and had little else to do. People started being interested in seeing the miniature village, and he’d eventually ask for small donations so that he could keep building.

This is in stark contrast to Mr Platter, who realised that if the old man could make money from having a miniature village, SO COULD HE. So he quickly bought a number of model houses, set up a miniature railway and charged people entry. And in a bid to make more money, his wife started a little café that people could visit after being around his miniature village. However, he’s doing everything from the perspective of wanting more money, and is heavily invested in how many visitors come through the gates, and sees Mr Pott’s hobby project as his archenemy. Whatever Mr Pott does, Mr Platter can do one better.

And of course, when little people are spotted in Little Fordham, the Platters think it’s a cunning move to bring them out of business – and so, they decide to steal them and put them in a custom-built glass-fronted house so that the little people (i.e. Arrietty, Pod and Homily) can never have a moment’s privacy.

There are all kinds of messages to the reader here. I wonder what Norton thought about zoos.

Not to mention that before, there wasn’t really the concept of people being – for want of a better word – evil. The humans were either friendly (the Boy, Aunt Sophie, Tom), or “OMG get it out of here!!” (Mrs Driver). Even Mild Eye wasn’t all that bad, despite wanting to capture the Clocks and show them off for money. He was more of a bumbling buffoon than an actual threat to their safety. The Platters, on the other hand, are truly villainous. Cunning, crafty and yes, greedy.

It’s a definite gear change in the story, and it makes it suddenly much, much darker. But at the same time, it still works. Despite throwing a real depression into the mix. Good thing young Arrietty never loses her hope entirely, or the ending wouldn’t have been particularly happy …

4.5 out of 5 gas fires.

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