Introducing Children's Literature: From Romanticism to Postmodernism

By Deborah Cogan Thacker; Jean Webb | Go to book overview

Chapter 13

Real or story?

The Borrowers

The lack of a central reality implied by a response to the experience of the modern world typifies many of the enduring children's texts of the 1950s. Mary Norton, in The Borrowers, pushes the boundaries farther and suggests, through many layers of meaning, the difficulties of offering children stories about the world in the post-war age.

First published in 1952, this story of the little people living under the floorboards remains a popular text today, enjoying numerous adaptations for television and film. The fascination with the miniature family led to four sequels, though it is the richness and complexity of the narrative of the first story that reflects most strongly a Modernist sensibility and response to the sense of alienation in the mid-twentieth century.

In common with several other memorable children's texts of the decade, The Borrowers provides the juxtaposition of an identifiable 'real' world with an element of the fantastic. As the works of Lucy Boston, C.S. Lewis and E.B. White also demonstrate, the blurring of boundaries between the real and the fantastic can provide both a sense of escape and of unease. The detail of the translation of familiar 'lost' objects into miniature household goods provides an imaginary world of play, similar to playing with a living doll's house. While the reader is at once encouraged to identify with the boy's encounters with the Clocks as 'make-believe', the philosophy of 'making-do' allows the book to be read as a metaphor for rationing during the Second World War. And though the search for other Borrowers can be viewed in terms of its place in the tradition of an adventure/quest story, it is also a reflection of the situation of the refugee or the stateless family arising out of the end of the war. The possibility that the Clocks are the only family of Borrowers

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