Originally Published on the GeekDad blog at Wired.com on February 17th, 2012.
The English language version of the Studio Ghibli film The Secret World of Arrietty arrives in theaters today (check out Matt Blum’s review and Kathy Ceceri’s perspective on the film’s science). The book which inspired Miyazaki’s film was written by Mary Norton and published in 1952 under the name The Borrowers. Before she wrote The Borrowers, Norton, who died in 1992, wrote Bed-knob and Broomstick, which later went on to inspire the 1971 Disney film. However, The Borrowers cemented Norton’s career as a children’s author. At its release, The Borrowers won the prestigious Carnegie Award for children’s literature in Britain. The Carnegie is the British equivalent of the American Newbery award. The success of the book led to five sequels, including The Borrowers Avenged, published in 1982, 30 years after the original.
The Borrowers tells the story of a family of little people who live beneath the kitchen floor of a deteriorating English country home. Pod and Homily Clock care for their adventurous daughter Arrietty by borrowing what they need, and a little more, from the human “beans” who live up above. So as not to arouse suspicion, they take only things which will not be missed, such as sheets of blotting paper and old cigar boxes. From these items they make a life and a home.
In a word, Norton’s book can best be described as precious. In recent times that word has taken on important and powerful ironies to make some clear points, but Norton writes before these ironies came to give the word notes of condescension. Thus, it seems appropriate to use the best meanings of the word precious to describe her work.