Title: Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh
Author: Robert C. O’Brien
Publication Date: 1971
Length: 249 pages
Genres: Animal story, science-fiction, children’s literature, fantasy
Awards: John Newbery Medal 1972
TW: Animal experimentation, captivity, serious illness- child, death, poisoning
So, I’m kind of dating myself here, but I remember a time before the Disney Renaissance. Not well, I mean I’m not that old, however that means that when I think of great animated films at the forefront of my mind, alongside Disney and Pixar and Dreamworks and Miyazaki, is Don Bluth.
Many of his creations stood out in the animated landscape of the 1980s and 1990s, but none possibly like The Secret of Nimh.
This, of course, isn’t a review of that film. The book predated it by about eleven years. It’s just that, considering the popularity of the movie, I find it strange and a little sad, that the book isn’t more well-known. Even being a bookwork, I wasn’t actually aware of the fact that the movie was based on a Newberry winner until I ran into this copy at a local thrift store. Now, this could be partially down to my childhood distaste for Newberry books (that’s a post for another day), however even in those times that I found myself perusing the Newberry devoted shelves at the bookstore I don’t recall seeing the book, and I think that’s something I would have noticed.
For those who aren’t aware, those who’ve never had the pleasure of being exposed to either the book or the movie, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh is the story of a mother mouse who’s confronted with the threat of losing her home, and possibly child, to the farmer’s plow come spring. Her only hope comes in the form of her connections to a mysterious society of rats whose abilities set them apart from the rest of the animal world.
It’s an unusual story in many ways, and not without its flaws. The good definitely, in my opinion, outweighs the bad however. The story itself is interesting – definitely unusual in some ways, as one doesn’t often get the mixture of animal story and science fiction. The premise of an advanced society of rats was fun, and the odd bits and pieces of (child-friendly) philosophy was a surprising addition.
One of the best things about the story is the flow, I think. It’s very well paced, and put together, with the various elements of the story all syncing up nicely. There were only a few places, I felt, where the story dragged, and even fewer where it felt rushed. In addition, the story lacks the sort of moralizing that sometimes plagues children’s books, the outside voice-of-god narrator that stands over the reader to give commentary. There are effectively two narrative voices within the book, one first person and one third person limited, and both work well, neither drawing our attention out of the story.
There are, of course some issues. At times, the dialogue can feel a little stilted, with an over use of ‘oh, so-and-so’ phrases- the sort that I’ve found at times in older children’s literature. This seemed to have improved a ways into the book, but I’m not certain if that’s because it smoothed out that much, or because I just get used to the speech patterns. Either way, it wasn’t something that felt a hinderance to the story overall, though it was a little annoying when I was trying to read it out-loud.
Additionally, I will admit that the story, eventually, starts to lean a bit much on the story of the rats of Nimh. Their story ends up being around seventy pages out of two hundred and forty nine all said, and while it’s interesting enough- and Nicodemus works as a good narrator for this section- it did start to feel a little stretched eventually, and it made Mrs. Frisby’s part of the whole ordeal feel a little scant through the latter portion of the story, at least compared to the earlier parts of the book. The balance, through that section, felt a little off.
As a whole though the book was entertaining and kept me reading for a good day or so, even knowing the story beforehand.